There’s been an interesting question hanging over the ACCC
since Virgin Blue won its three-year battle to have Sydney Airport declared for
its anti-competitive behaviour and now, an often reliable source suggests we
might be close to getting an answer involving the Macquarie Bank-controlled
airport and Qantas.

As Flight Internationalput it last month:

Australia’s
competition tribunal has ruled that Sydney
airport misused its monopoly power and is likely to do so again. To prevent
that, the tribunal says that in the event of a future impasse between an
airline and the airport over fees, either party may take the dispute to
arbitration conducted by the ACCC.

Among the evidence cited by the court for its finding of
monopoly misuse was that Sydney had switched its method of calculating fees
from maximum take-off weight to a per passenger basis solely “because Qantas
preferred it” and that the airport knew its change “would impact more adversely
on Virgin Blue than on Qantas”.

That’s had the odd
journalist asking the ACCC whether it’s investigating that
Qantas-Sydney Airport deal. The answer from ACCC
boss Graeme Samuel is what it has to be in such circumstances: the ACCC
can’t
comment one way or the other about what it is or isn’t doing when it
might or
might not be investigating something. He’s gone one tiny step further,
though, to acknowledge that the matter “has been drawn to our
attention”.

But the latest rumour suggests that there might be
particular interest in which executives might or might not be of interest to
the ACCC. Life at the top of Qantas and Sydney
Airport is quite rarefied and
closely connected to Canberra by
one means or another. It is an interesting space to watch.

Meanwhile Mac Airport is backing down under State and local government pressure from its plans to
build the full suburban shopping mall/cinema complex/parking-for-thousands on
its federally-controlled land, contenting itself with the sort of bulky
goods shopping centre that’s being developed at Brisbane Airport.

It has been an interesting battle with Macquarie Bank on one
side and Frank Lowy’s Westfield on
the other. Westfield, of course, has
a record of doing whatever is necessary to prevent competition for its
ever-growing shopping mall chain. The NSW Government has been firmly on Frank’s
side.

Peter Fray

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