Queensland Greens unveil plan to cap food prices and ‘end Coles and Woolworths duopoly’

Queensland Greens unveil plan to cap food prices and ‘end Coles and Woolworths duopoly’
Queensland Greens unveil plan to cap food prices and ‘end Coles and Woolworths duopoly’

The price of 30 basic items such as bread, milk and nappies would be capped and increases linked to wages, under a new policy to be announced by the Queensland Greens on Wednesday.

The party will also present a plan to break up the Coles-Woolworths “duopoly” by requiring the companies to sell supermarkets if they hold more than 20% of the market.

Amy MacMahon, MP for South Brisbane, said several European governments were “taking direct action to reduce the cost of food – there’s no reason why we can’t do that here in Queensland”.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban was one of several Eastern European leaders to impose a limit on some products last year, though the policy is due to be abandoned next month. Countries including France have implemented similar policies and even the former Conservative government in the UK considered “voluntary” controls before backtracking amid opposition from industry.

“Coles and Woolies have some of the highest profit margins in the developed world, but the Labour Party and the Liberal National Party are happy to keep it that way while supermarkets give them millions in corporate handouts,” MacMahon said.

“Reducing food prices will require much more than new research. The government can and should intervene directly by capping food prices to reduce the cost of food consumed by Queenslanders.”

The Queensland Greens’ policy would be regulated by what the party calls a “fair pricing authority,” a beefed-up version of the Queensland Competition Authority. Prices would be capped at January 2024 levels and would only rise in line with wages.

However, there would be no limit on everything sold in supermarkets. Grocery stores would have to offer at least one product from each of 30 basic product categories, such as a brand and volume of milk or diapers.

The party has also not set a specific list of 30 products that it believes should be included in the policy. The final list will be determined by the authority. But it said price caps would not apply to fresh produce, given the seasonal fluctuation in prices.

The authority would also be responsible for implementing new laws proposed by the party that would allow the state government to require any supermarket company with more than 20% market share in one of seven regions to sell stores.

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Greens candidate for the Cooper seat, Katinka Winston-Allom, said the Milton IGA, which was closed after being bought by Coles earlier this year, was evidence the government was not doing enough to combat anti-competitive “land-hoarding” by major supermarkets.

“Coles and Woolies have so much power because we have the most concentrated supermarket sector in the world. Breaking up the duopoly would bring prices down,” he said.

An inquiry into food price gouging convened earlier this year by the Labor state government recommended making a food and grocery code of conduct compulsory.

It is not the first time the Greens have turned to price controls. MacMahon has repeatedly introduced laws to cap rents, amid record increases in Brisbane, without success.

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