What to Expect from the Government’s Food & Grocery Review

Earlier this month, the Albanese government announced an independent review into the supermarkets. It is to occur under the aegis of evaluating the Food & Grocery Code of Conduct, a voluntary code of conduct signed up to by the major supermarkets in 2010. 

The review will be carried out by Dr Craig Emerson, a policy economics expert. Emerson has an ANU economics PhD and was Minister for Trade in the Gillard government, before resigning when Rudd returned in 2013. 

The government is promoting the review as fresh action on cost-of-living, which is clearly the electorate’s main concern. 

“As a Government we’re taking a fresh look at the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct to make sure the sector is giving consumers and suppliers a fair deal,” said Treasurer Jim Chalmers. “When the price of meat and fruit and veggies comes down for supermarkets, it should come down for families as well – it’s a big chance for the big supermarkets to do the right thing.”

Albanese struck a similar tone: “We’ve made looking after consumers a key priority over the past 18 months and we’ll keep looking at every option to make sure Australians aren’t paying more than they should or getting less than they deserve.”

If only it were true. In actual fact, the Food & Grocery Code of Conduct was designed to regulate the conduct of the supermarket duopoly towards their supplies, not their customers. It aims to ensure fair dealings in agricultural commodities and provides a mechanism for dispute resolution. The government’s most recent action on the Food & Grocery Code of Conduct was a response to an inquiry into the dispute resolution mechanism in December.

The Emerson review will be finalised in six months. Meanwhile, the so-called Competition Taskforce was announced in August and will not present its recommendations until August 2025.

With the likes of David Gonski on the taskforce, and others including John Asker, a UCLA expert on retail cartels, the Albanese government has the wheels to make inroads against the monopolies that dominate Australia’s economy. But at this pace, there’s no guarantee it will be in government long enough to do so.

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