House debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024


Grocery prices

7:35 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's no secret that Australians are under the pump, and we've seen price increases on daily purchases. But the cost of groceries is amongst the biggest concerns for many. The big supermarkets have made record profits. Coles posted a $1.1 billion full-year profit, and Woolies reached $1.6 billion. That's a four per cent increase on the previous year, while we've seen the price of daily items like meat and cheese skyrocket. Our farmers saw consumer prices increase at the supermarket while wholesale cattle market prices plunged in 2023. Lamb, for example—although of course not cattle—which cost just $4.11 a kilo from the farm in September last year, in some supermarkets is being sold for at least six times that price. Melon producers, when it comes to fruit and veg, were getting paid $1.50 a kilo, while the big two were selling them at $5 a kilo or more. If the price for meat and fruit and vegetables is going down at the farm gate, then families should be seeing cheaper prices on supermarket shelves too. But we're not seeing it. In January, after some pushback from farmers and ag groups, we saw the price of lamb drop significantly, despite an increase in the wholesale cost since then. So it's all over the place, and the numbers just don't add up.

That's why I welcome the Albanese Labor government's ACCC inquiry into supermarket prices. We want to get to the bottom of it. We all want to know why a couple of kilos cost about the same as what a farmer might get for a whole lamb at the saleyard, and we don't want the usual spin. I expect the ACCC to use its powers to get some real answers. When the price of meat comes down at the supermarket, it drives demand, and that helps farmers out. When meat is overpriced, shoppers buy less, and farmers end up doing it tougher. Coles and Woolworths have recently defended their pricing, with Coles suggesting increased costs from suppliers and farmers. But the profit figures, the wholesale figures and the sale prices don't add up. Coles has purportedly even asked some of its suppliers to reduce their costs as inflation cools, but suppliers aren't necessarily seeing the record profits, unlike the big two supermarkets. Supermarkets are buying meat at record-low prices. But they're keeping checkout prices high, and that is driving up supermarket profits.

Let me say this: profits are a good thing. They give a company confidence to invest, and profitable companies employ millions of Australians. But are excessive profits at a time when the country is battling inflation the best we can do? Shareholders of these big companies are essentially creaming it, and they're digging their fingers into the pockets of the people who shop at those supermarkets. If you're making more profit this year, in a high-inflation inflation environment, than you were last year, then you're contributing to inflation. It's not a good thing. Frankly, it's galling to see prices at the checkout go up when the price that supermarkets pay at the saleyard and the farm gate goes down. The supermarkets give every excuse—that it takes time, that there are middlemen. We've heard it all, and we are sick of it. I look forward to the inquiry getting to the bottom of it. Excessive profit might be good for shareholders, but it's not so great for customers, it's not good for farmers and it's not good for the national fight against inflation.

My constituents have contacted my office, welcoming the news of the ACCC inquiry, including Noel from my electorate, who said:

Farmers are not making big profits at all, but the supermarkets are unfairly asking them to lower prices so they can keep theirs.

David in Carlton River said:

It's funny how the Coalition, that includes the National Party, have never thought of trying to get a better deal for our farmers, seems like they don't practice what they preach.

You can laugh, member for Hinkler. You are the mining company party now, not the farmers' party. Everybody knows that. You're the Gina party. We know that.

When it comes to cost-of-living relief, there are things we can't control, which is why we've called for this inquiry. With the things we can control, I'm proud I'm part of a government not scared of making changes where necessary. Amending the stage 3 tax cuts was the right thing to do to help people keep more of what they earn. We are proud of wanting people to earn more and keep more of what they earn. Every Australian taxpayer will receive a tax cut from 1 July. Whether it's grocery price inquiries or putting more money into people's pockets through tax cuts, the Labor government is looking after Australians' best interests.