AUSTRALIA’S peak farmer body has renewed its call for a mandatory Food and Grocery Code of Conduct with the ‘teeth’ to fix a supply chain system it says is failing farmers and consumers.
The Albanese Government yesterday announced it had appointed Dr Craig Emerson to lead the 2023-24 review of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct “to ensure that the supermarket sector is working as it should.”
The Food and Grocery Code is prescribed under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to improve standards of business behaviour in the food and grocery sector. The code regulates the conduct of its signatory retailers and wholesalers towards suppliers. Signatories are subject to compliance and enforcement action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
However, the grocery code is voluntary and only applies to retailers or wholesalers that have elected to be bound by giving written notice to the ACCC, which is responsible for enforcing the code. The code does not override existing rules in the Australian Consumer Law.
Aldi, Coles, Woolworths and Metcash are signatories to the code and are bound by it, the Federal Government said.
You can have your say on the 2023-24 review and become involved in the public consultation process by visiting the Treasury website.
The Review of the dispute resolution provisions (Part 5) of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct can be found on the Treasury website along with the Government’s response to the Review.
NFF wants a food and grocery code with ‘teeth’
National Farmers’ Federation president David Jochinke welcomed Dr Emerson’s appointment, but said “the code is failing farmers and we’ve said for a long time it should be made mandatory.”
“We need to get to the bottom of why there’s a growing gap between what farmers get paid and what produce is being sold for on supermarket shelves.
“It’s not just supermarkets we need answers from, we need to know who else in the supply chain is clipping the ticket and sending food prices skywards,” Mr Jochinke said.
The NFF called on Dr Emerson to adopt the recommendations of the ACCC’s Perishable Agricultural Goods Inquiry, including making the code mandatory, removing the ability of retailers to contract out of important protections in the Code, introducing significant civil pecuniary penalties and providing genuinely independent dispute resolution.
The NFF also welcome the government’s support for all recommendations from the review of Part 5 of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct to support disputes to be resolved more efficiently and effectively.
Mr Jochinke said while these announcements were a positive step, there was still a long way to go to fix Australia’s competition issues.
“While reviews and inquiries are all well and good, we don’t want the Government to be distracted from pursuing immediate reform to competition laws more broadly – for instance looking at unfair trading practices or merger laws that have led to these competition issues in the first place.
“Farmers told us loud and clear in the National Farmer Priorities Survey, competition is the biggest issue keeping them up at night.
“Small family farming businesses are at the mercy of large corporates that dominate Australia’s food supply chain,” he said.
“As the cost of farming and the cost of living go through the roof, now is the time to correct this power imbalance and improve market price transparency so it’s not being used against farmers.
“Farmers need to understand how the price they are paid is determined, as should consumers,” Mr Jochinke said.
“There are so many unknowns in farming, but pricing doesn’t have to be one of them.”
Dr Emerson was the Federal Minister for Small Business from 2007-2010 and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs from 2009-2010. He was Minister for Trade from 2010-2013. He is a former Queensland Government Director-General and senior economic adviser to Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
The Federal Government yesterday released the review of the dispute resolution provisions (Part 5) of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct and the government’s response to that review.
The government said it 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, and
Enhance the independent reviewer’s role in overseeing the conduct and complaint handling practices of the code arbiters.
A fresh look to give consumers and supplies a fair deal – Chalmers
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the government has 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.
“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,” he said.
“We’ve made looking after consumers a key priority over the past 18 months and we’ll keep looking at every option to make sure Australians aren’t paying more than they should or getting less than they deserve.
“If there are further steps that are needed then the government will not hesitate to take action.”
Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the government expected all companies to treat Australian consumers fairly including in the food and grocery sector.
“As a government we’re taking a fresh look at the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct to make sure the sector is giving consumers and suppliers a fair deal.
“When the price of meat and fruit and veggies comes down for supermarkets, it should come down for families as well – it’s a big chance for the big supermarkets to do the right thing,” he said.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt said the government has been making clear for many months that retailers should start dropping their prices to reflect the reduction in prices farmers are getting for their produce.
“Farmers deserve a fair price for their hard work and the 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,” he said.
“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.”
Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury Andrew Leigh said Dr Emerson is one of Australia’s top policy economists, and will bring his wisdom and compassion to this vital economic reform. Dr Emerson’s work will form an important part of the wider review of policy settings that’s being led by the Competition Taskforce, he 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,” Mr Leigh said.
“Monopolies gouge consumers and workers, and undermine fairness.
“Competition means better prices and more choice for Australian families.”
Albanese ‘shamed’ into appointment – Littleproud
Nationals leader David Littleproud said Labor’s Food and Grocery Code of Conduct Review took almost 100 days to appoint a reviewer.
He said Mr Albanese has been shamed into announcing Dr Emerson’s appointment, just hours before 100 days into a 272-day review, “while families and farmers continue to be ripped off at the checkout and farmgate in a cost-of-living crisis.”
“Sadly, this delay has been embarrassing for the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Agriculture Minister.
“They have been caught asleep at the wheel. It has taken The Nationals’ calling out of Labor’s gross failure to get this going today, highlighting it has been almost 100 days, for Labor to finally appoint Dr Emerson,” Mr Littleproud said.