Nationals senator says small business commissioner is not enough and calls for a small business and farming ombudsman

Nationals Senator John Williams wants a small business and farming ombudsman in a bid to combat price pressure being placed on suppliers by the major supermarkets.

Williams told SmartCompany this morning that an ombudsman was needed to address the “huge market share and huge market power” of the supermarkets which allowed them to dictate unsustainable prices.

“I think it’s come to the stage where if a farmer produces and sells to stores, if they sell below cost they have no future they are going to go broke,” says Williams.

“They need to be able to go somewhere and say ‘The price I am not being offered is not fair’, if there is an ombudsman they can say ‘If that is the case, something should be done’.

“This great competition and discounting is good for the short term but what is the long-term effect when we send our farmers broke?”

Williams says the recent creation of the role of a small business commissioner by the government is unlikely to go far enough to address his concerns.

“Let’s look at the details of the small business commissioner, let’s look at the powers they have, we have petrol commissioners and nothing is going on there,” says Williams.

“The government is very aware of what I am talking about, they are very aware of the power of the big two supermarkets.”

In its policy paper on a National Food Plan this week, the Federal Government said it would leave it to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate complaints about the supermarkets powers, however, Williams says this is not enough.

“The ACCC looks at competition and sees that competition is fair, when retailers are selling very cheaply to consumers and there is competition there then they don’t see it as a concern,” says Williams.

“I am going to the other end of the chain to look at what is paid to producers. I am not looking at the retail end.”

The opposition’s official position is a commitment to a “root and branch” review of competition policy. However, Williams says the market cannot be left to its own devices.

“The policy is usually to leave to the market but sometimes the market fails,” he says.

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