Business lobby goes into battle for supermarkets ahead of competition law debate

Headshot of Katina Curtis
Katina Curtis
The Nightly
Nationals leader David Littleproud backs giving the competition watchdog the ability to order the big supermarkets to reduce their power in particular markets.
Nationals leader David Littleproud backs giving the competition watchdog the ability to order the big supermarkets to reduce their power in particular markets. Credit: Ross Swanborough/The West Australian

The big business lobby group that represents Coles and Woolworths is headed to Canberra for a last-ditch push to persuade MPs not to back powers to break up the powerful duopoly.

A Greens bill to give the competition watchdog the ability to order the big supermarkets to reduce their power in particular markets is due to be debated in the Senate on Wednesday.

The Nationals back the idea – leader David Littleproud has publicly stated for months he thinks the two supermarket giants have too much power – and the Liberals are favourable though have yet to finalise their position.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

If they back it and the bill is put to a vote on Wednesday, it would have enough support to pass the Senate and increase pressure on the Government to take action.

The matter is likely to be discussed at the shadow cabinet on Monday and the joint party room meeting of MPs on Tuesday.

But the Business Council of Australia warns the move would be economically reckless.

Its team will return to Parliament’s corridors on Monday to flag concerns with the Liberals and the government about handing the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission a broad divestiture power.

“These are extreme powers which do not help the cost-of-living crisis and it would mean courts and the ACCC decide which businesses and jobs need to go,” BCA chief executive Bran Black said.

“We are acutely aware cost of living and price pressures are biting hard for Australians, however trying to rush through laws which have considerable unintended consequences, including harming consumers with increased prices, is not the answer.”

Greens economics spokesman Nick McKim, who has put the legislation forward, said the opposition from big business was “completely unsurprising”.

“They are more interested in profiteering than in driving food prices down,” he told The West Australian.

“The concentration of market power in a number of sectors of Australia’s economy is leading to price gouging – which of course, big business loves because it increases their profits.”

He is determined to get the legislation passed, even if that means waiting for the outcome of a Senate examination of supermarket competition.

The National Farmers Federation told that inquiry earlier in March the peak body’s policy did not support divestment of retail assets, although it acknowledged some of its members felt differently.

“We have argued for decades that, if you get the competition policy settings right, we think the market will then function properly,” NFF economics manager Christopher Young told senators.

Mr Littleproud said last week the Nationals were working constructively with the Greens on the legislation because they believed market concentration was hurting farmers and consumers.

He backed the broad intention of the bill but said some its architecture needed changing.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has previously likened giving the ACCC powers to order the supermarkets to sell outlets or parts of their business to something from the Soviet era.

The Government has commissioned an ACCC review of the pricing practices of supermarkets, due to report in February 2025, a separate review by former minister Craig Emerson into the food and grocery code of conduct, and quarterly public reports on grocery prices by consumer group CHOICE.

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 24-06-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 24 June 202424 June 2024

What a climate change. Albo takes punt on this once pro-nuclear Liberal to lead his renewable energy battle.