15 January 2024

Emerson to lead review of food and grocery code as government put supermarkets on notice

| Chris Johnson
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Coles advertisement image from 2017

Ah, the good old days (2017, to be exact) when you could feed a family of four a Curtis Stone cottage pie for $10. (For the record, the 500 g of 3-star mince was $4.35 in 2017; it’s $6.50 in January 2024) Image: Coles.

Former Labor minister Craig Emerson will head up the federal government’s review of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct amid growing allegations of price gouging of fresh produce by the major supermarkets.

The code is prescribed under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, and Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash are signatories to it.

The supermarkets are bound by the voluntary code, which regulates the conduct of those retailers and wholesalers towards suppliers.

The code was introduced to improve standards of business behaviour in the food and grocery sector, but in light of accusations the bigger supermarkets have not been passing on lower farmgate prices to their customers, the government is examining if the code should be toughened.

The National Farmers Federation wants the code to be made mandatory.

Former Labor minister Craig Emerson will lead the review into the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct. Photo: APH.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has appointed Dr Emerson to lead the 2023-24 review of the code to look at all these issues.

“We have been clear – if the price for meat and fruit and vegetables is going down at the farm gate then families should be seeing cheaper prices on supermarket shelves too,” Mr Albanese said.

“Supermarkets have a duty to make sure they’re providing affordable options for all Australians, especially when they’re making savings on their own costs.

“If there are further steps that are needed, then the government will not hesitate to take action.”

READ ALSO Treasurer is turning his attention to supermarket price gouging

Dr Emerson was the federal minister for small business from 2007 to 2010 and minister for competition policy and consumer affairs from 2009 to 2010.

He was minister for trade from 2010 to 2013.

Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh described Dr Emerson as “one of Australia’s top policy economists” who will bring “his wisdom and compassion” to the economic reform.

“Dr Emerson’s work will form an important part of the wider review of policy settings that the Competition Taskforce is leading,” Dr Leigh said.

“In the 1990s, the Keating Government’s competition reforms raised household incomes by $5000. History shows competition reforms can change lives for the better.

“Capitalism depends on competition. Monopolies gouge consumers and workers and undermine fairness. Competition means better prices and more choice for Australian families.”

The government has also released the review of the dispute resolution provisions (Part 5) of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct and its response to it.

The government supports all of the recommendations in the review to amend the code to enable code arbiters to mediate and allow suppliers to contact and seek preliminary information from code arbiters without making a formal complaint, as well as recommendations to enhance the independent reviewer’s role in overseeing the conduct and complaint-handling practices of the code arbiters.

The recommendations will be implemented as part of a broader package of reforms to the code following the conclusion of the 2023-24 review of the remaining provisions of the code.

READ ALSO Most Aussies are paying too much for electricity, says new ACCC report

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said farmers and supermarket customers were not being treated fairly by the big supermarkets.

“We’ve been making clear for many months now that retailers should start dropping their prices to reflect the reduction in prices farmers are getting for their produce,” the minister said.

“Farmers deserve a fair price for their hard work and some of the prices supermarkets are charging just don’t pass the pub test.

“While the government is getting on with taking action on the cost of groceries, the ball is in the court of the big retailers.

“They don’t have to wait until this review is finalised to drop their prices; they can do that right now to help Australian families doing it tough.”

However, shadow treasurer Angus Taylor said the government has been too slow to act.

He said the Opposition is eager to see what comes out of the review but was sceptical about the Federal Government’s sincerity on the topic.

“Labor has been taken, kicking and screaming on this one,” he told ABC Radio.

“It’s taken 100 days to appoint someone to do this, and we’ve seen their approach to competition policy historically has been closer to crony capitalism.

“We’ve seen that in the airlines market with their approach to Qantas and Qatar Airways.

“So we do want to see good strong competition policy, we do want to see a competitive retail sector, we do want to see lower prices for bread and dairy… and we will back any sensible policies on this.

“But there’s a long way to go and Labor’s credibility on competition policy is not strong.”

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I’m pleased I planted a vegetable garden and fruit trees. Saves a lot of money, and my cost for food has not been a great as those who fully depend on supermarkets.
For those without a garden, Canberra and surrounds have feral plums and apples to pick. They should be ripe now. I have found several abandoned local small orchards too. I was always on the lookout for free food. I used to seek those out before I had my own fruit trees. Plenty to pick to eat fresh; plus bottle for off season, etc. I have come home with many kilos of good fruit from my searches. Some blackberries are bearing too. In the past I have even found blackberries growing beside the lake. Look around for bounty, as you move about Canberra. Unfortunately though, sometimes feral fruit trees are killed by the overzealous, as they aren’t native, and a source of food is lost. Yesterday I was sad to see several plum trees that is the past I have picked their fruit from, have been poisoned.
Some feral non fruit available too. Fennel for instance. I’ve never tried this (I should), but apparently the base can be eaten as a vegetable. I have picked local chestnuts and baked them. Other edible stuff too. I made a coffee substitute from acorns. Tasted quite good, although not like coffee. Another cost saver. Needs a lot of presoaking and rinsing though to prepare them, and I haven’t done this since.
Become more independent with your food. Will save money.

Capital Retro6:20 pm 23 Jan 24

I would like Craig Emerson to ask Coles and Woolworths why they have abandoned the daily bake of rustic diamond rolls. These were available for years and always sold out before midday.

Now they have replaced them with sourdough only and not many people have embraced that. In fact, the staff at a couple of the stores I used to go to said it was a huge mistake because the sourdough is being used in all the rolls now and very few people are buying them. I doubt if they go to the homeless either because if they are older than one day you need a good pair of choppers to get into one.

The best advice I have had from local bakery staff is the decision was made by someone in head office and it will never be changed by local complaints.

Given that sourdough is totally alien to Australia is confirms the changing woke attitudes at head offices.

Thank God for places like the Erindale Bakery.

Had a quick look over damper recipes, to check I’m not talking out my hind parts, but seems there’s revisionist bs in top google results.

Settlers didn’t have “self raising flour” or “baking powder”, they had what they had to leaven flour.

My point being, as I understand it, damper is a sourdough, it uses old yeast cultures rather than packet yeast etc. etc..

Makes it pretty Aussie imho y’know.

Capital Retro9:52 pm 23 Jan 24

There have been a lot of variations of the early damper but the initial version was flour, salt and water, with some butter if available, then lightly kneaded and baked in the coals of a campfire, either directly or within a camp oven.

That’s the way I made it last time and it comparing it to sourdough of the type now in supermarkets is like comparing chalk and cheese.

Your complaint is ok, but I’d dispute that sourdough is woke. Like beer, it’s been around for a very long time. The woke are possibly appropriating it as one of their moralising social-justice fashion statements, but they don’t own it.

Capital Retro3:53 pm 12 Jan 24

Gee, Emerson looks a lot younger than he did 2 years ago:


Daniel O'CONNELL2:14 pm 12 Jan 24

Pity the terms of reference doesn’t include an examination of how government actions and legislation are contributing to price increases.

Capital Retro2:09 pm 12 Jan 24

Where are we heading, nationalizing farms and supermarkets?
Reminds me of that Soviet era joke:
Q: What’s a kilometer long and eats cabbage?
A: A Russian meat queue

@Capital Retro
The Food and Grocery (voluntary) Code of Conduct has existed since being introduced in 2015 by the Coaltion Government.

One of the purposes of the code was to “promote and support good faith commercial dealings between retailers, wholesalers and their suppliers”. In view of the allegations reported in the article it would appear that the ‘good faith dealings’ are questionable.

The National Farmers Federation has called for the code to be made mandatory. Do you think they want farms to be nationalised (I prefer to use the Australian not the US spelling)?

Capital Retro9:09 pm 12 Jan 24

JS, have you ever heard that terminology “paralysis by analysis”?

And believing that “good faith” is a pillar of the relationship between public and private interests is like believing Rudd when he said “my name is Kevin Rudd. I’m from Queensland and I’m here to help you”

@Capital Retro
Absolutely I’ve heard of the principle, CR, it’s a classic tool for avoiding making a decision.

I don’t see how it applies here. Given the current cost of living pressures, I would have thought any initiative to try to bring about relief at the checkout would be a good thing.

Sadly, it appears partisanship trumps objectivity with you, yet again.

PS So you didn’t believe Rudd? Nevertheless, that’s relevant because …?

Another review, with another Labor lackey at the helm. Good luck with that

Do you ever consider thinking (I could just stop there) objectively before you start typing your comments, FP?
Surely undertaking an investigation of “accusations the bigger supermarkets have not been passing on lower farmgate prices to their customers” to see if the Food & Grocery Code of Conduct should be toughened is a good thing? Or are you happy with the effect price gouging has on the cost of living?

JS – read the comment above by Peter de Vries. You’re hero, Craig Emerson, has form on failing

LMAO – so others do your thinking for you?
That proposal was for a “petrolspy” type of application for grocery prices, which was a good initiative but too ambitious 14 years ago. At least they had the sense back then to admit it wasn’t working and pull the pin – but I wouldn’t expect you to understand that.
Nevertheless, you haven’t answered my question about the investigation. Or should I ask Peter de Vries to give you your answer?

Another arrogantly worded reply from JS who just can’t get over his innate sense of superiority. JS, the thing people are picking up on is that it’s a Labor government awarding a contract to a Labor mate, which looks nepotistic. But quoting from your own unctuous style, “LMAO”, “I wouldn’t expect you to understand that”, etc etc.

“… the thing people are picking up on is that it’s a Labor government awarding a contract to a Labor mate, which looks nepotistic.”
So, because people on here are too shallow to actually look at the role and the guy’s qualifications with respect to that role, I’m the one who lacks understanding? … and that would be a ‘Labor mate’ who left politics in 2013 – i.e. over 10 years ago!

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