House debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Matters of Public Importance

Grocery Prices

3:54 pm

Photo of Max Chandler-MatherMax Chandler-Mather (Griffith, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

We know that, for the past few years, mortgage holders, renters and ordinary workers have been repeatedly punished by the inflation crisis caused by corporate price gouging. Every time the RBA rocked up to put up interest rates, mortgage rates went up and people had to pay more and more, forced to pay for an inflation crisis caused by corporate price gouging. This screwed over ordinary workers. What we always knew—and a lot of people in Australia knew this—was that it wasn't workers causing this inflation crisis; it was corporate price gouging. I can't think of a better example than the market duopoly of Coles and Woolworths driving up prices and screwing over ordinary workers.

In our economic and political system, every time the gas corporations jacked up their prices and every time Coles and Woolworths jacked up their prices, driving the inflation crisis, the people that were punished for it were the people with mortgages, who were also screwed over by the RBA's interest rate increases. It's hardly fair. Basically, the economic plan, from the perspective of the political establishment, was: 'Oh no! Coles and Woolworths are using their market power to jack up prices. We're going to fix this by forcing mortgage holders into financial stress by driving up mortgage rates and reducing their spending power.' In practical terms, that means pushing them into poverty.

Last year Coles made a $1.1 billion profit and Woolworths made a $1.62 billion profit. We know, from the evidence around the world, that those are the highest rates of profitability for supermarkets in the developed world, but we have a political and economic system that allows them to get away with that scot-free. At the same time, we have a political and economic system that punishes mortgage holders and renters by jacking up interest rates and pushing people into poverty. It's outrageous. No wonder so many people are fed up with politics.

For me, there are two stories which sum up just how broken the system is. While doorknocking over the weekend, I met two people. The first was a single mum in a one-bedroom place with one kid and another expected in a few months. She told me that her grocery bill at the supermarket kept going up and up, and then she got a rent increase. She started to realise that the only way she would be able to make ends meet, shopping at Coles or Woolworths, was to start skipping meals herself. She said to me, 'I need to do that because my baby needs the nappy rash cream.'

Coles and Woolworths regularly come out and say: 'We're going to crack down on shoplifting. We're going to spend all of this extra money on our self-serve checkouts, which we've used to cut workers at our businesses, to crack down on people shoplifting.' How is it that we have a political system that allows Coles and Woolworths to push these people into poverty—screw them over, jack up prices and make record profits—and then cracks down on people who have been forced into a such a desperate position that they have to shoplift so they can feed their kids the next day? That's the political and economic system that we have right now.

The second story was from a Woolworths worker—a young woman who earns about $27 an hour working in the bakery as a supervisor. She said to me, 'I sat down and worked out that, over the course of a few days, I make Woolworths about half a million dollars but I'm only on $27 an hour.' Her rent is going up, so she and her partner are having to move back in with their parents. They can't afford to live anywhere near where she works. Again, it is legal for Woolworths to jack up prices, make record profits and screw people over—and the way they make their record profits is by underpaying their workers and screwing them over—and for the people to get screwed.

The government is aware of the corporate price gouging. The government is aware of the fact that the inflation crisis is being driven by gas corporations, supermarkets and other big corporations—the banks, for instance, making a $10 billion profit off the back of mortgage holders paying more on their mortgages. They're aware that that's the cause of the inflation crisis, but, rather than crack down on it, they say, 'We'll look at it, but we're not really sure what we're going to do.' All of a sudden, when it's those big powerful corporations like Coles and Woolworths, the government is powerless, but whenever it's ordinary people, whenever it's people doing it tough, it's, 'We'll crack down on them.'

I think it is pretty clear, at a very basic level, that there are things we can do right now to crack down on Coles and Woolworths, but at a broader level we can start looking at corporate super profits. At the very least, why not introduce a corporate super profits tax?


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