Ban Supermarkets: Greens’ Moment Of Reason A Mirage

JUST WHEN A FOOL might surmise it safe to accord the Communist Party Greens the deference a responsible political outfit might command, their true lunatic nature is again revealed in its ugly glory; their call for Tony Abbott to muster “the courage” to ban Coles and Woolworths from opening supermarkets is so ridiculous as to belong on another planet.

I must say I’m not in the least surprised.

This week, the Greens have given their most trenchant critics something to contemplate, sealing as they have a deal with Treasurer Joe Hockey to abolish the Commonwealth debt cap in return for comprehensive statements to Parliament on the country’s debt position each time government debt increases by $50 billion.

The debt ceiling, introduced on the watch of the initial Rudd government, served little purpose other than to draw attention to the shocking rate of increase in Commonwealth debt each time Parliament was asked to increase it.

And specious arguments from the ALP that Hockey and Prime Minister Abbott “are putting debt up from $300bn to $500bn” are typical of the fundamental dishonesty with which that party conducted its last period in office, and which Labor seems determined to cling to in opposition in preference to a less cynical interpretation of the collective intelligence of the Australian public.

At the risk of labouring the point, Labor knows full well the scale of legislated spending it bequeathed to the Liberals will necessitate well over $100bn of additional borrowing on the Liberal Party’s watch; absolving Hockey of the need to go cap-in-hand to Parliament each time the ceiling needed to be lifted to accommodate it at least removes one ill-gotten opportunity for the ALP to engage in despicable politicking off the back of its own incompetent handiwork.

I thought the deal on abolishing the debt ceiling was reasonable, and the Greens’ asking price of a statement to Parliament each time debt increased past set markers fair.

But I did wonder what it was that they wanted; today, that question has been answered.

Their call for the government to ban all new Coles and Woolworths supermarkets is breathtaking in its stupidity, and neatly illustrates just how divorced from any meaningful grip on reality they are.

Even based on the points raised in that report, it isn’t difficult to see where this latest aspiration to economic vandalism by the Greens might lead.

First, the positive.

I, too, have great reservations about the efficacy of so-called “shopper docket” schemes used by Coles and Woolworths as a tool to drive retail sales of fuel; not just because of their potential to drive independent petrol retailers out of the market — although they certainly have that — but because such discounts have to be paid for, and that price is paid at the supermarket checkout by consumers purchasing the foodstuffs that qualify them for “petrol discounts” in the first place.

Such a smoke-and-mirror show is a farce, and a waste of time — and that’s before arguments about predatory behaviour and abuses of market power even begin.

But beyond that, there is nothing of merit in the Greens’ latest decree.

Whether the Greens like it or not, often the local supermarket forms a focal point in local communities, be they suburban, regional or well away in the bush.

At best, their call to ban the two majors from expanding could be construed as an attempt to skew the market toward the likes of IGA in an act of commercial preferment no better than the alleged outrages they rail against; at worst, the Greens advocate the wilful disadvantage of towns and neighbourhoods that would benefit from having the presence of a supermarket at all.

Their call to ban Woolworths and Coles from investing in agricultural land defies belief, given the Greens also sought to obstruct a well-publicised Chinese investment in prime agricultural real estate during the last term of Parliament.

It’s a truism, I know, but someone has to own these assets: and if private landholders seek to divest them for whatever reason, surely ownership by a major Australian company (when the prospect of such ownership is in hand and on offer as a commercial consideration) is preferable, all other things being equal, to a foreign buyer?

And calls to “rein in┬áthe power of the big supermarkets” may make for a clever soundbite, but simply kneecapping them isn’t going to achieve anything constructive.

If the Greens want to engage in a debate about competition, or propose changes to laws that govern the commercial conduct of major supermarket chains, that might or might not be a reasonable thing; yet these calls amount to nothing of the kind, representing as they do a classic presentation of the ideologically driven crusade against business the Greens have always pursued in their utter hatred of the forces of markets and capital.

One deserved brownie point earned this week for actually doing something economically responsible has been incinerated by the renewed pursuit of a characteristically socialist, command-and-control agenda with the crippling of private sector enterprises in its crosshairs.

It seems to be a theme that will feature prominently in this column over the next little while, but market distortions of the kind the Greens advocate in the supermarket retailing space will achieve nothing of benefit, and — like most intrusions of Big Brother into business — would cause a great degree of harm to the very interests the Greens claim to be acting on behalf of.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.