As a federal inquiry into escalating grocery prices gains momentum, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has assured Australians that “everything is on the table” in the government’s commitment to reducing the cost of essential goods.
Leading the charge is Craig Emerson, a seasoned political figure from the Rudd and Gillard administrations, tasked with reviewing the food and grocery code of conduct that binds major supermarkets.
In an interview with ABC TV, Albanese emphasised the government’s determination to ensure that cost reductions at the supermarket level translate into tangible benefits for consumers.
“We know that when we’ve seen a reduction in the cost to supermarkets, that hasn’t been passed on in an appropriate way to consumers and we want to make sure that happens,” Albanese said.
“Everything is on the table because we want to make sure that customers benefit.”
The review, initiated in October 2023, focuses on the effectiveness of the supermarket industry code, which governs the behaviour of retailers and wholesalers toward suppliers.
Allegations of price gouging have fuelled concerns, prompting the government to consider strengthening consumer rights as a potential outcome.
While the news will no doubt be welcomed by cash-strapped consumers who are struggling with rising grocery prices, Deputy Opposition leader Sussan Ley has called for more immediate relief for consumers at the checkout.
“I don’t think as families are pushing their supermarket trolleys around filling up for the new year, wondering about those back to school prices … they’re going to be reassured by a review of a code of conduct,” she told Sky News.
Green Senator Nick McKim called for a thorough examination of market power held by major players like Coles and Woolworths. He stressed the need for strong actions, including divestiture powers, to break up monopolies and guarantee fair pricing for consumers.
Albanese’s assurances to Aussie consumers come after Treasurer Jim Chalmers issued a stern warning to supermarkets that when wholesale prices decrease, the checkout bills should follow suit.
Addressing reporters in Brisbane recently, Chalmers emphasised the government’s commitment to reviewing competition laws to benefit individuals facing financial challenges in supermarkets across Australia.
“We are concerned that when the price for meat and fruit and vegetables at the farm gate goes down, we want to see the price of those goods go down on the supermarket shelves as well,” Chalmers said.
“If the supermarkets are buying it cheaper, they should be selling it cheaper, too.”
The Treasurer explained that he is actively engaged with the consumer watchdog, which diligently monitors prices across the economy. Chalmers is set to discuss the matter further with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) this week, emphasising the need to ensure effective monitoring arrangements.
“This is a fairly regular topic of conversation, how we make sure that we’ve got the monitoring arrangements right,” Chalmers said.
Coles has stood firm in support of its pricing model, affirming that prices are shaped by market dynamics and impacted by seasonal factors, as well as supply and demand.
Woolworths echoed comparable views, highlighting its continuous efforts to find the optimal equilibrium between offering access to premium products and guaranteeing suppliers receive a just market price.