The PM Has Publicly Backed The ACCC In Possibly Suing Coles And Woolies Over Price Gouging

The government has said it will support the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should it move forward and sue Woolworths and Coles over misleading prices.

ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said it was “carefully looking” at claims that some discounts the supermarkets offered could be considered deceptive conduct, with retailers allegedly increasing prices for a brief period before offering a “special”.

Such practice can mislead people into buying products by having them thinking they are saving money. The ACCC said it could possibly bring litigation against the supermarkets within the next 12 months. The supermarkets have repeatedly denied price gouging.

“For some time now, we have been closely considering the reports received from consumers alleging false or misleading ‘was/now’ or other pricing ‘specials’ advertising by supermarkets, and whether they may raise concerns under the [Australian consumer law],” an ACCC spokesperson said in a statement.

“[The ACCC] will not hesitate to take action against large suppliers who are misleading customers about prices.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he would support the move.

“If the ACCC asks for more powers, my Government’s up for giving it to them,” he told media on Tuesday.

“But the ACCC have some existing powers there – I note the comment of the head of the ACCC saying that she would be prepared to exercise those powers,” he said.

He said he was concerned about price discrepancies and said he “wasn’t buying” explanations put forward by supermarkets.

“I think the problem for the big supermarket chains is that when people look at the prices that they’re paying off the farmers, and then look at what the prices they’re charging, is that people can see there’s a discrepancy there,” he said.

“People look at the profits the supermarkets are making, people know there is effectively a big duopoly who have considerable market power.”

David Littleproud has accused the government of dragging its feet. Source: The Nationals

His comments came as Leader of The Nationals David Littleproud accused the government of delaying a a review into the industry by almost a year.

“The Albanese Labor Government was offered support to bring forward its Grocery Code of Conduct Review 12 months earlier but was rejected, because Labor could not see the urgency in taking action,” he said in a statement issued today.

“The Albanese government was also given a warning in May 2023 when former ACCC Chair Rod Sims said that the supermarkets had likely used their market power to increase prices higher than necessary during a cost-of-living crisis and that the government could implement an ACCC-led inquiry that has information gathering powers.”

Littleproud wanted the the code of conduct (the laws governing how supermarkets interact with customers) to be made mandatory.

He also wanted penalties for breaches to start at $10 million, and further punishments if supermarkets failed to reflect changes in costs to production.

“This isn’t about flooding money. This is just good policy that legislators should walk into parliament and should fix,” he said.

“I’m not sure if the government has only just realised but they’ve had the tools and the support to put downward pressure on grocery bills for well over 12 months but haven’t understood the scale or gravity of the pressure families are facing,” he said.

The government responds

PEDESTRIAN.TV reached out to the Prime Minister’s office for response to allegations by Littleproud that the government didn’t understand the pressures people were feeling.

A government spokesperson rejected that, saying it was ensuring “everyone is doing their bit” when it came to easing the cost of living crisis. This included a review of the Food and Grocery Code Of Conduct.

“We’ve increased the penalty for anti-competitive conduct and banned unfair contract terms. Last year, we reviewed the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct’s dispute resolution provisions, and the government has accepted the two recommendations of that review. This year we’re reviewing the Code itself and we’ve chosen Craig Emerson, a champion of consumers and competition, to conduct that review,” they said.

“Rather than sniping from the sidelines, the Coalition, including David Littleproud, should be cheering the fact that Australia finally has a government that’s taking action to protect shoppers and suppliers.”

They said the Prime Minster backed the ACCC in its investigations into supermarket prices, and confirmed the Government would be open to the idea of more powers for the ACCC to ensure checkout prices were fair.