The Nationals have ramped up calls for the consumer watchdog to launch an inquiry as farmers threaten to close up shop and stop supplying supermarkets due to price gouging.
While Coles and Woolworths both recorded profits of more than $1 billion last year, morale among fruit and vegetable growers is at an all time low, with 30 per cent of them considering leaving the industry this year.
Nationals Leader David Littleproud wants the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to launch an inquiry into fruit and vegetables – arguing that supermarkets are making record profits off the back of hard-done-by farmers.
Mr Littleproud said the Senate inquiry into supermarket prices – which was greenlit last month – wouldn’t go far enough.
“I previously called for an ACCC Inquiry into beef and lamb but it must also now investigate fruit and vegetables – we need to investigate the price disparity, compel CEOs to give evidence and have greater penalties for those who do the wrong thing, including not paying farmers a fair price,” he said.
Mr Littleproud said he was buoyed by the stories of farmers like Victorian Ross Marsolino, who has said he was prepared to walk away from his 80-acre zucchini crop if he didn’t start getting a fair price – $2 a kilo.
“We will walk away from the whole farm this year if we have to. I have 50 workers who will have to go and find another job,” Mr Marsolino said.
“The supermarkets are buying our product for $1.80 a kilo but then retailing them for $4.99 a kilo, when in reality, our product should be selling for under $3 a kilo.
“The more you produce, the more you lose. They (supermarkets) dictate the price and I have no confidence in supermarkets anymore.”
Far North Queensland melon farmer Shaun Jackson has warned Australia will “run out of food” as more farmers stop selling to supermarkets.
“It’s not just me. We are on the precipice of losing 30 per cent of farming – which is 30 per cent of food – if we don’t fix it,” Mr Jackson said.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt he’d been calling on supermarkets “for months” not to profiteer.
“It’s good to see the Nationals now adding their voice to the chorus. If they had done something about it while they were in government for 10 years, we would all be better off now,” Senator Watt said.
“We’ll continue applying pressure to the big supermarkets through a senate inquiry this year.”
In addition to the senate inquiry into supermarket prices, the government has also launched a review into the Food and Grocery Code, which focuses on increasing transparency around how much suppliers are being paid.
Outside of parliament, the Australian Council of Trade Unions has launched their own inquiry into price gouging and unfair pricing practices.
While the ACCC have the power to independently launch an investigation, it’s a matter for government as to whether or not to direct the watchdog to begin the process.
The government supports the idea of an ACCC inquiry, but queries what such a review would achieve that the other two inquiries won’t.
Senator Watt said supermarkets had been put on notice.
“In recent months we’ve seen price reductions for some products, but more is needed,” he said.
“Supermarket chains shouldn’t wait for these measures to wrap up. They should offer fair prices on their shelves immediately.”