Consumer alliance: ‘We don’t want a single brand’

Consumer advocates are warning the Abbott government is on the cusp of a major shakeup in Australia’s grocery industry, as it prepares to announce its new consumer products policy.

Key points:The coalition says it will give the Australian Foods Council a “significant role” in advising it on the new policy, with a new role in the role of consumer affairs chiefConsumer groups are pushing for the Abbott Government to allow the AFC to be more active in consumer affairsThe Coalition’s consumer affairs spokesman said the AFA has the right to speak for itselfBut the Abbott’s chief consumer affairs spokesperson, Robyn Lenihan, said the government’s policy was “based on the premise that consumers have the right and responsibility to know the quality of what they’re buying”.

“The Australian Foods Commission will play a key role in crafting the new policies, and it will be the AFSC’s role to inform the Australian Government of any changes to the Australian Food Standards Code, the Australian Product Standards Code and the Food Safety Modernisation Act,” Ms Lenihann said.

“This includes the AFRC, but also any other relevant consumer bodies, such as Australian Federation of Food Technologists, the AFTTA, the Food Standards Agency or the Australian Industry Group of the Australian Medical Association.”

Ms Lenihany said the coalition had the right “to speak for ourselves” and was committed to “supporting our own industry”.

“There is no need for any change in the Australian consumer protections, the Coalition has a strong record in delivering those,” she said.

The AFA’s consumer group, the National Association of Grocers, said its members had expressed “serious concern” about the new regulations, and had warned that the “biggest impacts” would be on Australian food suppliers.

“We are also concerned about the fact that this new policy will be based on a completely inaccurate assumption that consumers know what they are buying, and that consumers don’t care,” the group’s chief executive, Chris Keates, said.

Consumer groups say the government is being overly cautious in its announcement of the new consumer laws.

“The Coalition is taking a cautious approach, in that it is giving the Australian foods council the responsibility to advise the government on the policy,” the National Consumers Association’s consumer director, Michaela Martin, said in a statement.

“However, the government needs to make the right decisions, and make them now, before it faces any future challenges in terms of what it does with its consumer protection laws.”

Consumer advocates have called for the Coalition to put an end to the “misleading” claim that consumers are not informed about the quality and safety of Australian food.

The consumer affairs spokeswoman said there was a “growing concern” that “a lot of the information that consumers need to know is not available, because it is not publicly available.”

“We need to stop relying on government spokespeople to tell us what’s happening and we need to have the government say ‘the information is available’.”

She said there were “a couple of problems” with the AFOA’s role.

“I’m concerned about some of the changes that have been proposed, and there’s a suggestion that the consumer affairs department should be the lead agency on the AFIAS, but the reality is that they are not,” Ms Martin said.

She also criticised the Coalition’s plan to allow AFA to be “more involved” in consumer issues.

“They want to be the watchdog for Australian consumers,” she told ABC Radio Canberra.

“If the government wants to say that consumers will be informed, they should be informed about what’s going on, not just the AAFTAs role.”

Topics:food-and-beverage,consumer-finance,government-and-(parties)2008-2016,government,australiaContact Richard PriceMore stories from New South Wales