House debates

Wednesday, 3 July 2024


Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Cost of Living

7:45 pm

Photo of Michelle Ananda-RajahMichelle Ananda-Rajah (Higgins, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

An estimated 250,000 Australians live with ME/CFS, with approximately 25 per cent experiencing severe disability that renders them either housebound or bedbound. This is a gendered disease where close to 80 per cent of victims are, in fact, women. ME/CFS is a complex multisystem disease. With limited treatments, management aims to reduce symptom severity to restore quality of life. As constituent Jenny Meagher put it:

Silent and invisible, armies of people … have been doggedly fighting from our beds for over two decades for unsafe clinical guidelines to be replaced.

On 20 June, health minister Mark Butler announced $1.1 million to the NHMRC, our peak research and medical body, to develop new Australian clinical guidelines for ME/CFS in consultation with patient groups, health professionals and medical scientists. 'Keyboards rattled as a silent cheer erupted,' as Jenny said. These long overdue guidelines will provide a roadmap for health professionals and a compass for researchers, pointing them in the direction of gaps in knowledge that need to be filled with evidence. It's time to chart these invisible illnesses on that map. Momentum gathered with the long-COVID-19 parliamentary inquiry delivered by the health committee in April of last year, which I am part of. I reflect that it is a shame that it took a pandemic to reinvigorate this conversation. I know that many of our Higgins community, people like Jenny and Peter Meagher, along with Emerge Australia, have campaigned tirelessly on this issue, despite years of doubt and disregard. Their voices have been heard. The Albanese government is taking action.

I'd like to also discuss the issue of supermarkets and prices Australians are being charged at supermarkets. Australians are feeling the pinch. They are experiencing not only a cost-of-living crisis but something that has been termed a 'cost-of-eating crisis'. For some, household budgets are in the red, and, for many, a trip to the supermarket is actually making them see red. Why? Because they are clued in to the fake discounts and what is termed 'asymmetric price transmission', which is a technical way of saying that prices at supermarkets tend to be jacked up as soon as produce hikes occur, such as for meat. But, as those meat prices start to fall, it takes a lot longer for the prices to fall at the checkout.

Supermarkets are making record billion-dollar profits. Coles in 2023 recorded a profit of $1.1 billion. Woollies recorded $1.6 billion. Both results were over four per cent higher than the year before. This is all occurring at a time when farmers are being squeezed or silenced and not getting a fair deal at the farm gate. They are essentially being asked to produce more for less. Australians know that we have one of the most concentrated supermarket sectors in the world, with Coles and Woollies dominating, controlling about 65 per cent of market share, and Aldi 10 per cent.

So what are we doing about it? We tasked consumer group CHOICE with $1.1 million to undertake quarterly consumer surveys over the next three years. The last one was released just recently, and it was revealing. It showed that a standard grocery basket is around 25 per cent cheaper at Aldi compared to the other supermarkets. This is significant. It actually forced me to change my behaviour, and Australians are voting with their feet. I have started doing most of my shopping at Aldi, and I found that a trolley of groceries for a family of four is about $50 to $60 cheaper. That is a significant saving. I've undertaken split-basket shopping. I do my main shop at one supermarket and I might pick up a few goodies at the other.

We also undertook the Emerson review, looking at the supermarket Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, and we have accepted the findings. In particular, we have rejected the coalition's call for the forced break-up of supermarkets—forced divestiture. This has been roundly condemned by many experts, including Graeme Samuel, the former chair of the ACCC, who described it as shocking populism, and it is. It will have unintended consequences that may actually lead to greater market concentration and greater price increases.