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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8742


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (15:52): Listening to the member for Dunkley you just do not know whether the coalition is Arthur or Martha on this issue. In fact, I found two quotes from their spokespersons in relation to this issue which demonstrate the failures of the coalition when they were in government, including their failure to put forward a consistent narrative on this issue. Senator Barnaby Joyce in a media statement on 15 July this year said:

Over the past 30 years—

during which both sides of politics were here—

food prices in Australia have increased by 189 percent. Much higher than many others, in the UK and US food prices have increased about 120 per cent, while in Canada they have only increased by 90 per cent.

Then you have the Leader of the Nationals, when he was a minister in the previous government, launching a report, Price determination in the Australianfood industry, explaining the differences between farm gate, wholesale and retail prices and talking about the fact that the report found that the relatively low grocery sector profit margins in Australia were largely a result of strong international and national brand presence together with 'a highly competitive retail sector'. That was in his speech to the ABARE Outlook 2004 conference. So you just do not know where the coalition stands on this particular policy.

I believe the member for Kennedy is sincere and genuine in what he says. We saw that in the passion that he displayed here today. But he claimed that the major political parties were controlled by Woolworths and Coles. During the last state election in Queensland—and I happen to represent an electorate in south-east Queensland—you had bunting, posters and advertisements saying that Woolworths and Coles ran the country. Woolworths and Coles do not raise taxes, they do not declare war and they do not run schools or hospitals, and I have never seen the CEO of Woolworths or Coles sitting at the dispatch box on either side of the chamber.

The truth is that Woolworths and Coles are an important part of the Australian economy. As the Assistant Treasurer said, they control about 71 per cent of the food and grocery sector. IGA control about seven per cent and ALDI control about four per cent. The member for Kennedy actually talked about his position. He wants to divest, and the government intervened. I had a look at the policies on the website of Katter's Australian Party. There is a piece about this issue headed 'Fair Food'. It is less than a page and there is nothing there about the impact on jobs, on profitability of companies or on the impact on regional, rural and suburban communities. It is just a bold statement about what they might do, claiming:

… consumer prices are inflated, meaning higher grocery bills.

That is inconsistent with the reports, as the Assistant Treasurer has outlined.

I do not know where the member for Kennedy has been, if he has watched TV or received any of those brochures in his home, because competition is really quite strong, and you can see that. How much more does he want consumers to pay? If he wants to get rid of what he thinks is an oligopolistic practice, how much more does he want Australian consumers to pay for bread, butter, milk, cheese et cetera?

He also says he does not know how people actually get to the grocery stores or supermarkets. But the ACCC, in their 2008 grocery inquiry, found that almost 90 per cent of consumers living in metropolitan regions travel fewer than five kilometres to their regular supermarket. In regional areas—and I represent a regional and rural seat—consumers tend to travel further to do their supermarket shopping, with 23 per cent travelling more than 10 kilometres. I have 6,500 square kilometres in my electorate, and if you drive for five minutes in your car from my electorate office you get into cattle country. That is the truth. The truth is that rural and regional areas also want Woolworths and Coles.

I know from when I have done mobile offices in Esk, a rural community north-west of Ipswich, that they have been crying out for a Woolworths shop to be created there. I know that in places like Fernvale, Woolworths has acted as an incubator to attract more retail. When I spoke to the manager of the Ipswich Region Business Enterprise Centre of the Ipswich and West Moreton region, Tony Axford, he talked about the impact of those facilities and consumer outlets in those rural areas.

If you want to talk about why Woolies and Coles are important across the country, let me give you an illustration from my community. I represent Ipswich and the Somerset region. During the floods last year, we saw Coles in Ipswich decimated. One of the pictures many people in this place and listening on the radio would have seen was Coles decimated by the floods. All around that area we saw retail outlets like Ace Computer World suffer as a result of the loss of Coles. Coles are going to build a $25 million facility. It is going to be above the flood line and 350 people in the Ipswich area are going to get jobs. Does the member for Kennedy say that they should not do that? Should they divest themselves of that particular site and lose 350 jobs in that community? Does he want to damage the retail outlets in that area—the newsagents, the little shops in that area, Ace Computer World? Is that what he wants them to do? That is what he seems to be proposing.

What about Woolworths? He is critical of them. He claims, for example, that Woolworths and Coles control the major political parties. For many years, until very recently, I was on the state administrative committee of the Australian Labor Party in Queensland. I cannot remember Woolworths or Coles ever being mentioned at any stage. They are not an affiliated body to the Australian Labor Party's Queensland branch or to any other branch of the party across the country. The claim that somehow Woolies and Coles control the Labor Party—and I do not believe for a minute they control the Liberal Party or the National Party either—is not true at all. They do not.

The truth is that Woolies and Coles are an important part of regional and rural areas. I know how important they are in my communities, in the country towns and also in Ipswich.

I mentioned the flood. During the flood Woolies provided enormous help to my communities. Does the member for Kennedy propose, in respect of the mall site of the Ipswich CBD, that Woolies divest itself of that particular site? It is the anchor of the mall in Ipswich. During the flood, I organised—and Woolies did this—thousands and thousands of dollars worth of groceries, fruit and vegetables, household goods and cans and packages of food, including spaghetti, for flood evacuation areas in the Ipswich region. We had convoys of utilities and trucks going to evacuation centres at places like Riverview Neighbourhood House. Does he propose that we divest that? What is he suggesting for communities like Ipswich and Fernvale? We know these places are important. We know they attract business.

I will talk about Ipswich again and about the suburb I live in. Down the road from me in Flinders View we have an IGA at Winston Glades Shopping Centre. Less than three kilometres down the road, in the Yamanto Village, we have a Woolies. It is the hub of the Yamanto Village. About 200 metres down the road, along Warwick Road, there is an ALDI. They all exist there and they compete. I have lived in that particular part of Ipswich for about 27 years and I know that people in my community know they compete as they get the brochures.

Consumers make choices. They make choices about where they will go to shop. We do not live in a Stalinist economy, a command economy. Sadly, although the member for Kennedy seems to have the best interests of people at heart, somehow I think he would be happier in a command economy, even though he wants to say it is in the best interests of free enterprise. He is so critical of free enterprise and he is so critical of free trade. But these particular enterprises actually form the base of a community.

In the Yamanto Village, for example, right beside the Woolies there is a butcher and beside it there is a greengrocer. Seriously, what is he going to suggest about the impact on the greengrocer and on the butcher if you get rid of Woolies and they divest themselves of the site in one of the biggest suburbs in Ipswich? Is that what he is suggesting we do? I think it is nonsense. I have given those examples in my community to show the consequences and to talk about the 'beware factor' here as to the member for Kennedy's proposal. It is not thought through. That is all his policy document is about, with no dollars and sense, no thinking about the economic consequences in regional and rural areas, no thinking about the consequences for consumers and no thinking about the consequences for local jobs. It sounds good if you are in a pub up at Hughenden or somewhere like that but it does not work in reality. He knows it is not realistic. It is great publicity but it is not realistic. It is not good for jobs, it is not good for consumers and it is not good for communities like mine. (Time expired)