Competition Law

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Senate report slams GROCERYchoice

Posted by Julie Clarke on 19 November 2009

Yesterday the Senate Economics Committee released its report on the GroceryChoice website.  The Report concludes that ‘the Government’s GROCERYchoice initiative was characterised by waste and mismanagement’ and that it was ‘designed to fulfil a hollow election promise to put downward pressure on grocery prices.’   It was clear, the Report concluded, that ‘the aims of the website were not going to be achievable’ through the ‘poorly-designed ACCC website’.  This was not all the ACCC’s fault though – the ‘time pressure that the Government placed on the ACCC to launch the website’ which they describe as  ‘arbitrary and politically motivated’, ‘clearly led to hasty decision-making and little consideration of the potential saving to the taxpayer of $2.7 million’.  This cost, they conclude, ‘could have been saved if the Government had been more flexible and kept its eye on the ball.’

The report further recommends (Recommendation 4) ‘that the Government note the unfair manner in which its contractual arrangements with CHOICE were prematurely terminated by the Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affair s, the Hon. Dr Craig Emerson MP, without affording CHOICE a right of reply, and ensure that such
unprofessional and discourteous conduct does not occur again’.  Ouch.

There are many other scathing recommendations, the final one being that ‘the Government learn from this episode of waste and mismanagement and ensure that such inappropriate and careless spending does not occur again in the future, noting that now, more than ever, value for money for the taxpayer should be a top priority.’

Naturally the Labor Senators strongly dissented from this Report …

Ultimately the Report appears simply another waste of time.  It allowed a few mainly self-interested parties to vent about the issue (and about the grocery industry generally) in their submissions, but the report was always going to be hijacked by political opportunism; reviews of this nature are therefore of little value unless conducted by independent agencies.

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