Question to the Treasurer on the cost of living

29 Aug 2023

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My question is to the Treasurer. Treasurer, the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths are profiteering from the cost-of-living crisis by increasing the price of food and at the same time increasing their profit margins and posting billion-dollar-plus profits. I ask the Treasurer what action, if any, the government is taking to stop the supermarket duopoly from profiteering from the cost-of-living crisis at the expense of people struggling to afford food.

Tim PALLAS (Werribee – Treasurer, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:21): I thank the member for his question. He is probably suffering from a geographical problem in the sense that that question would be best directed to the federal Treasurer, given the federal responsibilities around competition policy. But I do take note of the fact that cost of living is a real issue, and it is one that has confronted and hurt some of the more vulnerable members of the community, particularly those living on lower incomes and subject to peaking CPI. What we are seeing, fortunately, is a moderation of those higher levels we saw over the last 12 to 18 months, where supply-chain constraints and external factors, including the Ukraine–Russia war where the effective consequence on our economy was imported, have had a dramatic effect upon the world economy. Victoria has not been immune from those changes.

As a government we do, however, accept that cost-of-living challenges are real and apparent, and the government must do what it can in areas within its responsibility. We have had our fourth power saving bonus, $250 million worth of allocation in this budget alone. Of course one of the greatest constraints upon families is the fact that you have to send your kids to kindergarten. Indeed, to be able to participate in the labour market, getting your kids appropriately cared for is vitally important. That is two –

Daniel Andrews: And a half thousand dollars a year per child.

Tim PALLAS: and a half thousand dollars. The Premier would be much better at this than me, I am sure. Can I also recognise that providing support through concessions that we as a government have put in place aimed at helping those who are more vulnerable or have less spending capacity is an important thing. We will continue to be diligent in our efforts to assist the lowest paid and those needing the greatest support. That is why as a government we continue to support efforts to ensure those who live hand to mouth through wages get the support that the government can give through ensuring appropriate and responsible behaviour by employers so that their wages are not stolen and so that they get due compensation for the work that they do. For those in the gig economy, today I am pleased to hear that the federal government, through the federal minister, is taking action to support gig economy workers.

Sam HIBBINS (Prahran) (14:24): Treasurer, in Australia state governments actually have significant powers to regulate industry. You have got your own Essential Services Commission Act, section 4, which allows government to regulate industry. You have got a referendum about 50 years ago that determined who can actually set prices or introduce price controls. And I believe the outgoing head of the Productivity Commission referenced state levers when it came to tackling the supermarket duopoly. You have got governments around the world taking direct action. Is the Treasurer seriously telling this house that he has no power to tackle the supermarket duopoly and stop them from profiteering off the backs of people who cannot afford food?

Tim PALLAS (Werribee – Treasurer, Minister for Industrial Relations, Minister for Trade and Investment) (14:25): Look, I suppose the first point I would make is we have no intention of creating a command economy. The central presidium of the Greens party no doubt has a different view, but we live in an economy where we do not see a role for the state to fix prices. Indeed we do not see a role for the state to impede competition so that we get better and effective delivery of services. But I know there is a political party that supports the idea of a command economy. They want to cap – they want to freeze rents. Imagine what that would do to investment in our housing stock. It would be disastrous, and I can tell you the same would occur were the espoused views of the Greens political party to be applied to broader cost-of-living issues.

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