Interview with Natalie Barr, Sunrise


SUBJECTS: Meat prices; Food and Grocery Code Review

NATALIE BARR, HOST: Well there's growing pressure this morning on Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt to investigate supermarket meat prices. It comes after big price falls in the saleyards. Some sheep and lamb costs have dropped by up to 70 per cent in the last twelve months, but the drop hasn't been reflected on the supermarket shelves. Murray Watt joins me now. Minister, good morning.


NATALIE BARR: The National Party says it's up to you and the Treasurer to urgently direct the ACCC to hold a price inquiry. Why haven't you done that?

MURRAY WATT: Well, it's good to see David Littleproud and the National Party actually catch up with where we've been for some time, Nat. I've been calling on the retailers to drop their prices for meat and other products for at least three months because we have been seeing this growing gap between the price that farmers are getting and what consumers are paying at the supermarket. Beyond that, it's not just words from us, we've actually already started a review of what's called the Food and Grocery Code, which regulates the dealings between retailers and their suppliers to make sure that it's much more transparent. It's quite possible that as a result of that review, we'll see penalties on retailers increased. So we are already taking action on these issues that the National Party is raising now.

NATALIE BARR: So, as I understand it, that review is going to take a while and it won't be released until next year. I think what the Nationals are calling on is an ACCC inquiry and they want you to push for that. Will you?

MURRAY WATT: Well, of course, I could make the point that the Nationals never worried about this when they were in Government. But, as I say, we've started this review, which is to report back in about six months’ time. But I've been making clear for a couple of months now that the retailers don't need to wait for that. They should start dropping their prices. And I'm really pleased to see that Woolies have begun doing so by cutting the prices of their lamb. But I think all the retailers need to read the room here. They need to understand that people are feeling cost of living pressure. People know that farmers aren't getting good prices for their livestock.


MURRAY WATT: So retailers should be cutting those prices right now, not waiting for any review, whether it be ours or a National Party review.

NATALIE BARR: Yeah so you just said you've been calling for that for three months and they've been ignoring you. So now that you know they're ignoring you, should you be following the Nationals’ call and asking for the ACCC to investigate?

MURRAY WATT: No well, as I say, we've got that other review already underway that is-

NATALIE BARR: Yeah which won't be handed down till next year. So, we're talking now, people are hurting now.

MURRAY WATT: Yeah but an ACCC review would also take a while, you don't get a response back straight away.

NATALIE BARR: Apparently sooner though, wouldn't it?

MURRAY WATT: There's no evidence of that at all. That's what the National Party are saying. But our review will be handed down in mid next year. I'm actually not saying that the retailers have ignored what I've been saying. I'm pleased to see that Woolies at least have started responding to the calls I've been making for two or three months by dropping their lamb prices. There's got to be more than that. As I say, it just doesn't pass the pub test for retailers to be charging the prices that they are, while farmers are getting low prices. All the retailers should be passing on those sorts of price reductions right now, whether it be meat or other products.

NATALIE BARR: So if farmers are getting down to- for cattle, $3.65 a kilo - in the shops, it's $36 a kilo for rump steak, beef rump roasts are 25 and beef mince in some cases is $19 a kilo. That's ridiculous, isn't it?

MURRAY WATT: Absolutely. And as I say, I think the retailers have got to read the room here. I think everyone understands that there are costs incurred in taking cattle from the saleyard onto the supermarket shelves with processing and other costs. But the disparity is just too great. And at a time when people are experiencing cost of living pressures, the retailers have got a responsibility to come to the party here, pass on some of those cost reductions and help out Aussies who are struggling with cost of living.

NATALIE BARR: Well let's hope they'll listen. Murray Watt, thank you very much for your time.

MURRAY WATT: Thanks Nat.