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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10418

Mr GEORGANAS (8:05 PM) —I welcome this motion and congratulate the member for Mallee for bringing such an important issue to the parliament. It is very important because we should all be concerned about the high level of market concentration in the retail grocery sector. As we heard from previous speeches on both sides earlier, depending who you listen to the two big supermarkets control anything between 70 and 80 per cent of the entire grocery market. That is not a good position for us to be in.

I am also very pleased that one of the first acts of the Rudd Labor government, which has been in office for less than 12 months, was to implement significant pro-competitive reform—with more to come. We have recognised that there are increasing cost-of-living pressures for all Australians, and we are addressing these issues. When you look back, the opposition had 12 years to address these issues, but not much was done about market competition in those 12 years. One of the first things we did when we won government was ask the ACCC to look into the competitiveness of the grocery sector and the impact it had on prices. The ACCC report, as we all saw, highlighted the positive impact on grocery prices of greater competition from supermarket chains like Aldi. Where there is greater competition, as we all know, we all benefit.

The government’s plan for the grocery sector includes introducing a nationally consistent unit price regime for major supermarkets and using COAG to help ensure state and local planning laws are used to boost competition between supermarkets. We have seen how some of these big chain supermarkets use their local planning laws to slow down the process of more competition coming into their area, so that is a very important initiative. We are also introducing a creeping acquisitions law to keep up competition in local areas and setting up GROCERYchoice to give consumers a quick and easy way to see which supermarkets sell a basket of goods at the cheapest price. For example, in my electorate, in the suburbs of Mile End, Torrensville, Hilton and Cowandilla we have a choice of Foodland, Woolworths and, further down the road, another independent grocer. GROCERYchoice gives to the people living in that immediate area the opportunity to have a look at who sells the basket of goods at a better price, giving them the choice to buy where the cheaper product is.

The Rudd government’s plan comes on the back of other important reforms as well: strengthening the Trade Practices Act to target the abuse of market power by larger companies; relaxing the restrictions on foreign supermarkets to develop new sites, allowing more competition; and introducing jail terms for serious cartel behaviour, a very serious offence. The government’s action plan for the grocery sector is an important step in driving and promoting competition to the benefit of the consumer. Contrast that with a coalition that had 12 years to do something but did nothing except argue that working families had never been better off. This government is committed to encouraging new entrants to the market, whether at the retail or the wholesale level, and has already relaxed restrictions that have prevented foreigners from buying vacant land to build new supermarkets.

The government also welcomed the ACCC’s plan to review more cases so that restrictive provisions in leases between supermarkets and shopping centres that prevent or delay the entry of other supermarkets into a centre are, where appropriate, prohibited under the Trade Practices Act 1974.

The government is also fulfilling its election commitment, made by the then Leader of the Opposition in July last year, to set up a dedicated website that gives consumers a snapshot, as I said earlier, of local grocery prices. The GROCERYchoice website became active in August this year. The website, as I said, provides a consumer guide to the cheaper supermarkets in their region. Consumers will then be able to make their choices, based on customer service, convenience and other factors.

Unit pricing is also important. Unit pricing will allow consumers to more easily compare the price of different sized products and get the best value for their dollar. Comparative pricing is the display of the price of goods per unit of measure—for example, per 100 grams, per kilogram, per litre or per item. (Time expired)