Nationals back ombudsman for Grocery Code of Conduct as Coles, Woolworths slow to sign

The federal government’s Food and Grocery Code of Conduct was debated in a Senate inquiry in May, two years after it was first proposed. Now National Party Senators have called for an ombudsman to be appointed as a Senate report urged Coles and Woolworths to immediately sign on to the Code.

Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, who pushed a brief inquiry into the Grocery Code of Conduct after it was tabled in the Senate in March, joined other National Senators Bridget McKenzie (Victoria), Barry O’Sullivan (Queensland) and John Williams (NSW) to express concerns about dispute resolution processes under the Code, including workability, timeliness and costs, according to media reports.

The Senators recommended that the new Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman replace the proposed third party arbitration and mediation under the Code.

In the report, also recommended was that the costs of providing ombudsman services for dispute resolution be funded by a small levy paid by signatories to the Code, which are Coles and Woolworths.

Senator Canavan questioned Coles’ and Woolworths’ commitment to the code and said that they appeared unwilling to sign the code if an ombudsman was appointed.

In March, Australian Food & Grocery Council’s CEO Gary Dawson said: “The Code was developed initially through negotiations with Coles and Woolworths, and it was their willingness to come to the table and develop a meaningful Code that made it possible.”

In late 2014, Small Business Minister Bruce Billson indicated that the (voluntary) draft Food and Grocery Code of Conduct was designed to help curb market power abuses in the retail supply chain, with specific focus on actions by the dominant retail duopoly Coles and Woolworths.

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