Senate debates

Thursday, 10 September 2009


Consideration by Estimates Committees; Answers to Questions on Notice

3:14 pm

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, pursuant to standing order 74(5), I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate, representing the Assistant Treasurer, for an explanation as to why answers have not been provided to questions on notice BET-101 and BET-102 relating to GROCERYchoice asked during the budget estimates hearings of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee in June this year.

3:15 pm

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of Senator Sherry, who is absent today—and I apologise to Senator Barnett for some confusion yesterday; I asked for the response to be brought into the chamber after question time but I am not sure what occurred—I can say that the government will be responding to the questions on notice referred to by the senator as soon as possible.

I think the government have been upfront about the reasons why we terminated the contract with Choice. The government’s concern was that the website would not be able to provide timely, reliable prices for local stores all around Australia and that consumers who relied on the website might feel misled if the information was not accurate. The proposal was that the prices of at least 5,000 items be provided on a weekly basis. Since there are well over 4,000 supermarkets in Australia, that could involve more than 20 million prices being checked and provided each week. This was complicated by the fact that supermarkets change their prices, especially of fresh food, daily or even more then once a day. The government could not see that it was possible to generate and supply such an enormous amount of pricing information accurately and reliably. The government was concerned that consumers would rely on the website prices and accordingly make decisions on where to shop, and feel misled if the prices were not accurate. The room for error was large on what would have been a government funded website.

The government is working on policy measures to introduce more competition into the grocery retailing industry. It is also working on a range of policy measures to reduce barriers to entry into grocery retailing. These measures include the ACCC working with major supermarkets on removing provisions from shopping centre leases that restrict the entry of rivals and an examination of state and territory zoning laws, designed to enable more competitors to enter the market. Of course, we have already relaxed the foreign investment guidelines, with overseas retailers like Aldi and Costco taking advantage of that relaxation. In addition, we have introduced unit pricing to better enable consumers to make meaningful price comparisons. All of these measures, as the senator would understand, are designed to promote competition and choice for the benefit of consumers.

That is the information that Senator Sherry has been able to provide me with in answer to Senator Barnett’s queries, but the full answers to his questions on notice will be made available as soon as possible.