Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Meet Australia's next Competition Czar

The name's Sims, Rod Sims

The man in line to succeed Alan Fels and Graeme Samuel as the third head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says he wasn’t looking for a new job, until he ran into Wayne Swan at the Brisbane Airport.

“I would like to have a chat with you,” Rod Sims recalls the deputy prime minister saying. As they talked later in Canberra it became clear Sims would have to give up several of the jobs he loved.

Often referred to as a former economic advisor to Bob Hawke, he says his passion is world poverty.

“I took the job with Hawke in 1988 as part of a standard two-year public service rotation,” he told the Age after his appointment was announced yesterday.

“I stuck to two years. I took the view that if I had stayed longer I would have crossed a line which I didn't want to cross. I don’t have any political affiliations,” said Sims who needs the approval of state governments, many in Coalition hands, to be formally endorsed as ACCC chairman.

For ten years a bureaucrat ending up as deputy secretary of the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and before that for ten years a development economist working in Papua New Guinea and for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Sims these days regulates water, electricity, and gas prices as head of the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal and provides economic advice to the Gillard government’s Multi-Party Climate Change Committee.

He has also been a corporate consultant at Port Jackson Partners advising on mergers and acquisitions, territory he will revisit as head of the ACCC.

But the job he loves most - the one he says will be hard to surrender - is the one that takes to Singapore as head of the InfraCo Asia, a development company funded by foreign aid that sets up wind power, irrigation and hydro electricity projects “in the poorest parts of Asia, where the private sector won’t get involved”...

He has just set up two hydro projects in Nepal and is proud of what InfraCo is achieving.

“But I think I’ll have to give up everything,” he says. “Chairman of the ACCC is a full-time role.”

“Actually I think it is fair to say its the only job I would give up my present jobs for.”

Asked why, he says the ACCC’s is fundamental to the proper working of a market economy.

“It looks after consumer protection, safety standards, market conduct, mergers and acquisitions, the regulation of infrastructure. It’s the core.”

“Unless you have a body that is actively looking after these things, market economies can run off the rails.”

Born in Lorne on the Great Ocean Road two and half hours out of Melbourne and studying development economics at Melbourne University he says the ACCC job is the one his career has been moving towards.

“I honestly think, and this is going to sound a bit arrogant, the role needs somebody who has a good public policy background but also understands the real world of business, and I guess I think I can probably do it pretty well and make a contribution, whereas I wouldn't’ say the same about other positions,” he said.

Announcing the nomination yesterday along with that of Greg Medcraft as the next chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Mr Swan said both who would play an important part in promoting competition and ensuring the integrity and confidence of financial markets.

Graham Samuel had done an outstanding job at chair of the ACCC for five years under both Coalition and Labor governments. He leaves in August.

Mr Sims wouldn't be drawn on his priorities as one of Australia's two new corporate cops saying his appointment hadn’t yet been approved and he didn’t want the states to think he was taking them for granted.

Published in today's SMH and Age

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