House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Cost of Living

10:34 am

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Many fruit and vegetable growers and primary producers are struggling to keep their businesses afloat because the two major supermarket chains are strangling them with inequitable contracts that disadvantage the farmer. The supermarkets demand perfect cherries, flawless zucchinis and completely unblemished apples, and if those ridiculous standards aren't met they won't pay the farmer a fair price. As one cherry producer said last week prior to his appearance before the Senate inquiry into supermarket prices, 'People don't understand how ruthless the supermarkets are.' This is why we've initiated a review into the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, an important first step to rein in the power of major supermarkets. We've also commissioned an ACCC inquiry to examine the competitiveness of retail prices for everyday groceries. This 12-month inquiry will consider the pricing practices, the current structure of the supermarket industry and the role of small and independent retailers particularly in regional and remote areas.

The Albanese government have enacted these reviews because we know the status quo isn't sustainable. For example, in the Senate inquiry last week several farmers stated that despite their best efforts to remain competitive they are still only receiving the same price for their produce as they did in 2011. If this continues, it may mean Australia becomes more reliant on imported produce as our local fruit and vegetable growers and primary producers go out of business. This would be tragic. Our nation is known for quality fresh produce, and the agricultural industry employs many hundreds and thousands of people, many of those in my electorate.

We are at a crossroads when it comes to supporting local producers and protecting consumers. This is reflected in the view of my constituents in Corangamite—people who are doing it tough like single mums, pensioners, students and those on low wages. When I'm at the markets or outdoor knocking, these people tell me their grocery bills are rising significantly and they're pointing the finger at Coles and Woolworths. Meg, from Torquay, is an occupational therapist, and she told me that despite this profession she is increasingly shocked and challenged by the prices at the checkout. She said: 'It's insane. Over the last five years the prices of my grocery basket have gone up and up.' Our government shares Meg's concerns, and we are acting. We've appointed Dr Craig Emerson to lead the review into the grocery code of conduct. The Emerson review will test the effectiveness of the code to police the food and grocery industry to ensure farmers are not unfairly treated.

This is about making sure families and our farmers get a fair go, because when farmers are selling their produce for less supermarkets should charge Australians less. Having a diverse market, we avoid a duopoly that forces farmers to sell their products for less than their real value, at times leaving the farmer without a profit margin. Before you buy, consider shopping at your local greengrocer or butcher, and encourage diversity, local employment and investment in regional economies. Get served by a local business owner and connect with your local community. Have your groceries packed by a young student rather than packing them yourself.

The ACCC will provide their findings and recommendations to government in early 2025, and we will work with the ACCC to ensure shoppers are given a fair deal. The government is also providing CHOICE with $1.1 million to provide price transparency and comparison reports on a quarterly basis for three years. Moreover, these inquiries and initiatives are all about taking action on cost-of-living challenges and ensuring Australians have an economy that works for them. That's why, along with these inquiries, we're delivering a tax cut for every Australian taxpayer. This means more dollars in the pockets of all Australians across my electorate and the nation—more than $1,500 for a local worker on an average wage.

In closing, we know that more competition is better for consumers, farmers and our nation. More importantly, we want more competition that means better prices at the checkout and more dollars in the pockets of Australians.


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