Grocery Unit Pricing

27 Nov 2008 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Consumer Affairs a question about unit pricing.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I note that the government in past responses to questions about unit pricing (in particular, from former member the Hon. Ian Gilfillan) did not support that measure. However, there are moves at the federal level and, in particular, on 5 August this year the federal government released an ACCC grocery inquiry and stated it would consider the implementation of unit pricing. I have also received information from Choice, which is the Australian Consumers' Association, to the effect that in one of its surveys unit pricing was supported by 89 per cent of its respondents. My questions are: has the government changed its mind on this matter, and does the government support the Queensland model, which has a range of approaches that are outlined in a draft fair trading amendment regulation?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy) (14:28): Obviously, the price of groceries is an issue that affects all of us, and the advent of websites such as GROCERYchoice is directly linked to the price pressures of today's globalised economy. These pressures explain why there is increasing momentum around the nation to bring in measures such as unit pricing to give consumers more value for money and to help them make smarter, more informed choices in a simple way.

Obviously unit pricing gives consumers a better idea of how much value they are getting for their money by allowing easy price comparisons, because it provides a volumetric price on each product. That means that items are expressed not only in terms of their total price but also in terms of the amount per kilogram or litre, depending on the appropriate unit.

This transparency in pricing helps consumers compare the cost of similar items in a supermarket without having to take their own calculator to do their own calculations. The uniform trade measurement legislation already requires unit pricing for goods such as fruit, vegetables, cheese, dressed poultry, meat, fish and smallgoods, unless packed in specified weights, rigid containers and so on. This has helped consumers compare the value of those food products. We are quite used to that method of pricing. There is a national push to go down the path of unit pricing.

The ACCC recently released a report which inquired into the competitiveness of retail prices for standard grocery items. The ACCC recommended that a nationally consistent unit pricing scheme for standard grocery items be implemented. So, that recommendation has been made. In response to that report, the commonwealth government has indicated that it will finalise the design of a national pricing scheme by the end of the year, with the scheme becoming operative as soon as possible thereafter.

Prior to the implementation of that scheme, the ACCC has recommended that a cost-benefit analysis be undertaken and, as such, the commonwealth government has released an issues paper calling for comment on the design elements of what a national system might look like. South Australia is supportive and remains supportive of the proposal to implement a national unit pricing scheme. South Australia will continue to work with the commonwealth government to ensure that the system provides an appropriate and adequate mechanism to inform consumers of the unit price of grocery items.

At this point I am not aware that any particular model is proposed to be adopted. I think that we need to wait to see the outcome of the work the commonwealth has put in place and be advised by that. Certainly, South Australia continues to be supportive of it and continues to participate in an attempt to move towards a nationally-consistent approach.