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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8732


Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (15:12): In 1991 in Australia, two supermarket giants had 50.5 per cent of the food market. In 1999, John Howard, the Prime Minister, agreed to an inquiry. By that time the market share of the two supermarket giants had risen to 65 per cent. Everybody knew that their market share was shooting through the roof. The inquiry, comprising all parties, including the Australian Democrats, effectively recommended that nothing be done.

There were three alternatives. One was, as the National Association of Retail Grocers of Australia, or NARGA—the independents—asked for, a capping at and divestment down to 22 per cent of market share for each of the giants. A second was to go to American trust laws. The third alternative was to considerably strengthen the Australian Consumer and Trade Practices Act. Not one of the three alternatives was adopted by the committee. No-one can read their report—an excellent report, I might add—and not understand that the major parties in Australia are controlled by Woolworths and Coles.

No other country on Earth would accept this situation. Let me give you the figures for other countries. The report I am referring to, Fair market or market failure, gives the figures for other countries. There is not one other country on Earth where the big three have even 25 per cent. But in Australia, when this report came out, they had 65 per cent.

Franklins and Davids have vanished into the mouths of the two giant whales—and when the last report was done in 2002 by AC Nielsen, which tracks the figures, they were on 72 per cent of market share. So when should we act—when they have 100 per cent of market share? But in every report—the AC Nielsen series, the ABS series and this report here—every single one of them, including Woolworth and Coles, claims they have two per cent annual market growth. They had 74 per cent in 2002—I think most people can add up—and we are now talking about 90 per cent.

In America there are 22 books on the shelves about Wal-Mart because there is a huge outcry in America. Wal-Mart and their nearest competitor have 23.1 per cent of the American market. Americans are screaming blue murder over that 23.1 per cent. But our two giants have 90 per cent. What is the result of that? What happens if you give two giants ownership of your liquor, petrol and food? There are only two people for farmers to sell to and there are only two people for consumers to buy from.

I have spoken thousands of times in this place about the horrors of deregulation. I will go through them. The milk industry was the first to be deregulated. Let me go through the figures. I must emphasise that these are not my figures; they are ABS figures. The price of milk was 59c a litre under an arbitrated price system—the famous tribunal. The day after deregulation we were paid 42c a litre. Was that difference passed on to consumers? No. The price for consumers went up by over 25 per cent over the next two years. So Woolworth and Coles—there were others too, but it was mainly them—took away from the table an extra $1.3 billion of profit a year. That is what they got; that is what we delivered to them through deregulation.

I say to the people in this place who have advocated national competition policy that the one thing it never delivered was competition. It delivered monopoly powers. Every day that goes by, more and more Australians are destroyed by it. After deregulation, the price of eggs to the consumer rose from 185c a dozen to 293c, almost a doubling in price, the price to farmers went down by 12c a dozen, and the boys in the middle got $240 million extra. When we deregulated the sugar industry and removed the tariffs, we got wiped out to the tune of $360 million. That extra profit went to Woolworth and Coles. Again, the price in the stores went up by 20 per cent.

We have had inquiry after inquiry. I do not understand this and I will never understand this: each inquiry says there is no problem. When two people own 90 per cent of the marketplace they tell us there is no problem! After the last inquiry, I went down to Coles at Manuka and bought a one kilogram bag of sugar for $1.35. The price paid to the processor and the farmer was 39c. They get 40c and Woolworth and Coles get $1.35. Packaging must cost a lot! For eggs, the farmer was paid $1.40 and the price there was $4.85. I have the dockets. For milk, 65c went to the farmer and the processor, and the cost to the consumer was $1.99 a litre. Coles are making a big deal about cutting that down to $1, but for 11 years we were talking about $2. Here is my docket—at Coles it was $2. Well, they made plenty. If they are getting a little bit back which they are not giving back, it is over the dead bodies of the farmers—quite literally. Within two years of dairy deregulation there was a farmer committing suicide every four days in this country.

Finally, potatoes—and you can really justify a lot of processing with potatoes! The farmers got 62c a kilo and Coles were charging $2.46 a kilo. I can continue to reiterate these prices, but everybody in this parliament knows Coles and Woolworths are quite literally having a picnic over the dead bodies of our farmers, and it will continue until there are no farmers left.

Coles and Woolworths are buying from overseas, and our chances to get the message through are very limited when the Fairfax press is controlled by Roger Corbett, the chairman, who was head of Woolworths. He is also on the board of Wal-Mart in the United States. They have got unlimited trading virtually everywhere in Queensland. They can wipe out the after-hours stores—so there are no ma and pa stores. How the single mothers and retired people in the suburbs get to supermarkets now I do not know. It is very difficult for them to go shopping now because they have got no local store.

The service stations were not allowed to have groceries when we were in government in Queensland. That was specifically to keep the oil companies out of—and to protect—owner-operated businesses. That has been abolished, of course. The service stations are now controlled and owned by Woolworth and Coles. So all of that after-hours trade has moved completely over to them—and what they haven't got they are going to get by 24-hour trading wherever they go.

We cannot sell on the world market because of the massive subsidies from the other countries. It is almost impossible for us to compete on the world market. So we come back to the Australian market, and week after week, day after day, product is brought in from overseas. Hardly a week goes by where there is not something in the papers about some new commodity coming in from overseas. I am told that Woolworths has a whole three-storey building employing people doing nothing else except sourcing cheap food from overseas.

We cannot compete in apples. I said, 'Hold on, it's America and New Zealand,' and they said, 'Yes, $9 an hour.' We would pay $19 an hour, and so we should, but the wage in the United States in California is $9 an hour, and in New Zealand it is $9 an hour. The apples will also be coming in from China, where the average income is $5,000 a year. How can we compete against those apples? Everybody knows they have fire blight. You had the reason to keep them out, but you did not. You are so in love and enamoured with and obsessive about free trade that you will bring those apples in knowing that they have been sprayed with streptomycin, antibiotics, to get rid of the disease. You know that.

So I will be moving legislation in this House so that, if you want to bring an apple in from those three countries which have fire blight and spray with streptomycin—because we have no way of checking whether it is sprayed with streptomycin—every apple will have a marker on it. We heard the minister stand up today on cigarettes. There is a serious danger to our health from these apples. Every one will have a marker: 'This product has not been grown or processed under Australian health and hygiene standards and may be injurious to your health.'

I say with very great pride that, as the minister, I have been attributed with the creation of the prawn- and fish-farming industries of Australia—and no doubt my department played a very key role in the establishment of those industries. Prawn and fish farming in Australia rose up to $600 million at one stage. We have virtually no prawn farming at all now in Australia. We thought we would catch Thailand at $2,000 million. Thailand has gone up to $8,000 million; we have gone down to nothing. And that is because Woolworths and Coles are bringing their prawns in from Vietnam, China and Thailand.

In Vietnam they actually use raw sewage in the ponds. In Thailand, they put the raw sewage in the river, and in China they put raw sewage in the river and take raw sewage out. We have to have pure, bacteria-free water going in and pure, bacteria-free water going out, which is impossible, so forget about any prawn farming in Australia. But those prawns are coming in, and we know they are carrying diseases. They have to be. They are being brought up in a bacterial environment. So once again, as far as I am concerned, every single little box of prawns anywhere in Australia will carry that label on it. At the very least, that will slow Woolworths and Coles down from bringing them into Australia.

Every other country has laws protecting against monopolistic powers—oligopolistic, if I want to be technical. Every country on earth has that. We have no laws that protect. Clearly, they rose from 50.5 per cent in 1991, after inquiry after inquiry after inquiry, up to 92 per cent—and these are their own figures, not mine; they are not my figures. Every year they claim they have a growth in market share, and I have been tracking them since the ABS series was discontinued and the AC Nielsen series was discontinued. There was to be a review in 2002. Both series were discontinued in 2002, so we could not prove anything because there were no series there anymore. I am not a conspiracy theorist, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is pretty difficult to write around that one in 2002. But, since 2002, Coles and Woolworths have skited to their shareholders about their growth in market share. Add that to the 74 per cent they had in 2002 and you have 92 per cent, and we are still doing nothing in this place.

I formed a political party—and I will probably conclude on this note. A newsagent, Roger Piagno, in Mareeba, jumped out and said, 'What've you formed a new political party for?' I said, 'How many shops have we got in the main street of Mareeba, Rog, do you reckon?' He said, 'Oh, about 150, I suppose.' 'How many are we going to have in 15 or 20 years time?' He said, 'Two.' I said: 'Good. That's why I formed a political party!' And he walked inside. You have to seriously contemplate forming a new political party in this country to get a little bit of justice for every single person. There will be no newsagents. There will be no chemists. There will be no florists. There will be no bakers. There will be nothing. They want it all, and this place has facilitated giving them it all.

Forget about mixing with powerful people. You do not have to mix with powerful people. Mix with Australians and be proud of it and do the right thing by them. Woolworths and Coles must be acted upon. Every four days, a farmer in Australia commits suicide. And that is the note upon which I conclude.