House debates

Monday, 18 March 2024

Private Members' Business

Cost of Living

10:54 am

Photo of Daniel MulinoDaniel Mulino (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Clearly, cost of living is an issue affecting people in communities right across this country. It affects people in communities represented by every member of this chamber. I hear about it day in, day out when I talk to people. It's the government's No. 1 priority.

Before talking about supermarkets in particular, I do want to note that this government is dealing with the cost of living with a very wide range of measures, including material, significant and fair changes to the stage 3 tax cuts, which those opposite complained about but reluctantly voted for. A whole range of measures in our first two budgets are dealing with issues such as rent relief, energy bill relief, cheaper medicines and a whole raft of other measures. So the cost of living is the government's No. 1 priority, and we are dealing with it through a range of targeted measures that also represent responsible overall fiscal economic management.

When it comes to supermarkets, this is an area that warrants particular attention. That's why it's so important that the government has initiated an ACCC inquiry and that Dr Craig Emerson is looking at the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct and why CHOICE has been given money for monitoring and greater transparency. I do want to note that actions have already been undertaken. For example, the assistant minister for Treasury, Dr Andrew Leigh, has strengthened a range of measures and sanctions in relation to anticompetitive behaviour—that, of course, following a decade of complete inaction. These are important measures.

I should also say that the committee which I chair, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, was provided with a reference by the Treasurer 15 months ago to look at competition, and that was a very important reference which not only included a raft of economywide issues, such as mergers, but also required the committee to look at a series of important sectors which included retail and supermarkets. We are hoping to table a report in the House on that inquiry soon.

But what I can say is that the evidence that we received from public policy experts, previous chairs of the ACCC and government agencies all pointed to the fact that there are a range of measures across the economy that give an indication of competition and overall economic dynamism. Market share, the degree of firm entry and exit, and margins are three of the key measures that are used. In relation to all of those three measures, there are concerns when it comes to supermarkets and the retail sector. That's why it's so important that the government has initiated a series of reviews. The inquiry that the House of Representatives committee has undertaken received evidence not only from key players in the retail sector and from key players in the supermarket sector but also from a range of other experts, as I indicated—from ex-chairs of the ACCC, from academic experts and from a range of other public policy experts. So we will be feeding in to the public policy discussion as well.

I want to also note that, when it comes to the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, Dr Emerson is undertaking an important review but there has already been a review when it comes to the dispute resolution provisions of that code. That report, which was provided in September 2023 and which the government has favourably responded to, involves a number of measures which will strengthen dispute resolution measures within that code of conduct. That is critically important because it is the dispute resolution aspects of that code which are often the pointy end of the way in which primary producers, agricultural producers, deal with supermarkets with significant market share. That's already a significant stage, and now, of course, Dr Emerson is going to be reviewing aspects of the code other than the dispute resolution processes.

Of course, there's the ACCC review. It is absolutely critical that the ACCC look at the supermarket sector in detail—to look at the degree of competition, to look at supply chain issues and to look at pricing practices. These are all of the key terms of reference that the ACCC has, with its very extensive and powerful data-gathering powers and with its very extensive analytical powers. This review will be absolutely critical. As I said, the committee that I was on received a lot of evidence on this issue and the findings and recommendations that we put to this House in the coming sitting weeks will then be complemented and built upon materially, I'm sure, by the ACCC in its major review. So this government sees the cost of living as critical, including when it comes to supermarket prices.


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