The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Chris Bowen

Chris Bowen

Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs

3 December 2007 - 8 June 2009

Transcript of 06/08/2008

Interview with Marius Benson

ABC Newsradio

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

SUBJECTS: GROCERYchoice, banks, four pillars policy, New Zealand economy

MARIUS BENSON:

Chris Bowen the new weapon in the armoury of people who are trying to defeat rising prices today is the GROCERYchoice website. Just looking at it though the prices that are up there now show that if you're torn between going to Coles and Woollies don't worry, the prices are just about the same.

CHRIS BOWEN:

Well the analysis shows in 61 of the out of the regions in Australia 52 have a Coles as the cheapest of the major grocery stores. In the 40 regions that Aldi is present they're the cheapest in every one for the goods that they can be compared with. And in many cases they are substantially cheaper, up to 25 per cent cheaper.

MARIUS BENSON:

Can I just pick you up on that Coles point because Coles comes up cheaper, but I looked in Melbourne in the inner city, I looked in Sydney in the inner city you spend $155, Coles is cheaper, but its cheaper by like 17 cents by 60 cents over that whole total.

CHRIS BOWEN:

In some places the difference is marginal and in some it's more substantial. This is a guide for people. It's a tool kit they can use to find the best value in their district and they can then make their own decisions based on quality, customer service convenience et cetera. So it's a snap shot of prices to give people some assistance. Many of us get into the habit of going to the same supermarket all the time, not shopping around. If you choose the shop around, this is a website which might give you a little bit of guidance as to one way you could do it.

MARIUS BENSON:

So the official advice seems to be buy Aldi, if you can't buy Aldi buy Coles.

CHRIS BOWEN:

I'm not in the business of advertising for any particular supermarket but the facts on the website speak for themselves as to prices and part of the process of this is to put transparency in.

Let people know where some of these cheaper prices are. It will move around and I expect the media will commentate on that each month as supermarkets compete with each other and you see supermarkets moving around in terms of whose the cheapest and I expect you'll see some efforts from the supermarkets to see who is the cheapest more and more.

MARIUS BENSON:

Could I just leave groceries there and go to interest rates which is obviously another big factor in household budgets. The expectation is now that the reserve might be bringing interest rates down but there's a warning from allot in the finance industry that even if the reserve bank brings interest rates down in the next month or soon, the banks themselves might not follow.

How do you feel about that?

CHRIS BOWEN:

We don't speculate on what the Reserve Bank may or may not do. In relation to banks passing any potential increase or decrease on, the treasurer has made our views on that very clear and we would hope that any decrease would be passed on; of course it's a little early to speculate if the Reserve hasn't gone down that road yet.

MARIUS BENSON:

Is it just a hope, would the government simply sit back and leave it up to the banks?

CHRIS BOWEN:

We simply don't speculate on the Reserve's movements and we've made our views clear in relation to competition in the banking sector in our switching package and we've made it clear that we would hope that banks would pass on any decrease. But as I say we're not there yet the Reserve hasn't yet made that decision and when the reserve makes that decision in the fullness of time we'll make our views particularly clear at the time.

MARIUS BENSON:

Looking at the straws and the financial winds in New Zealand, New Zealand is now being tipped as the first western economy that might just topple officially into recession with two negative quarters. Do you think that might be a straw in the wind that might be indicating the way things might be heading in Australia?

CHRIS BOWEN:

Well the New Zealand economy has separate issues to the Australian economy. There is no doubt that we are in an internationally turbulent times and we are seeing economies slow around the world and New Zealand is no exception to that.

MARIUS BENSON:

Can I ask you about another rumour going in financial circles at the moment and that is the government, the Federal government has been approached by NAB and the ANZ banks and that they want to merge and that would mean an end to your four tier policy

CHRIS BOWEN:

We have the four pillar policy and that remains our policy. I'm not aware of any particular approaches but our policy is clear in terms of the four pillars policy, no mergers between the major banks.

MARIUS BENSON:

And the pillars are not for negotiation now?

CHRIS BOWEN:

Our policy is very clear that we support the four pillars policy

MARIUS BENSON:

Chris Bowen thank you very much

CHRIS BOWEN:

Great pleasure