Supermarkets are being urged to get into the Christmas spirit and help struggling families by placing a freeze on the price of ham.
Agriculture Minister Murray Watt put Coles and Woolworths on notice as they buckle up for a parliamentary inquiry into price gouging, record profits and cost of living pressures.
“It’s time for supermarkets to do their part, and say one thing we won’t put up is the price of a Christmas ham,” Senator Watt said on Monday.
Farmers also needed certainty they would get a fair price for their produce.
“For the average Aussie, it doesn’t make sense that the price on the bottom of their docket is going up while these companies are recording massive profits,” the minister said.
Both Coles and Woolworths have been running promotions on half legs of ham starting at $8 a kilo, which they say is the lowest price for the Christmas staple in several years.
Separately, the Greens are seeking to establish an inquiry into the impact of market concentration on food prices and the pattern of pricing strategies employed by the supermarket duopoly.
The two major supermarkets will be in the spotlight as the inquiry scrutinises the increasing cost of essential items, validity of discounts offered and profit inflation.
Greens senator Nick McKim said the major supermarkets had far too much power in Australia for too long.
“Coles and Woolworths are making billions in profits because they feel that they can overcharge people without repercussions (and) it needs to end,” he said.
“We need to shine the disinfectant of sunlight on the behaviour of the supermarket corporations so we can ensure that they are held to account.”
A Woolworths spokesperson said the company was committed to offering customers value at the same time as it was helping suppliers manage economy-wide inflationary pressures.
“We know Australians are feeling the strain of cost of living and we are working to deliver relief in their weekly grocery shop,” the company said.
Coles said the rate of inflation across its goods had been moderating, particularly for staples.
“Having a profitable business means Coles can continue to serve Australians, invest in our stores, employ the 120,000 team members we employ, pay taxes in Australia, pay dividends to our hundreds of thousands of mum and dad shareholders and ensure long-term sustainable relationships with our suppliers,” the company said.
Nationals Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said an inquiry was urgently needed.
“Farmers are worried and concerned that the prices they’re getting don’t or aren’t reflected on the supermarket shelves,” he told Seven’s Sunrise program.
“It would be really good to actually examine who’s clipping the ticket across the supply chain, and if there is gouging there, let’s do something about it.”
A parliamentary inquiry would take too long when action was needed now to address the cost of living, Nationals leader David Littleproud said.
He has pushed for the consumer watchdog to investigate price gouging.
Andrew Brown and Poppy Johnston
(Australian Associated Press)