CHOICE calls for new supermarket industry ombudsman

Posted by Josette Dunn on 17th March 2010

Consumer group CHOICE is calling for a new supermarket industry ombudsman to tackle competition and fairness across the grocery sector.

Grocery Aisle

According to CHOICE, the supermarket ombudsman would provide:

  • Leadership – to ensure competition and fairness is driven at a national level so that real improvement can be brought about in the next five years not the next 50.
  • Fair rules and fair play – that regulators enforce their rules and, if not sufficient, to suggest rule changes.
  • Early stage market inquiries – to research and recommend where parts of the market are not working efficiently.
  • Consumer information – arming consumers with the right information and supporting consumer education on unit pricing.
  • Consolidate existing functions – avoid duplication while making sense of existing schemes, including the produce and grocery industry ombudsman and other codes including horticulture.

The all-in-one body has an international precedent with the similar structure being developed by the UK’s Competition Commission.
“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. There is a need for government to seriously consider a bold and robust policy that will bring about real change, not the window shopping currently taking place,” said CHOICE CEO Nick Stace.

Associate Professor Frank Zumbo, Competition and Consumer Law Expert at the University of New South Wales agrees.   “Currently, these responsibilities and functions are spread to varying degrees across the ACCC and a variety of mandatory and voluntary codes of conduct and dispute resolution schemes dealing with horticulture, primary produce, grocery products, unit pricing and price scanning at supermarket checkouts.

“Consolidating these responsibilities into a new supermarket ombudsman as a single point of reference for supermarket related issues is not only efficient and cost effective, but it allows one body to tackle those issues in an ongoing and systematic basis.

“With Australia consistently facing some of the highest levels of food inflation in the developed world and with concerns still being expressed by suppliers and farmers regarding their treatment by the major supermarket chains, it’s clear that a fresh and comprehensive approach is needed to address supermarket issues.” Mr Zumbo said.

“These are industry-specific problems, which economy-wide regulators have been unable or unwilling to tackle head on. It will go on like this for another 100 years unless radical and bold action is taken,” said CHOICE CEO Nick Stace.