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Greens push ‘big stick’ laws to break up supermarkets

The Greens want new laws to increase competition between the two food retail giants. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

By Dominic Giannini in Canberra

Supermarkets that steamroll their customers and suppliers could be stripped of investments and properties under proposed laws.

The Greens will push divestiture powers in the Senate this week, allowing the government to step in and break up food retail giants.

The Nationals and some independents are also calling for such “big stick” laws.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has ruled it out, liking divestiture powers to the former Soviet Union.

Supermarket giants have had it too easy for too long, Greens senator Nick McKim said, as households struggled to balance strained budgets with high food prices.

“We need to stop supermarket corporations ruthlessly using their market power to gouge prices while raking in billions of dollars in profits,” he said.

“The market dominance of Coles and Woolworths gives them the power to crush farmers, squeeze out competition and shaft their customers.”

Divestiture powers targeting the supermarket duopoly were nothing new, Senator McKim said.

The United Kingdom, United States, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands have similar laws.

The powers would also cover big banks and energy giants to ensure competition across different sectors, Senator McKim said.

Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie said her party backed divestiture powers, while taking aim at Mr Albanese over his comments it was Soviet-like.

“The US, a whole range of our G20 competitors have divestiture powers, as a way to mitigate against duopolies and the misuse of market powers,” he told Nine’s Today on Tuesday.

“It’s something that we’ve been very strong proponents of for a long time.”

Coles and Woolworths have been accused of strong-arming suppliers, stitching up farmers and shafting customers.

The retailers have defended their prices and relationships, saying they were trying to balance fair prices for producers against low prices for customers.

The supermarkets are under pressure on several fronts, with a parliamentary inquiry and at least two external investigations underway.

One of them is the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, which governs the relationship between supermarkets and producers.

“Many farmers have certainly spoken to me about how hard they find it to deal with the supermarket chains and the lack of transparency that exists in those negotiations,” Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said.

“This review of the code marks an important step towards understanding how our supermarket sector is working to deliver fair prices for everyday Australians and for our hardworking farmers.”

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