MARK RILEY: Anthony Albanese in uncomfortable company as he holds out on Greens supermarket Bill

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Mark Riley
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Anthony Albanese is finding himself in difficult territory when it comes to supermarkets.
Anthony Albanese is finding himself in difficult territory when it comes to supermarkets. Credit: The Nightly

Down the back of aisle seven, right next to the cold cuts, a cross-party group of politicians is pressing Anthony Albanese up against the wall with their trolleys.

And they will soon be joined by voters unless Albanese finds a way of explaining why Labor is now the only major party opposed to giving the ACCC new powers to break up the great supermarket duopoly.

Just a cursory glance at how the political landscape is breaking on this issue would tell him he is stuck between the rock salt and a hard place.

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On one side is a massing barbarian army of Greens, Nationals and Liberals.

On the other is Albanese and one very unlikely ally — the Business Council of Australia.

That should tell him everything about the predicament he is in.

When your only supporter is your arch enemy’s closest friend, you know you are in strife.

And if that doesn’t convince him to find some viable and immediate alternative to this legislation, pressure from his own backbench just might.

I’m told a growing number of Labor MPs are worried that they’ll face a voter backlash unless their government gets on board with the proposed divestiture powers.

Most are in outer urban electorates where the cost-of-living crisis is biting hardest.

And they are hearing daily from their constituents who want something done about grocery prices and done now.

It appears likely that the Nationals and Liberals will reach some sort of accommodation with the Greens to support Tasmanian Green Senator Nick McKim’s Bill to give the ACCC the new divestiture powers.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during a press conference held at Senator Louise Pratt's office in Perth.  Senator Louise Pratt will retire from Federal Politics at the next election.
Anthony Albanese says he accepts their market power is excessive. Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

McKim says the Bill has one intention: “To give the ACCC the power to smash up the big supermarket corporations and stop them price gouging at the check-out.”

Albanese says he accepts that Coles’ and Woolworths’ market power is excessive but won’t support taking a legal chainsaw to break them up.

Sounding more like an old-school conservative than a modern progressive, Albanese says that “Australia is not the Soviet Union” and that the common sense approach is to maintain a “market-based economy with appropriate regulation”.

He has instead ordered an ACCC inquiry into supermarket pricing and another headed by former Labor minister Craig Emerson into the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct.

While they tuck themselves under the boardroom tables for lunch today, there are families making those real decisions at supermarkets putting fresh produce back on the shelf.

It appears to be straight out of the State government playbook: when in trouble call a review and when in real trouble call two.

On top of that, the ACCC isn’t scheduled to report back until February next year.

That is way too late to address what is an immediate and building political crisis.

A large section of what Albanese calls middle Australia is doing it tough now.

And those families are feeling that most keenly every time they go to the supermarket.

That is their lived experience. It is real and it hurts. And it will change the way a lot of them vote if they don’t believe the Government is doing enough to help them.

Nationals leader David Littleproud says soaring prices are forcing families to put items back on the shelves or set them aside at the check-out because they simply can’t afford to pay.

The BCA upped its campaign against the divestiture laws this week, claiming they could have damaging unintended consequences.

It warns that forcing the break-up of supermarkets could lead to less competition in rural and regional areas and, hence, even higher grocery prices.

Littleproud was having none of that.

“This is scaremongering by the BCA who are the goons for big business,” he thundered this morning.

“While they tuck themselves under the boardroom tables for lunch today, there are families making those real decisions at supermarkets putting fresh produce back on the shelf.”

If Littleproud’s Nationals and the Liberals do forge a consensus with the Greens, McKim’s “supermarket smash-up” Bill will get through the Senate.

But Albanese controls the numbers in the House of Representatives and if Labor doesn’t support the law there it will fail.

And then Anthony Albanese will have to explain why he is essentially protecting the supermarkets as voters squeeze him against the cold cuts with their trolleys.

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