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Monday, 20 October 2008
Page: 9647

Mr GEORGANAS (7:17 PM) —I have listened carefully to the two previous speakers from the opposition, the member for Cowper and the member for Herbert. It is incredible that the opposition has for decades presented itself as the party which represents business interests and small business and which believes in and supports the workings of our competitive domestic market economy, yet it is so clearly and deliberately obstructing this initiative that will assist Australian consumers to make their choice. It will give them knowledge and empower them when they are doing their shopping.

The purpose of GroceryWatch is to increase consumer knowledge of prices placed on supermarket goods. Increasing consumer knowledge is, one would think, fundamental to a healthy, competitive market. One would also think that supporters of our economic system would absolutely welcome additional input to foster competition between supermarket chains. One would think that an opposition that had, over several months in both this and the other place, presented itself as being concerned with limitations on consumer demand and the purchasing power of citizens around this nation would welcome an initiative that fosters competition and the ability of consumers to increase their purchasing power and the quantum of goods that they can access with their nominated budget.

It really is disappointing that the opposition, the self-appointed party of business interests, is siding in this debate with the largest businesses. It is standing by the largest supermarket chains in attempting to limit the public’s knowledge of the prices placed on goods that Australian families need in their everyday existence. They are standing up here and in the other place against an initiative designed to foster competition. This has to be amongst the most disappointing episodes in the opposition’s disappointing performance in recent years.

Australians want heightened competition in the grocery market. The public demands clarity of pricing, and consumers want to know as best they can the relative value offered by alternative suppliers. This Labor government is standing with the consumers in this debate. The opposition clearly is standing with the interests of big business, limiting consumer knowledge and deriding those speaking in the interests of the consumer. The Liberal Party has, I suppose, turned into an oligarchs’ party. The Rudd Labor government are working in the interests of the consumer and we are totally unapologetic about it.

A notable contribution to this debate was the report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on the grocery sector, which identified areas in which competition is compromised. Already, working within this place and through the Council of Australian Governments, this consumer focused Labor federal government has commenced the development of a nationally consistent unit price regime for consumers’ easy and accurate comparison of prices of a given product. I will repeat that: easy and accurate comparison of prices of a given product. One would think that people would be welcoming the opportunity for consumers to be able to compare prices of a given product. It has opened up discussion on potential creeping acquisition laws, addressing large market players’ overpowering of the market and decreasing competition through incremental mergers and acquisitions.

Most recently, the government has introduced ‘clarity in pricing’ legislation through amendment of the Trade Practices Act to reduce the misrepresentation of the cost of goods by omitting additional fees and charges that any consumer would necessarily have to pay for a purchase. Labor knows there is real reform to be pursued in relation to the grocery sector, in the interests of the consumer, the customer, the public we represent and those interests that we act for. The inquiry also revealed the potential for large players to play games with local planning systems to delay or prevent new competitors entering the market.

The Rudd Labor government is committed to working in the interests of the public and increasing the downward pressure on grocery prices through competition. The government has already relaxed restrictions that have prevented competitors buying vacant land to build new supermarkets, increasing competition. These measures are in addition to the amendments of the misuse of market power provisions within the Trade Practices Act and the criminalisation of serious cartel conduct.

Here we have a government committed to removing barriers to competition within the grocery market, fostering competition between retailers and improving the purchasing power of the public, and the opposition can do nothing but snipe and obstruct the government’s good work, aiding and abetting the grocery market superpowers through the limitation of information that consumers have at their disposal. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. JE Moylan)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.