Tuesday, 24 March 2020 10:20

ACCC authorises supermarket trading rule changes to ensure grocery supplies during COVID-19 crisis Featured

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Australia’s competition wachdog the ACCC has given interim authorisation to supermarket operators to coordinate to ensure a “fair and equitable” distribution of fresh food, groceries and other household items during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authorisation allows a range of coordinated activities but does not allow supermarkets to agree on retail prices for products.

ACCC authorisation provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, with the ACCC able to grant an authorisation when it is satisfied that the public benefit from the conduct outweighs any public detriment.

The ACCC says the authorisation - which applies to Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash. - includes consumers who are vulnerable or live in rural and remote areas.

“Australia’s supermarkets have experienced unprecedented demand for groceries in recent weeks, both in store and online, which has led to shortages of some products and disruption to delivery services,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“This is essentially due to unnecessary panic buying, and the logistics challenge this presents, rather than an underlying supply problem.”

“We recognise and appreciate that individual supermarket chains have already taken a number of important steps to mitigate the many issues caused by panic buying. We believe allowing these businesses to work together to discuss further solutions is appropriate and necessary at this time,” Sims said.

The ACCC granted interim authorisation on Monday afternoon after receiving the application last Friday.

“We have worked very swiftly to consider this interim authorisation application, because of the urgency of the situation, and its impact on Australian consumers,” Sims said.

The Department of Home Affairs has convened a Supermarket Taskforce, which meets regularly to resolve issues impacting supermarkets, and includes representatives from government departments, supermarkets, the grocery supply chain and the ACCC.

This authorisation applies to Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash. It will also apply to any other grocery retailer wishing to participate. Grocery retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and transport groups can choose to opt out of any arrangements.

The ACCC is now seeking feedback on the application, with details on how to make a submission are available on the Commission’s public register along with a statement of reasons.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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