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More Labor talk on fair-go for farmers after inaction and indecision

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Media Release

The Hon Bruce Billson MP

Shadow Minister for Small Business, Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs

Wednesday 28 August 2013

More Labor talk on fair-go for farmers after inaction and indecision

It is ground-hog day once again as Kevin Rudd talks of promises about a fairer go for farmers in an echo of his 2007 promises that were followed by six years of Labor inaction, indifference and indecision.

Prior to the 2007 election Kevin Rudd promised “Fair prices for Farmers” and that “Labor will act to protect the interests of farmers by ensuring they get a fair deal from major buyers, including the supermarket chains” by “task(ing) the ACCC to evaluate the effectiveness of the Horticulture Code of Conduct as part of Labor’s national grocery pricing inquiry.”

The record shows Labor hasn’t protected the interests of farmers involved in the supermarket supply chain and Kevin Rudd never will. This important policy area is treated as a political plaything by Kevin Rudd and Labor and they are at it again.

Six years later, this promised review has never been finalised and Kevin Rudd is set to promise another Code that Labor has failed to advance while ignoring the need to examine the effectiveness of Australia’s current competition laws.

Stakeholders and consumers are now left waiting and wondering what the creators of the failed ‘fuel watch’ and ‘grocery choice’ debacles will come up with on the eve of an election, after showing no interest in this area for years.

Kevin Rudd and his Labor Government have been all over the shop, lurching from indecision to indifference about the ongoing reports of the impact on producers and suppliers of the dominant supermarket chains’ tactics and conduct.

Labor had a ‘hands-off’ approach to industry-led efforts to develop a supermarket code of conduct between producers, suppliers and the major chains; then to encouraging farmer

representatives to abandon this collaborative work so Labor could appear tough and interested by imposing its own Code; to abandoning its undertakings to farmers while leaving producers out of the discussion with suppliers and the big supermarkets; and now a new promise to impose a Code if there is no ‘New Year’s’ resolution.

Like many New Year’s resolutions, Kevin Rudd thinks he can just keep making commitments without ever sticking to them - and then make them again.

The consistent and considered Coalition approach stands in stark contrast with Labor’s chaotic, confused and confounding mismanagement of competition and fair conduct issues which surround the supermarkets and their supply chains.

The Coalition has urged the ACCC to examine reports of unfair practices, conduct and tactics in the food and grocery supply chain where dominant market positions have been allegedly used to advantage big supermarket chains and damage farmers and food producers. The Commission has recognised these concerns and sought to systematically examine transaction records and practices and was informing the industry-led Code development process.

We have made it clear that if the collaborative industry-led process fails to agree on a Code, the Coalition will consult before moving to introduce a Code to encourage fair conduct and commercial predictability while discouraging the misuse of dominant bargaining positions

The Coalition believes ACCC-approved Codes should be supported by ‘tools and teeth’ with penalties for non-compliance, linkages to anti-competitive and unfair conduct provisions in the competition law and dispute resolution through the independent Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman the Coalition has announced.

Beyond the conduct issues addressed by the Code, the Coalition’s commitment to extend the current unfair contract term protections available to consumers to small business will help deal with unilateral demands for 'rebates' and invoice payment discounts, reportedly imposed on suppliers.

The Coalition is committed to a ‘root and branch’ review of the competition laws to ensure that they are fit for purpose and effective in the current and emerging economy; informed by the experiences and insights gained since the current framework was formulated more than 20 years ago; and properly support competition on merit and not muscle.

Media Contact: Kane Silom, 0458 550 506

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