House debates

Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Matters of Public Importance

Grocery Prices

4:09 pm

Photo of Matt BurnellMatt Burnell (Spence, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It's a poorly kept secret that I look forward to a call-up for the MPI. It is often a no-frills and no-holds-barred affair where we end up with government and opposition debating one of very few limited areas of discussion. It leaves very little to the imagination at times. They are more of a series than a feature film at times.

This is a little bit different from the norm, a description that can be used to describe the member for Kennedy—though I'm not sure if I'm relieved or somewhat disappointed to see the member now dressed substantially less eccentrically than he was earlier today, along with the member for Clark, from what I observed across a few media outlets. I can't blame him, nor them, for going the whole hog on this issue and I'm sure he was tickled pink with the coverage.

I must say that MPI debates can feel a little like rolling in the mud sometimes. However, when it comes to addressing abuses of market power within the food and grocery industry, I'm sure we all stand with the member for Kennedy and hope we can all bring home the bacon. It's an issue of great importance to myself and to my constituents of Spence. As recently as Monday of the previous sitting week, I was proud to have moved a motion in this place during private members' business that was, in broad terms, germane to the matter the member for Kennedy has raised here in this debate.

The impact of the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths in our food and grocery sector is one that transcends a singular cost-of-living issue. The sheer market power of these two companies—two companies that have a market share of 65 per cent of this multibillion-dollar market—affects everything caught in its orbit. As the member for Kennedy would be aware, the House Standing Committee on Agriculture tabled its inquiry report on food security titled Australian food story: feeding the nation and beyond. I know the member for Kennedy made a submission to the inquiry. On that note I am also pleased that my colleague the member for Paterson, who is the chair of the House Standing Committee on Agriculture, has participated in this debate.

As part of this inquiry the impact of the supermarket duopoly on food security and our agriculture sector—our farmers—formed part of the committee's inquiry process. I could be said that many participants in the industry would still be too cautious to speak out despite the protections that are attached to the participation in a parliamentary inquiry. Despite what the member for Kennedy and others in the crossbench party room may believe, the Albanese Labor government is not a bystander in the fight against cost-of-living pressures—far from it.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognise the imbalance of power between Australia's supermarket giants and those that supply them and their consumers. The relationship between the supermarket giants and farmers has been described as being the price makers in this relationship. Many farmers feel as if they only have one legitimate choice in front of them if they are not to accept what Woolworths and Coles have set for them, and that is to leave the industry entirely. It is a sad reality to the number of businesses operating in the agriculture and horticultural industries—industries that employ roughly two per cent of my electorate's workforce. That may seem small by comparison to the size of the industry in Kennedy, which sits at 9.2 per cent, but I'm sure we can both agree that jobs in agriculture are precious as they are the ones that feed our nation. This has been a sad reality for many now former farmers, some whose families have worked the land for generations before them.

Australia's farmers of yesterday had to contend with a whole number of challenges in order to keep their farms and families going, but they could not have anticipated dealing with the likes of Coles and Woolworths existing as the two major customers of their produce, either directly or through a third party. =

This is not a uniquely Australian problem by any means, but the extent of the market concentration in the food and grocery market has Australia sitting above the US and the UK. The UK's market concentration has their big two only accounting for 42 per cent of the pie.

In closing, I've lived this experience. I watched my parents on our family farm back in the 90s really struggle with the ability to make ends meet. We were price takers, we weren't price setters, and I think we can all agree that something needs to be done to ensure that the profits being taken by the big two are shared more proportionately throughout the supply chain. That's not just our farmers. It's also our transport logistics teams, our front-of-house checkout teams and the whole supply chain within the food retail sector. I thank the House.


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