Australia’s largest brick company, Brickworks, is seeking to force the billionaire Buckeridge family’s construction and building materials empire, BGC Australia, to divest a subsidiary over competition concerns.
ASX-listed Brickworks launched legal action against the Perth-headquartered BGC Australia in the Federal Court last year, alleging the private business breached market concentration rules through its acquisition of Midland Brick.
Brickworks alleges that BGC breached the Competition and Consumer Act by selling bricks at below-market value after its acquisition of Midland Brick in 2020.
BGC – the Buckeridge Group of Companies – is vigorously defending the claim. It believes its acquisition of Midland did not adversely affect competition and denies the allegations that it deliberately sold bricks below market value to stymie competition.
Brickworks – which is majority owned by entities associated with Sydney-based billionaire Robert Millner, including investment house Washington H Soul Pattinson – declined to comment.
The battle of the brick billionaires is not expected to shake up Australia’s brickmaking industry, but it reveals the ongoing tension between the two groups and provides an insight into the competitiveness of the sector that has been buffeted by housing supply downturns and increasing costs.
Brickworks has more than 40 per cent of the brickmaking market, while construction giant BGC’s brick business, Midland (which also incorporates the former Brikmakers brand), is smaller overall but holds a large share of the West Australian market. BGC is a major property developer and construction group in WA that was founded by Len Buckeridge, who died in 2014. His family has been moving towards a sale of its building materials business over the past few years after the group was buffeted by the slowdown in the WA construction market.
It emerged at a court hearing on Friday that Brickworks is also seeking orders to force BGC to divest Midland Brick as part of its case against its rival brick seller.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission approved the merger in 2020, when the regulator conceded that without the acquisition, up to 100 jobs could have been lost at Midland Brick, which is focused on the WA market.
More than three years on, Brickworks says the transaction allegedly led to BGC Australia gaining too much market power and led to a breach of sections 46 and 50 of the Competition and Consumer Act, which cover abuses of market power and mergers that reduce competition.
The dispute would be heard in a trial expected to run for six weeks between March and April next year, the Federal Court heard on Friday.
Brickworks had initially sought a trial date in the second half of 2025.
Justice John Halley said it would be preferable that the case be heard earlier in the year.
“You are seeking divestiture orders. They do have the sword of Damocles hanging over their head,” the judge told lawyers for Brickworks.
Halley said that Midland had already been fully integrated into the BGC business and was not an upcoming acquisition.
The judge added that it would be hard for BGC to know if it should make serious decisions about the business, such as a company strategy or putting more capital into the subsidiary, if BGC did not yet know if it could retain the Midland brick business.
“The ability to make significant forward-looking decisions is compromised,” Halley said. “You are effectively putting the dynamic efficiency of that business on hold until the matter is resolved.”
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