QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE - Supermarkets Main Image

Cost Of Living

Senator PRATT (Western Australia—Deputy Government Whip in the Senate):

My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Minister Watt. Over the last few months, a spotlight has been shown on our supermarkets, with countless reports of complaints about pricing practices. Speaking to the ABC, Jennifer Doecke from western New South Wales said 'Our fridges are bare because we can't afford fresh fruit and veggies.

Before you could fill the trolley with all the food you want, but we just can't afford to buy it now.' New South Wales farmers have said 'Farmers find themselves at a loss to explain the growing gap between farmgate
and retail, and ordinary Australians are copping it.' With reference to concerns about the difference between
the price farmers are paid for their produce and what Australians are being charged at the checkout, what is the Albanese government doing to address these discrepancies?

Senator WATT (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister for Emergency

Thank you, Senator Pratt, for what I think is an important question going to the point about cost of living pressures that Australians are experiencing. The Albanese government certainly understands that Australians are under the pump and, as a government, we are doing everything we can to address it. That's why we're delivering billions of dollars in cost-of-living relief on things like energy bills, medicines, cheaper child care and, of course, Labor's tax cuts from 1 July. But we also recognise that competition can play an important part in easing the pressure on households and businesses. After a wasted coalition decade, Labor is getting on with the job of making the Australian economy more competitive and fairer for producers and consumers.

We've increased the penalty for anticompetitive conduct and banned unfair contract terms. Last year we reviewed the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct's dispute resolution provisions, and this year we've asked Dr Craig Emerson to review the code itself. Dr Emerson's review is looking at the relationship between farmgate and retail prices and whether or not there could be more transparency in the food supply chain. The code was originally put in place to address the imbalance of market power between the supermarkets and their suppliers, especially smaller producers and farmers, but many farmers have certainly spoken to me about how hard they find it to deal with the supermarket chains and the lack of transparency that exists in those negotiations.

This review of the code marks an important step towards understanding how our supermarket sector is working to deliver fair prices for everyday Australians and for our hardworking farmers. As part of the review, I convened two round tables, one with primary producer groups and another with processor groups and unions, so that they could have the opportunity to put directly to Dr Emerson their views about how the agriculture sector should be operating. We've also initiated an ACCC inquiry into supermarket prices and commissioned consumer group CHOICE to provide quarterly price reporting.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Pratt, first supplementary?

Senator PRATT (Western Australia—Deputy Government Whip in the Senate):

Minister, in evidence of which you're aware given during the public hearings of the Senate Select Committee on Supermarket Prices, we've heard stories, as you know, from farmers going out of business as a result of poor conduct by supermarkets. Given the cost-of-living pressures that are impacting families across the nation, including our farming families, what is the government doing to help relieve cost-of-living pressures for our farmers and our regional communities?

Senator WATT (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister for Emergency

Thanks, Senator Pratt, for your participation in that Senate select committee, along with a number of other senators in this chamber. I think it's revealing some very important information about what is actually going on between supermarkets and farmers, and it's been hidden for too long.

We know that Australians are under cost-of-living pressure. That's why every Australian taxpayer will get a tax cut from 1 July, and most people will get a bigger tax cut to help with these cost-of-living pressures. Importantly, more than 90 per cent of people working in the agriculture, fisheries or forestry sectors will receive a tax cut.

Even though inflation is coming down in welcome and encouraging ways, even though we've got wages growth, which is a good thing as well, we know that people are still under the pump. That's why these tax cuts are so important, and it's why the Treasurer said that, if we can do more in the May budget, we will.

We're also rolling out cheaper medicines, opposed by the coalition, and delivering more affordable housing for the bush, opposed by the coalition. We've had electricity bill rebates, opposed by the coalition, and we're doing a lot more. (Time expired).

The PRESIDENT: Senator Pratt, second supplementary?

Senator PRATT (Western Australia—Deputy Government Whip in the Senate):

It is clear that cost-of living pressures are front of mind for Australian families, so why is it important that providing cost-of-living relief is prioritised across the parliament?

Senator WATT (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister for Emergency

We've said all along that what we want is a fair deal for families and a fair go for farmers. While we've had a laser-like focus on the cost of living in this government, what have the Liberal and National parties focused on? Firstly, rolling out the most expensive energy policy in the history of our country, which would put experimental nuclear reactors in cyclone-prone areas, driving power prices up. Secondly, they're too
busy promoting Putin-backing extremists who say that gender is a grievance narrative to the top of their Senate tickets. And, of course, they're not coming clean on whether they'll keep Labor's tax cuts if they ever are elected.

But they're not alone in being distracted or divisive; the Greens political party, whose housing spokesperson
told the ABC's Insiders program that we have enough homes in this country—tell that to those living in West
End in tents.

Senator McKim: Point of order, President! Point of order!

The PRESIDENT: Minister Watt, please resume your seat. Senator McKim, there is no need to shout out. If I
don't see you standing, the clerk will draw my attention to you. Senator McKim.

Senator McKim: The point of order is that the minister is reflecting on a member of the other place, and in fact he's reflecting by lying about what he said.

The PRESIDENT: Senator McKim, that is not a point of order, and I would ask you to withdraw the comment
you made.

Senator McKim: I do withdraw. He is misleading the chamber, and it is a point of order.

The PRESIDENT: I did not invite you to debate the issue. I will ask you once again to simply withdraw. You
need to stand and do that.

Senator McKim: I withdraw.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you. Minister Watt.

Senator WATT: The Greens are sensitive about the fact that they continue to delay Labor's important housing
initiatives. They demand, and protest about needing, more housing, and then get in the— (Time expired).