Nats not happy with retail giants

By Country News

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is open to supporting a royal commission into the supermarket giants for their apparent failure to support farmers during drought.

Queensland Nationals MP Llew O’Brien believes Coles and Woolworths should be condemned for failing to follow through with a 10¢ ‘‘drought levy’’ on all brands of milk.

‘‘Instead they have quarantined the levy, only applying it to some of their private label milk, taking consumers away from branded milk,’’ Mr O’Brien told Federal Parliament last Wednesday night.

He described the ‘‘tricky and cynical’’ move as further proof of the need for a royal commission into the way supermarkets are affecting 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,’’ Mr 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.’’

Mr McCormack, whose leadership is in the balance, said he was open to the discussion.

‘‘We’ll see about that, we’ll discuss that obviously in our party room, and we’ll reach a position,’’ he said on Thursday.

‘‘I have to say Coles and Woolies do provide a lot of support for those farmers, many of whom would just be trading on farmers’ markets in their local towns.

‘‘But we’ll have that discussion and see where it takes us.’’

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud whipped up a political storm lastweek by lashing out at the supermarkets for their ‘‘empty media stunt’’.

‘‘They’ve got a lot to answer for,’’ he said.

Coles was quick to fire back at the comments, sparking an extraordinary war of words.

‘‘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 spokesman said.

Aldi also returned serve, saying it was working directly with suppliers to ease pressure on farmers by accepting price increases.

Woolworths has added a 10¢/litre levy to the two- and three-litre varieties of its own $1/litre milk, with funds collected so far through the levy being distributed to more than 280 drought-affected dairy farmers.