Supermarket Prices

BATH (Eastern Victoria) (11:10): I am pleased to put The Nationals position – or my position of The Nationals position – on the record today on Mr Puglielli’s motion number 307 on the notice paper. This will be a rarity, but I agree with my colleague who has just spoken, Ms Ermacora, on many of the issues – not all of them – and one thing I am on a unity ticket for is the opposition to this particular motion. As a Nationals MP I cannot stand up here without taking the opportunity to highlight the very important work that our agricultural sector does, from the structure of our communities in rural and regional Victoria to the financial and economic drivers that our agricultural sector provides within our state. Over 21,000 farms are the primary businesses and the places where we make our food and fibre in country Victoria. And not only that, but there are the supply chains and the various logistics and manufacturing businesses and the almost 70,000 associated jobs. There is $17.5 billion in production, and food and fibre exports are in that vicinity.

Victoria makes up over a quarter of national food and fibre exports. We are the food bowl, if you consider the landmass of Australia. I just want to put on record that we are the number one producer of table grapes and dried grapes: 70 per cent of Australia’s production. I know my dear colleague in the north in the form of Jade Benham has a great passion for, love of and interest in this and certainly represents the people up there in the dried and table grape region. Milk production: I am the daughter of a dairy farmer and I know how to milk a cow any way you shape it. The importance of milk production for our nation – 64 per cent of the national product. Sheep, fruit and nuts and vegetables – and I will take up the comment around the grape grower in a minute, because I think there are some points that need to be developed on that.

What I do find quite disingenuous about the Greens is that on one level we are concerned about farmers, we are concerned about the cherry farmer – as I am very much concerned about farmers and their right to earn a fair day’s wage for their product and concerned about what is happening in our larger supermarkets. But what I find really disingenuous is that they say they care: ‘I care about our farming communities.’ Yet they oppose protections in this house that better protect farmers – one only last sitting week. We saw the Greens oppose amendments to the BLAIR bill, the Biosecurity Legislation Amendment (Incident Response) Bill 2023 that the government brought in, which actually adopted a Liberals and Nationals position to increase the penalties for people breaking biosecurity. I think if we went back and had a look at some of the contributions from the Greens, they want to support these extremists that feel it is actually the extremist’s right to trespass on farms, to go on and I think the term they often use is ‘protest’ – well, there is a significant difference between a protest and an extremist form of entering, trespassing and breaching biosecurity. This is what the Greens feel is justified, but then they can flip over and feel concern for farmers. Well, I feel concern for farmers in terms of not only their workplace and the protections they have in their workplace but also that they should get a fair and reasonable outcome for their world-class product.

I will go to the point that we saw on the Four Corners documentary that the supermarkets are price gouging. We do see that the federal Labor government has been aware of this for the last year and three-quarters. Since 2022 the government has been aware of this. We do see that the supermarkets are taking advantage of shoppers when they can least afford it, and I will go to that point in a moment. There was an example where a cherry farmer was about to quit the industry because of the result of this supermarket price gouging that Mr Puglielli put on the record. There are concerns that this produce of very good quality is being turned away without valid justification, and there are significant concerns that as a result of this undercutting of farmers 34 per cent of vegetable growers may have an intention to leave the industry within 12 months.

What we also know is that the federal government has been very tardy, very lazy, about investigating this meat and fresh produce price disparity and the difference between the farmgate and check-out prices. We see that the government should have pulled the levers further. It should have gone to the Australian competition commission, the ACCC, and instigated this inquiry as soon as it became aware.

I note Mr Batchelor’s comments, moving on. He talks about the cost-of-living crunch in Victoria. This government, the Andrews, now Allan, Labor government, has been the architect of and has written the rulebook on 53 new or increased taxes. When you talk about cost-of-living pressures on small businesses, on farmers, these are some of the impacts that are making those cost-of-living pressures. We know that people are doing it tough. We absolutely know people are doing it tough. Where Mr Batchelor departed from the conversation that I want to have is: they seem to exonerate the state’s position on this. They exonerated the fact that the now Allan government has been part of this problem.

This particular motion discusses the Essential Services Commission and talks about regulated industry, but the key thing that came out recently from the Essential Services Commission is that the default offer on electricity prices, the 2023–24 Victorian default offer, represented an annual increase of 25 per cent: $350 for residential customers and nearly $800 for small business customers – again, taxes, electricity prices. We saw the Minister for the SEC or whatever she is now, the honourable member in the other place, Minister D’Ambrosio, in Parliament say prices are going down, down, down, to quote a very good supermarket that I often shop at in my local town, the local Michael’s IGA. Down, down, down – well, I am sorry, the stats actually show that they are going up, up, up.

We also know that the Essential Services Commission spoke about the result of the wholesale prices in the energy market going up because of energy market volatility. When we talk about energy market volatility, we saw that case only last week when the infrastructure, the network system, went down due to some major windstorms, and I have spoken very much about my beautiful home area in Eastern Victoria Region getting smashed by that and the wonderful people that are trying to rebuild from that and recover. But one of the key things that we see is that the Andrews government, now Allan government, is botching up the transition to renewables. What we also see with the Greens is that they would have shut us down. They would have shut coal-fired power stations down come the start of this year. That is the motion that they had for debate on a Wednesday, which was sensibly defeated.

We have got the Greens, who are ideologically driving costs up. We see the Greens would have phased out coal by now. Now, it is on a trajectory; it is going to phase out. We note Yallourn is going to close potentially by 2028 – it is slated for closure; it is chugging along there – and we know Loy Yang A by 2032. But this government, along with the Greens support, is botching up the transmission lines and transition to renewables. We see also that the government is picking winners and then its federal Parliament is choosing losers in the Hastings renewable space at the terminal there.

I cannot stress highly enough: putting on caps, putting on over-regulation, will not solve this. It will not support the family person walking in that door trying to fill enough of the trolley to feed the family for the week. It will not solve that. The government certainly needs to do a backflip on its support not only for farmers and their protections but on a sensible renewable movement. The Nationals certainly oppose this motion today.