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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 377


Dr NELSON (Leader of the Opposition) (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Given his pre-election commitments, can the Prime Minister now give Australian families a guarantee his shopping trolley full of inquiries will give Australian families a shopping trolley full of cheaper groceries?


Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question. When it comes to one of the core sets of factors impacting on the family budget each week, it is the cost of petrol, groceries and mortgages. In each of these areas, the government has advanced plans to the Australian people, and we intend to get on with implementing them. On the first one, when it comes to housing affordability, I note the fact that the government which preceded us had no minister for housing. This government has appointed a minister for housing, and we have already, within the first 72 days of operation of the government’s term, outlined how we intend to implement our first home saver accounts. There are a range of other policies on housing affordability, because that goes to the ultimate cost-of-living pressures on working families.

Then it goes to the question of petrol. This government has a plan to appoint a petrol price commissioner. Our predecessors—and I notice that the former Treasurer smiles in the seat which he now occupies—in the previous government failed to act decisively when it came to effective monitoring of petrol prices. They failed to do it until, in the middle of last year, we in opposition said that our policy would be to appoint a petrol price commissioner. As a consequence of that, the government, led by the then Treasurer, announced such an inquiry. This government has already undertaken other measures to enhance greater external scrutiny on the oil majors when it comes to the cost of petrol. On grocery prices, we have indicated we will have a—


Dr Nelson —Mr Speaker, on a point of order of relevance, this is presumably of interest to many people, but the question is about the cost of groceries for Australian families. I would appreciate it if the Prime Minister would come back to the basic issue.


The SPEAKER —Order! In the past, the occupant of this chair might have been able to glean from the Leader of the Opposition’s question a number of factors to justify relevance. First of all, the Leader of the Opposition talked about the promises made by the Prime Minister—very broad. Secondly, he talked about the shopping trolley of inquiries—very broad. It could be said that the Prime Minister was actually picking that part of the question. The Leader of the Opposition then went on to something that was more specific: the cost of a shopping trolley of groceries. This is the dilemma that occupants of this chair have had about the relevance rule. Of course, to talk about any promise that was made would be completely out of order, in my belief. But to add the ‘shopping trolley of inquiries’ and the ‘shopping trolley of groceries’ then leads to this dilemma that we now have. At this point in time, I will rule that the Prime Minister is in order, but I ask all members of the House—


Mr Downer —Of course!


The SPEAKER —I thank the honourable member for Mayo for his biased comment. It will get him nowhere.


Mr Downer —I just said, ‘Of course!’


The SPEAKER —Well, it will get him nowhere. If he wants to participate in the House trying to reform question time, he might discuss it with his colleagues on both sides of the chamber.


Mr RUDD —The cost-of-living pressures which affect working families are housing mortgages, the cost of petrol and the cost of groceries. On the cost of groceries, over the last 10 years food prices have risen an average annual rate of 3.8 per cent—well above the 2.9 per cent average for the CPI. A large part of the rise in the price of food can be attributed to the drought and high world prices for commodities such as grains. The government is keen to ensure that consumers have access to a competitive market for basic food items.

On 22 January 2008, the government directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to undertake an inquiry into the competitiveness of retail prices for groceries under the Trade Practices Act 1974. Under the TPA the ACCC can monitor prices, costs and profits in any industry or business, as directed, and report the results. The ACCC has been instructed to take a broad approach to its inquiry and ensure all aspects of the grocery supply chain are included, from the farm gate to the checkout point, with the ACCC report due to the government by 31 July 2008. This is action which the previous government never undertook.


Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, I ask that you ask the Prime Minister to table the document from which he was reading.


The SPEAKER —Order! Was the Prime Minister reading from a document?


Mr Rudd —Yes.


The SPEAKER —Is the document confidential?


Mr Rudd —Yes.


The SPEAKER —The document is confidential.