Katter says supermarket probe gives farmers heart

QUEENSLAND MP Bob Katter says a probe into the conduct of supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths has given farmers a "platform to voice their desperate plight".

Allegations that the supermarkets have been misusing their market power to mistreat suppliers are being investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Mr Katter, a critic of the ACCC in the past, said he was heartened by a discussion he had with the competition watchdog's chairman Rod Sims earlier this week.

"We are terrifically gratified and heartened that, at least, someone is trying for us," Mr Katter said.

"The farmers of Australia have been beaten, battered and bullied by these supermarkets and now they will finally get the chance to tell their side of the story."

Mr Katter pleaded with all farmers to write an anonymous letter submitting their strongest support of the investigation.

In a statement to Senate estimates this week the ACCC revealed it had spoken with 50 suppliers and was investigating allegations that included:

  • persistent demands for additional payments from suppliers, above and beyond that negotiated in their terms of trade;
  • the imposition on suppliers of penalties that did not form part of any negotiated terms of trade and which apparently did not relate to actual costs incurred by the major supermarket chains;
  • threats to remove products from shelves or otherwise disadvantage suppliers if claims for extra payments or penalties are not paid;
  • failure to pay prices agreed with suppliers, and;
  • discrimination in favour of homebrand products.

Such behaviour, if proven to be true, would constitute a breach of the Competition and Consumer Act.

Bob Katter
Bob Katter Megan Pope

The ACCC confirmed it had already obtained "considerable material" from Coles and Woolworths and, if required, would use its compulsory information powers to obtain further evidence from suppliers.

This method was preferred by many of the suppliers, the ACCC statement read, because it avoids placing them in a situation where it appears they reported their concerns.

In the past suppliers had shown a reluctance to speak to the ACCC for "fear of consequences".

Depending on the strength of the evidence it gathers the ACCC will decide whether to pursue court action. It could not estimate how long the investigation would take.

It revealed one of the key issues identified was the imbalance of bargaining power between the supermarkets and the suppliers.

The ACCC statement suggests a legally enforcable code of conduct could help restore balance.

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