ACCC gets its day in court with retail giants

By Toby Walker

The business dealings of two of Australia's leading retailers, Woolworths Ltd and Coles Myer Ltd, will go under the spotlight later this month over allegations the companies engaged in anticompetitive liquor deals.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) initiated proceedings against the companies in June 2003 after it alleged the Coles Myerowned Liquorland chain and Woolworths had repeatedly contravened the Trade Practices Act .

Almost two years on, a tentative date has been set for a five-week hearing to begin in the Federal Court in Sydney on April 20.

The ACCC alleges Woolworths and Liquorland engaged in anti-competitive conduct by entering into alleged restrictive agreements with a number of operators of licensed premises in New South Wales.

Those agreements were allegedly designed to restrict or prevent the supply of packaged takeaway liquor by those operators to consumers.

The ACCC further alleges the retail giants chose to object to certain liquor licence applications and then propose restrictive agreements to the applicants in return for withdrawing their objections.

It is believed the legal proceedings were prompted by the ACCC's investigation into restrictive deals with eight small NSW pubs and retailers that variously prevented them from opening bottle shops, erecting window displays or advertising.

Last week Woolworths said it would continue its objection to an application made for a takeaway alcohol licence by the Palmers Pit Stop general store on Palm- ers Island.

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