The cost of food is soaring and so are the profits of Australia’s major supermarkets.
Like many people around the country, you’ve probably noticed that your grocery bills have been rising steeply over the past year. An average trip to the supermarket has increased in cost by around 8 percent each year since the pandemic, outpacing general inflation, and the prices of many essential foodstuffs have risen at twice that rate.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ June inflation report show dairy products leading the price rises, with the cost of cheese, yoghurt and similar products increasing by 15.2 percent over the last year. Bread and cereals have risen by 11.6 percent. This is despite overall food inflation decreasing slightly from a peak of 9.2 percent last December.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Sunitha Binoy, a nurse from Melbourne’s outer south-east, described the food stress being experienced by millions of working-class Australians:
“Before, we could buy so many things ... like today, even though we paid $160 ... before we could get one trolley full of household items, but now look at the trolley. It’s half full, only.”
A recent poll published in the Guardian found that, like Sunitha, 72 percent of respondents are simply buying less food to cope with increased prices. But food isn’t a luxury item that you can just cut from your budget. Buying less means skipping meals and forgoing necessities. It also means food banks being overwhelmed by surging demand as greater numbers of people are unable to afford supermarket prices.
Australia’s largest supermarket chains blame these price increases on higher energy costs and logistical expenses. But with both Coles and Woolworths posting their highest profit margins in recent memory, this story doesn’t add up.
Coles has pushed up its gross margins from 24.7 percent pre-pandemic to 26.5 percent, while Woolworths has reported a similar increase: from 29.1 to 30.7 percent. This indicates that the two companies, which share almost two-thirds of the food retail market, are engaged in price-gouging: increasing the cost of their products above their rise in expenses.
Their market domination allows them to push prices up without worrying much about competition from other retailers. While they rake in the profits, poor and working-class people around the country are forced to go hungry.
When pressed about the supermarkets’ profiteering, Labor’s assistant minister for competition, Andrew Leigh, told people feeling the strain to vote with their wallets and shop elsewhere. But with the country’s food supply in the grip of a duopoly, the idea that people can challenge the power of these corporate behemoths through smart shopping is ludicrous.
The federal government acts as though its hands are tied when it comes to supermarket price-gouging. But just as the national cabinet implemented energy price caps last year, it could intervene immediately to put limits on what grocery chains are allowed to charge. It could guarantee that all necessities are available at prices affordable to those on the minimum wage or Centrelink.
Price caps could also have a disinflationary effect: with just about everyone but the Reserve Bank of Australia acknowledging that corporate profits are a major driver of inflation, putting price caps on groceries and forcing supermarkets to forgo some of their record profits could ease the pressure on millions of people.
For months, workers have been asked to tighten their belts and do their bit to bring inflation under control. Increasingly, this belt-tightening looks like being priced out of the necessities required for survival—housing, heating and now food, all while the companies selling these products rack up record profits. It’s well beyond time to turn the tables and force them to sacrifice something instead.
Human Rights Watch, an international investigative and reporting organisation, says that it has “significant human rights concerns” about Australia’s treatment of refugees and Aboriginal people.
To drive a whole people out of their land—to turn it into something akin to the Zionist myth of Palestine, supposedly “a land without a people for a people without a land”—requires many things. Most obviously, it requires the killing and terrorising of Palestinian people on a colossal scale.
What would you do with $1.5 million? You could put down deposits on ten median-priced Sydney houses, or you could buy one outright and spare yourself the crushing mortgage repayments.
The level of suffering in Gaza is more than the human mind can comprehend. As the war enters its twentieth week, it feels increasingly obscene to be going about daily life while an entire people are being systematically destroyed, their lives, histories and culture blown to pieces or buried under rubble.
The Banyule Palestine Action Group has collected more than 600 signatures on a petition calling on Banyule City Council, in Melbourne’s north-east, to pass a motion supporting an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, in line with motions passed in other councils across Australia.
Asked how she stays hopeful as a 63-year-old socialist and Palestinian living in the diaspora, Reem Yunis replies: “I don’t have the luxury not to be inspired. My grandparents died without seeing a liberated Palestine, my parents died and were buried in the diaspora. Most of my people are living in the diaspora, and the ones in Palestine are being robbed of water, resources and every bit of land they have. We need to have hope and fight, because if we won’t fight for a free Palestine, who will?”