19 March 2010 | Jake Kanter
Australia needs a supermarket watchdog to act on behalf of suppliers and shoppers.
Consumer group Choice is calling on the government to appoint a retail ombudsman to ensure vendors get a “fairer deal” and that customers are protected from “rip-off prices”.
It said Australia has the most concentrated grocery sector in the developed world, with over 75 per cent of packaged goods sold by the country’s “big two” supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, giving them immense power.
The scheme would be similar to one being set up in the UK where a “supermarket enforcer” will help arbitrate disputes between retailers and vendors.
Choice said the Australian body would ensure fairness rules are enforced and that parts of the retail market not working efficiently are addressed.
“There is a need for real leadership on resolving supermarket issues in Australia – rip-off prices, endemic unfairness and the lowest level of competition possible,” said Choice chief executive Nick Stace.
“Government needs to seriously consider a bold and robust policy that will bring about real change, not the window shopping currently taking place.”
The Australian National Retailers Association, which represents the country’s leading retailers, said an ombudsman would be “a carbon copy of the powers and responsibilities” of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and state-based consumer bodies.
CEO Margy Osmond said major supermarkets had “fully participated” in an extensive ACCC inquiry into grocery competition in 2008, which found the market was competitive. She added since that time a number of new players have entered and expanded in the market.
Choice has set up a website where consumers can express concerns and contribute to the debate.