The head of the competition watchdog has called for greater regulation when government assets are privatised to avoid future monopolies that come at a cost to Australian consumers.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims says there are many examples of privatisations that have been done well and have benefited Australia.
Addressing an ACCC-Australian Energy Regulator conference, he said the privatisation of the Qantas airline was done appropriately and the sell-off of Telstra was accompanied with measures to promote rather than constrain competition.
"The problem is that, in more recent years, many of Australia's key economic assets have been privatised without regulation, and often with rules designed to prevent them ever facing competition," he said.
"This makes us all poorer."
He said the lack of regulation of monopolies may increase the sale price, but ended up being a multi-decade tax on Australian consumers and exporters.
Many monopolies, such as gas pipelines, electricity networks, railways and the NBN, are subject to regulation.
In contrast, many ports and airports, which are essential gateways for the economy, are largely unregulated, mostly due to decisions made when they were privatised.
Mr Sims said one potential solution was that all governments agreed not to privatise an asset unless there had been a prior public regulatory and competition assessment by a Commonwealth or state regulatory body.
Another would be for a market power test to be introduced to determine whether assets with significant levels of market power should face some form of regulation.
"These are important issues that deserve more discussion among those interested in the health of the economy," Mr Sims said.
Australian Associated Press