ANZ lodges appeal to ACCC decision

tribunal anz suncorp bank takeover

ANZ Group has formally requested an appeal to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC’s) decision to deny its takeover of Suncorp Bank, lodging an application with the Australian Competition Tribunal to review a decision handed down earlier this month by the competition watchdog.

The Tribunal, an independent statutory tribunal, is authorised under Australian competition law to review merger authorisation decisions made by the ACCC, with the power to “vary, affirm or set aside” the regulator’s decisions.

The ACCC announced on 4 August it would deny the banks’ merger request, citing concerns that it would substantially lessen competition in the home loans market nationally, as well as the SME and agribusiness banking markets in Queensland.

ANZ first lodged its application to the ACCC on 2 December 2022, with the authorisation process lasting around 245 days, including two extension requests from ACCC where it sought more detail from the banks.

ANZ chief executive Shayne Elliot countered that the acquisition of Suncorp’s banking arm would create a combined bank that is “better equipped to respond to competitive pressures to the benefit of Australian consumers”, as well as “deliver significant public benefits, particularly in Queensland”.

“Queensland is thriving, with strong opportunities to further grow and prosper. We remain excited about the opportunities for ANZ and our customers in Queensland, and the benefits of bringing Suncorp Bank and its customers into the ANZ Group,” Elliott said.

Even if the Tribunal overturns the ACCC’s decision, a successful takeover bid must pass through other legislative hurdles, including approval from the Federal Treasurer and Queensland legislative amendments.

The bank said it would continue its preparations for the integration of Suncorp Bank into ANZ during the Tribunal’s assessment period, with completion of the acquisition expected to occur in mid-2024.

The Tribunal’s last case, which was heard through early 2023 and concerned an appeal on an ACCC decision to deny a request by telcos Telstra and TPG to share mobile telecommunications spectrum (effectively transferring control of 169 mobile coverage zones to Telstra), determined that the competition regulator’s decision be upheld.

The decision was handed down six months to the date after the ACCC’s original determination.

The Telstra/TGP case was the first to be held under a new authorisation regime which came into effect in 2017, whereby the ACCC regained the power to grant merger authorisations at first instance.

Between 2007 and 2017, the power to hear merger authorisations was removed from the ACCC, with parties required to apply directly to the Australian Competition Tribunal for merger requests. Through this period, applicants were granted no opportunity for merits appeal.

The test for authorisation also changed, with the ACCC able to grant authorisation either on public benefit grounds or if it does not believe the merger will substantially lessen competition.