As I rise to speak today, I am very aware that, all over Australia at this moment, there are people standing in one of the major supermarkets and looking down at their trolley with absolute anxiety. The mums, the dads, the retirees, the students from share houses—all of them are doing the sums and putting stuff back on the shelves because the prices are too much. More than ever I see items left behind at the self-check-out. Clearly, people have reached the top of their budget. Some of the prices that I see when I walk around the supermarkets literally take my breath away. Dairy products are actually the ones that really hit home. I come from a dairy farming family. I know those prices are not flowing through to the dairy farmers.

The cost of living has risen for so many for so many months and, while we’re feeling it in our mortgages or rent rises, it’s at the supermarket check-out where everyday Australians feel this literally every day. We know that Australia is going through a period of inflation; in fact, we learnt today that prices rose 3.4 per cent in the year to January. But many people will tell you the price increases we have seen at Coles and Woolies have been well above that, and the data backs that up too. We know that the latest half-yearly profit for Coles was more than half a billion dollars. At Woolies, it was $929 million, almost $1 billion profit, in just six months. Profits like that when so many are struggling to scrape by are pretty hard to stomach.

Part of the problem is Australia’s highly concentrated supermarket sector. Woolworths and Coles have a combined market share of 65 per cent. Compare that to Britain, where the top two supermarkets have a combined market share of 43 per cent; and the United States, where the four largest supermarkets have a combined market share of 34 per cent. This concentration, as we have heard today, leads to a lack of competition. Without competition, we do not have the market forces that we need to keep prices fair and low.

That’s why I’m so glad to speak today to this matter of public importance brought forward by the member for Kennedy. I want to thank the member for Kennedy and the member for Clark, who are so far ahead of the game on this one—irrespective of what they choose to wear to parliament!—that they introduced a private members’ bill more than 10 years ago that sought to address this problem. Imagine if that had been taken up at the time. Like me, the member for Kennedy represents rural and regional communities, many of whom are farmers who provide produce to these supermarkets. Like the customers, the farmers are also being pushed to the brink by this supermarket duopoly. While the prices we pay at the check-out have gone up, the prices paid to farmers absolutely have not. And they can’t just find someone else to sell to either; as I said earlier, Coles and Woolies are 65 per cent of the supermarket sector, so we all lose here.

I want to make it clear that I’m not criticising the employees at Coles and Woolies. The sector is one of the biggest employers in my electorate of Indi, and I’ve been welcomed into so many of their stores and met workers on shop floors. I commend them for their work and I thank them for putting back on the shelves those items that are left behind by struggling shoppers and doing so without shedding one bit of embarrassment on those shoppers. The current system isn’t working for them either. It’s not working for shoppers, it’s not working for farmers and we need action.

It’s not enough for politicians to simply have a go at the supermarkets. It may feel politically easy—we all like to have a crack at them—but it needs to be followed up by real action. I understand that many in the government will say, ‘But we’re doing something about this. We just heard about it,’ and point at the review of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct undertaken by Dr Craig Emerson, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s investigation of pricing and competition in the supermarket sector, a competition taskforce in Treasury and a Senate review into the cost of living, as well as other measures. We’ve got more reviews than we’ve got supermarket chains; that’s for sure.

These reviews are important, and I commend the government for taking them on, but the rubber will really hit the road only if the government chooses to do something about the recommendations that come from them. I really encourage them to take up the mantle on this. It won’t be easy when there will be lobbyists and donors from across the business world, not just the supermarkets, who will fight back against these recommendations. They’ll fight back against any measure that we try to take to increase competition.

My message now to the government and to all of us here on opposition benches and on the crossbench is: stand up to them. Having a go at the supermarkets is the easy part. The hard part comes next. Let’s have the courage to get behind some absolute change in this terrible system and do something for the people we represent.

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