Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is taking steps towards implementing more stringent controls on Australia’s largest supermarkets, aiming to reduce prices and address public concerns about living costs. Albanese is open to empowering the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with greater authority, particularly after the ACCC raised concerns about the inadequacy of merger laws in preventing detrimental takeovers.
Albanese’s firm stance towards major retailers, particularly after political debates about consumer prices, includes a potential mandatory code for supermarkets like Woolworths and Coles to bring down grocery costs. This move is part of the Labor Party’s strategy to combat inflation and introduce cost-living relief in the upcoming May budget.
With a byelection approaching in Melbourne’s Dunkley district, Albanese plans to outline his agenda in a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has criticised the government’s renewable energy policies for increasing prices and called for a boycott of Woolworths over its decision not to sell Australia Day merchandise. Albanese countered these claims by highlighting his focus on competition and pricing, contrasting with Dutton’s focus on cultural issues.
Last week, Dutton called for a boycott against Woolworths, which was met with opposition from the Business Council of Australia and other groups, leading to a shift in the Opposition’s stance. Former ACCC chair Rod Sims emphasised the need for more extensive reforms for real consumer choice.
Albanese and Treasurer Jim Chalmers have appointed former Labor Minister Craig Emerson to review the voluntary Food and Grocery Code of Conduct. Chalmers is also discussing with ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb the potential for a formal price inquiry into supermarkets. Cass-Gottlieb is considering legal action against a major supermarket for alleged deceptive discount practices and has expressed concerns about the Competition and Consumer Act’s effectiveness in preventing anti-competitive mergers.
Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh and Chalmers are contemplating changes to competition law. Albanese has indicated his willingness to grant the ACCC more power if requested, showing his government’s commitment to addressing living costs and market competition.