Controversial Queensland MP Bob Katter has slammed the actions of Australia’s largest supermarkets, saying the market share between the big two is unsustainable and killing farmers.
“In 1991 in Australia, two supermarket giants had 50.5 per cent of the food market,” Katter told the Federal Parliament on Wednesday.
“In 1999, John Howard, the Prime Minister, agreed to an inquiry.
“By that time the market share of the two supermarket giants had risen to 65 per cent.
“Everybody knew that their market share was shooting through the roof.
“The inquiry, comprising all parties, including the Australian Democrats, effectively recommended that nothing be done.
“There were three alternatives.
“One was, as the National Association of Retail Grocers of Australia, or NARGA—the independents—asked for, a capping at and divestment down to 22 per cent of market share for each of the giants.
“A second was to go to American trust laws.
“The third alternative was to considerably strengthen the Australian Consumer and Trade Practices Act.
“Not one of the three alternatives was adopted by the committee.
“No-one can read their report—an excellent report, I might add—and not understand that the major parties in Australia are controlled by Woolworths and Coles.
“No other country on Earth would accept this situation.
“Let me give you the figures for other countries.
“The report I am referring to, Fair market or market failure, gives the figures for other countries. “There is not one other country on Earth where the big three have even 25 per cent.
“But in Australia, when this report came out, they had 65 per cent.”
Katter said Australia’s free trade agreements are damaging the health of consumers who are unaware of the origin of their food or the way in which it is grown and manufactured in foreign countries.
As Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) Director Terry Toohey told the Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit recently, the reliance on imports could leave not only Australian companies and farms out of business, but also pose a risk to consumer safety.
“How can we encourage people to buy Australian products, certainly it appears that they can buy the products cheaper overseas, and they will do so,” Toohey said.
“Some of the issues, as farmer I can relate to are things like apples for example, or oranges, these products that those fruits and veggies are soaking in, we can’t [use] those chemicals here in Australia.
“Yet the imports can come in.
“We use clean water to wash these fruits but some of the chemicals they use over there have been gone for 10, 15 years out of Australia.
“But that’s quiet alright, we have no say and the government just won’t listen to us.”
Katter agreed in his address to the Parliament.
“We cannot sell on the world market because of the massive subsidies from the other countries,” he said.
“It is almost impossible for us to compete on the world market.
“So we come back to the Australian market, and week after week, day after day, product is brought in from overseas.
“Hardly a week goes by where there is not something in the papers about some new commodity coming in from overseas.
“I am told that Woolworths has a whole three-storey building employing people doing nothing else except sourcing cheap food from overseas.”
“We cannot compete in apples.
“I said, 'Hold on, it's America and New Zealand,' and they said, 'Yes, $9 an hour.' We would pay $19 an hour, and so we should, but the wage in the United States in California is $9 an hour, and in New Zealand it is $9 an hour.
“The apples will also be coming in from China, where the average income is $5,000 a year.
“How can we compete against those apples?
“Everybody knows they have fire blight.
“You had the reason to keep them out, but you did not.
“You are so in love and enamoured with and obsessive about free trade that you will bring those apples in knowing that they have been sprayed with streptomycin, antibiotics, to get rid of the disease.
“You know that.
“So I will be moving legislation in this House so that, if you want to bring an apple in from those three countries which have fire blight and spray with streptomycin—because we have no way of checking whether it is sprayed with streptomycin—every apple will have a marker on it.
“We heard the minister stand up today on cigarettes.
“There is a serious danger to our health from these apples.
“Everyone will have a marker: 'This product has not been grown or processed under Australian health and hygiene standards and may be injurious to your health.'”
Katter discussed his disappointment with the current prawn farming industry in Australia, saying they also pose a risk to public health and safety.
“I say with very great pride that, as a minister [in the Qld Government], I have been attributed with the creation of the prawn- and fish-farming industries of Australia—and no doubt my department played a very key role in the establishment of those industries.
“Prawn and fish farming in Australia rose up to $600 million at one stage.
“We have virtually no prawn farming at all now in Australia.
“We thought we would catch Thailand at $2,000 million. Thailand has gone up to $8,000 million; we have gone down to nothing.
“And that is because Woolworths and Coles are bringing their prawns in from Vietnam, China and Thailand.
“In Vietnam they actually use raw sewage in the ponds.
“In Thailand, they put the raw sewage in the river, and in China they put raw sewage in the river and take raw sewage out.
“We have to have pure, bacteria-free water going in and pure, bacteria-free water going out, which is impossible, so forget about any prawn farming in Australia.
“But those prawns are coming in, and we know they are carrying diseases.
“They have to be.
“They are being brought up in a bacterial environment.
“So once again, as far as I am concerned, every single little box of prawns anywhere in Australia will carry that label on it.
“At the very least, that will slow Woolworths and Coles down from bringing them into Australia.”
Unbalanced market share
“Every other country has laws protecting against monopolistic powers—oligopolistic, if I want to be technical.
“Every country on earth has that.
“We have no laws that protect.
“Clearly, if they could rise from 50.5 per cent in 1991, after inquiry after inquiry after inquiry, up to 92 per cent—and these are their own figures, not mine; they are not my figures.
“Every year they claim they have a growth in market share, and I have been tracking them since the ABS series was discontinued and the AC Nielsen series was discontinued.
“There was to be a review in 2002.
“Both series were discontinued in 2002, so we could not prove anything because there were no series there anymore.
“I am not a conspiracy theorist, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is pretty difficult to write around that one in 2002.
“But, since 2002, Coles and Woolworths have skited to their shareholders about their growth in market share.
“Add that to the 74 per cent they had in 2002 and you have 92 per cent, and we are still doing nothing in this place.”
Katter echoed the comments from various experts within the food industry, who are already noticing the flow-on effects of the reduced farm-gate prices on local communities.
“There will be no newsagents.
“There will be no chemists.
“There will be no florists.
“There will be no bakers.
“There will be nothing.
“They want it all, and this place [Parliament of Australia] has facilitated giving them it all.
“Woolworths and Coles must be acted upon.
“Every four days, a farmer in Australia commits suicide. And that is the note upon which I conclude.”
What do you think of Katter’s comments? Do you agree? Disagree?