Liberals keep Woolies and Coles alive

28 April 2015: KAP Federal Member for Kennedy Bob Katter today slammed comments by Competition Policy Review chairman Ian Harper who last week argued in favour of reducing regulations which restrict the ownership and location of pharmacies in Queensland.

“The only remaining hold-outs against the supermarket giants are the pharmacies,” Mr Katter said.

“To show how flawed the thinking of people like Harper is in its obsessive free-market fundamentalism, when I was taught economics at university we were taught that price is only determined by supply and demand in the presence of the 20 assumptions.

“Importantly one of the assumptions is that supply and demand only determine price where you have an infinite number of buyers and sellers – the less the number of buyers or sellers, the less the truth that market determines price.

“So the basic principle upon which the free-market fundamentalists operate is flawed, it is intellectually dishonest.

“When you’ve got only two corporations buying yet thousands of sellers, you can see the effect of their so called free- market – the giant supermarket chains are free to kick the farmers to death – that’s all free-market means.”

Mr Katter cited the example of every day products such as eggs, milk and sugar, where under an arbitrated price regime (marketing boards) the difference between the farm gate or factory price and the shop price was around 80 per cent. However Mr Katter said that after de-regulation the price difference averaged around 240 per cent.

“Two years ago Senator Nick Xenophon set up 17 commodities outside of a Coles in Adelaide, he had the farm gate price and the price that was being charged in Coles that day and there was around 300 per cent difference.

“And you’re going to preach to me Mr Harper that that is a free market?

“That is classical oligopoly behavior,” Mr Katter said.

Mr Katter stressed the importance of keeping the existing regulations which apply to pharmacies and said that with locally owned pharmacies the pharmacist lives in the town and the money stays in the town.

“Our pharmacist in Charters Towers, Michael Collins, has chaired our school boards, sponsored our local sporting teams and kept our town alive.

“The driving force behind our business leadership in Cairns is a prominent local pharmacist, Trent Twomey.

“The fight to keep the old people’s home in Ingham is being led by a local pharmacist, Brendan Seri.

“The pharmacist in Babinda, Fred Lizzio, has received an Order of Australia for running a cinema in his town at a loss and he also built the old people’s home.

“Exactly the same thing applies in the cities, pharmacies have been a centre around which our communities are built.

“But if you have your pharmacies owned by Coles and Woolworths, you can bet they’ll be manned by section 457 visa pharmacists from overseas.

“We have destroyed communities in Australia with the soulless, godless, non-Australian, non-community concept of ‘how cheap is the product’.

“Yet we have the poorest farm gate prices in the world and we have upper medium prices for our food.

“All thanks to free-market policies that have allowed two corporations to run amuck,” Mr Katter said.

Mr Katter returned to the example of a pharmacy application in his electorate of Ingham, which was cited by Mr Harper, saying that if the restrictions were taken away then the town would end up with five pharmacies for a town of around 10,000 people. He criticised the assertion that a town of that size could carry a medical centre on top of its exiting doctors, a pre-condition which would have allowed the pharmacy to go ahead.

“We greatly admire the efforts of the local doctor to achieve a medical centre, but the reality is that a town that size will not carry over 20 doctors and a number of specialists.

“Free-market philosophy is basically being able to buy more things more cheaply.

“But Mr Harper would do well to read the teachings of Christ and he would know that the best things in life are not things,” Mr Katter said.