Australian consumers need more protection against powerful digital giants and unfair trading, the head of the consumer watchdog says.

ACCC chair Rod Sims – in his final speech to the National Press Club before he retires from the role – outlined the main issues and challenges in sectors including energy, aviation, digital and financial services.

Mr Sims proposed new rules for tech giants to protect consumers and promote competition.

He also reiterated his call for reforms to Australian merger laws.

“(Tech giants) innovated their way to success, they do have fantastic products, but they also acquired a huge array of companies that have extended their reach and cemented their power,” he said.

“Action is needed … and such options would impose up-front rules that would prevent the worst abuses of dominance and protect consumers.”

He says the ACCC’s work to establish the news media bargaining code – which ensures media organisations are paid for content on digital platforms – is world-leading and has helped both big and small news companies.

“Google and Facebook have not replaced media. We still need media, we still need journalists and that was under great threat without the news media bargaining code,” he said.

Mr Sims also wants Australian farmers and small business owners, who often suffer under unfair contract terms, to be listened to by governments making policy decisions.

“An unfair practices provision would greatly help restore farmer faith in our market economy and, I believe, make them more productive,” he said.

The aviation sector should also be more competitive, with Mr Sims saying new airlines must be supported.

He said companies such as Rex and Bonza musn’t fail because they aren’t given runway spots at privatised airports.

“The ACCC is also going to be watching very carefully to make sure Virgin and Qantas aren’t flying new routes at a loss to try to block the new entrants,” he said.

But Mr Sims acknowledged recovering from the pandemic should be a government priority before addressing the issues he outlined.

“When COVID is under control I am convinced that important and early movement on the above issues and challenges will do much to improve our economic prosperity,” he said.

“Progress is under way on some issues, but there is much more to do.”

Mr Sims has headed the consumer watchdog since August 2011.