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At last, a win for farmers as government adopts grocery industry plan

Australian farmers and shoppers could receive fairer prices at the checkout as major supermarkets are forced to abide by a strengthened and mandatory code of conduct.

The federal government will accept all 11 recommendations of a recent probe into the voluntary Food and Grocery Code of Conduct in an effort to protect suppliers and encourage competition in the grocery sector.

Any supermarkets with an annual Australian revenue above $5 billion will now be forced to abide by its conditions, which means they could be fined up to $10 million, or three times the benefit gained from the contravening conduct or 10 per cent of turnover in the previous 12 months for breaching the code under new penalties.

Farmers and suppliers, who’ve previously feared retribution from supermarkets, can now safely raise concerns through a new anonymous complaints mechanism within the consumer watchdog.

Review leader Craig Emerson said he was encouraged the government had responded to his report quickly and decisively.

“It means that what was a voluntary and ineffective code is now going to be very effective,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

“The supermarkets will need to treat their suppliers respectfully and not use that superior bargaining power – the muscle that they have – over particularly the smaller suppliers.

“That’s really good for the suppliers, but in the same way, it’s really good for the shoppers at the supermarkets, because they get lower prices and higher quality.”

Other recommendations include strengthening dispute-resolutions and improving outcomes for suppliers of fresh produce.

But Greens Senator Nick McKim said the government was not doing enough.

He said if Labor politicians wanted change they should vote on a Greens Senate bill that would introduce divestiture powers into competition law and allow the government to step in and break up food retail giants.

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“The government’s response … will do absolutely nothing to bring down food and grocery prices,” Senator McKim told reporters.

“This will be Anthony Albanese’s moment to choose whether he’s on the side of Australian shoppers, or whether he’s on the side of the supermarket corporations, Coles and Woolworths.”

The code is an agreement which aims to improve business behaviour across the grocery sector, particularly relating to the relationships between retailers, wholesalers and suppliers.

Suppliers are automatically covered by the code but it was voluntary for supermarkets. Industry giants Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and IGA are signed up.

Implementing the recommendations will require changes to regulations and the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

The review has been flagged as a major part of the federal government’s broad competition reform agenda, which includes an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into supermarket prices.

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