Greens push for another price-gouging inquiry

Supermarkets remain unpopular with consumers struggling with rising prices.

Supermarkets remain unpopular with consumers struggling with rising prices. Photo: TND

A Greens-led motion for a price-gouging inquiry passed the Upper House of the Victorian Parliament on Wednesday, paving the way for testimony from supermarket chiefs and people affected by the cost of living if it passes the Labor controlled Lower House.

Sam Hibbins, Greens member for Prahran, said his party is pushing for the inquiry because “people are going hungry”.

“People can’t afford to put food on the table, people are experiencing really significant hardship as well as mental stress and anxiety because of the cost-of-living crisis,” he said.

“We’re seeing supermarkets post record profits of over a billion dollars and increase their profit margins, so it was really important to have a parliamentary inquiry into food security.”

The Greens are also calling for the Essential Service Commissioner to be able to determine if supermarkets have been price gouging, before setting prices if profiteering is discovered.

Hibbins said the state government has significant powers to regulate the supermarkets.

“What other countries have done is call the supermarkets in and demand they lower their prices, and if they don’t they’ll face consequences,” he said.

“People are really crying out for direct supermarket intervention from the government.”

Both Coles and Woolworths posted profits of over $1 billion in the 2022-23 financial year, as Australians struggle with the rising costs of essential goods and everyday expenses.

ACTU inquiry

Victoria’s inquiry could follow the Australian Council of Trade Union’s own into price-gouging, which is expected to release a report by the end of the year.

Sally McManus, ACTU secretary, said while Coles and Woolworths boast of monster profits, “they refuse to do their part by dropping their prices”.

“The Allan Fels-led ACTU Price Gouging Inquiry is hearing heartbreaking stories of people going without basic goods and paying exorbitant prices of items,” she said.

“Farmers are not benefiting, and neither are customers, but supermarkets and middlemen certainly are.”

The inquiry has previously heard that residents in Cape York, Queensland, have been charged $19 a kilogram for mincemeat and $100 for a leg of ham.

The ACTU said the public has made more submissions about supermarkets during the inquiry than any other industry.

Community push back

Beyond government and union inquiries, the general public has also been pushing back against price-gouging by Australian supermarkets, including calls for a boycott of Coles and Woolworths.

Members of the Grassroots Action Network Tasmania even took to tagging their local Coles and Woolworths with tags including “over $1 billion in profit straight from your hip pocket” and “We’ve made over $1 billion in profits whilst you can’t even afford bread.”

pictured are the fake supermarket stickers

Consumers have taken to calling out the supermarkets. Photo: Grassroots Action Network Tasmania

Other countries, like Canada, have threatened supermarkets with increased taxes and established taskforces to monitor practices that hurt consumers, but it remains a hard sell in an Australian economy married to the free-market concept.

Food prices in Australia have risen faster than inflation throughout 2023, but a lack of competition or regulation of Australia’s duopoly has allowed Coles and Woolworths to hike prices and profits.

According to the ACCC, Australia’s consumer watchdog, prices that people think are too high, or sudden increases in price, aren’t illegal, and unlike other jurisdictions around the world, profiteering and price-gouging aren’t illegal.

Forty-two states in America have made price-gouging illegal for necessary items and during periods of emergency, or banned unfair pricing.

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