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The price we pay for acceptance

Opinion

The price we pay for acceptance

Jane Stephens knows that the only way forward for a fair go at the supermarket check-out is to speak up and make some noise about pricing.

Australian consumers are being taken for mugs. We are being ripped off and poorly informed – and we’ve been copping it sweet. Hopefully, that is all about to come to a crashing halt.

Much has been aired about the upcoming federal government review into the current Food and Grocery Code of Conduct: a voluntary document that details how supermarkets should deal with their suppliers and customers. Anecdotally, the conduct in general from the big two supermarket chains is pretty appalling, as illustrated in a small way daily by the lurid tickets that bellow ‘sale!’ when the usual price is probably comparable.

The lousy treatment of consumers is not illegal. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says businesses are generally able to set their own prices, which are impacted by supply and demand. It says prices that people think are too high (known as price gouging) or a sudden increase in price are not illegal. But businesses are not allowed to mislead consumers about what they’ll be charged or why and it is illegal for them to agree on prices among themselves or engage in other anti-competitive pricing behaviour.

When I was a cadet journalist at The Courier-Mail a hundred years ago, one of my jobs was to prepare the market price list for fruit and veg for daily publication. The idea was that the consumer could see the price the supermarkets were buying their goods for before on-selling them to us. The paper also ran the sale prices for livestock. These are not in plain sight of the average punter anymore, so the power of the big, bulk vendors has grown. We need to wrestle that power back and be bold about it.

Under our consumer law, companies are not required to give you a refund if you have found the same product at a cheaper price, but advertising something as being a special when it is available nearby for half the price is false advertising.

Airlines treat us badly, too, particularly when compared with other nations. In the US, if your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to generous compo. In Europe, a delay of more than three hours means they must pay up. Here, a cancelled flight is announced by text or on an information board and doesn’t warrant a real apology.

We must speak up, expect better and not taking ‘no’ for an answer to create change.

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Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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