Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is the latest politician to support discussions about a royal commission into supermarket giants for their apparent failure to support farmers during the drought.
The subject was thrown into the spotlight on Wednesday night when Queensland Nationals MP Llew O’Brien told parliament that Coles and Woolworths should be condemned for failing to follow through on a 10 cent “drought levy” on all milk brands.
While the “big two” did bring in a milk levy, they confined it to their own private label milk ranges. Coles increased the price of its 3-litre branded milk from $3 to $3.30 until the end of the year, and last week Woolworths introduced a drought relief label to its own brand Full Cream and Lite Milk varieties to make the levy more obvious to customers.
O’Brien argued that by applying the levy to their own brands, Coles and Woolies were taking consumers away from branded milk.
He described it as a “tricky and cynical” move and said it was further proof of the need for a royal commission into supermarkets and their relationship with farmers.
“The evidence is mounting for a royal commission into the predatory purchasing practices and pricing policies by these supermarket giants that are destroying farmers,” O’Brien said.
“Those who deal with these supermarkets are fearful of speaking out about unfair practices, and a royal commission would change this oppressive culture.”
McCormack told Sky News on Thursday that he is open to discussion on the topic.
“I have to say Coles and Woolies do provide a lot of support for those farmers, many of whom would just be trading on farmer’s markets in their local towns. But we’ll have that discussion and see where it takes us,” McCormack said.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud kicked off the debate on Sunday by lashing out at supermarkets over their “half-baked” attempts to introduce a milk levy.
Coles defended its position claiming that the minister should have taken into account the money that the supermarket already raised for this cause.
“It is disappointing that the minister has chosen to criticise Coles – which has already committed over $12 million for drought relief – before becoming familiar with the facts,” a spokesperson said.
Aldi also hit back saying that it was working directly with suppliers to ease pressure on farmers by accepting price increases.
Woolworths revealed that it has raised over $500,000 for dairy farmers since the introduction of the levy.