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Maple Street Co-op News Articles of Particular Relevance

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From Maple Street Coop News, October/November 2005 issue
Published by Maple Street Co-op, 37 Maple Street, Maleny Qld 4552
Tel 5494 2088, email maplest.coop@serv.net.au


Campaigning for Maleny's Future

by Lori Sturtz

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." – Margaret Mead

The "Malenyworth" campaign is comprised of many thoughtful and very committed individuals.  They continue to inform others about the consequences facing Maleny and other towns if giant corporations like Woolworths are allowed unfettered power to do whatever they wish in order to make huge profits. 

The grassroots campaign continues to grow in Maleny and beyond.  More and more people are participating in small actions that make a difference.  Some are involved in the WOT campaign (Woolworths Operation Trolley:   filling trolleys with non-perishables and leaving them with some reference to Maleny), and others are sending volumes of Woolworths junk mail back to its reply paid address.  Apparently Woolworths has even contacted Maleny Post Office to try to stop this unwelcome wave of correspondence. 

From the outside it may look as if the protest has fizzled out, but don't be fooled:  it gathers more and more support every day by word of mouth and via the Internet.  I hear there is a sign in a shopping centre in Western Australia that supports the Maleny protest – and, yes, there is a Woolworths in the complex.  You only have to visit the Maleny kiosk when campaign members are set up there to see and hear the interest and support being generated.  Here at the Co-op, we are still selling heaps of stickers, badges and postcards bearing the campaign's now famous "I Won't Shop There" logo and other apt messages like "Save the Platypus". 

This protest is so much bigger than one grocery store coming to one country town.  We are now part of a national and worldwide movement, supported by people who have had enough of these big, greedy giants trying to take the whole pie for themselves. 

Take a look at what's been happening overseas.  In the UK from 1997 to 2002, about 50 small shopkeepers like butchers, newsagents, bakers and fishmongers closed every week, and one general store every day.  Concerned citizens have formed action groups against Tesco and other supermarkets in the UK and against Wal-Mart in the USA.  I wrote about protest initiatives like The Home Town Advantage Bulletin and Sprawl-Busters in the Oct/Nov 2002 Co-op News.  Pushing the message further are the respected UK journal The Ecologist, which devoted most of its September 2004 issue to "Supermarkets:  the Naked Truth”, Corporate Watch UK, which has published an updated 2004 edition of What's Wrong With Supermarkets, and the New Economics Foundation, which has released papers titled Clone Town Britain and Ghost Town Britain.  So there is much information out there that's applicable to communities like Maleny which are fighting the supermarket and retail giants. 

Here in Australia, Maleny is one town among many other towns and suburbs that have been protesting against the supermarket duopolists Woolworths and Coles.  Dairy farmers have been rallying since before deregulation began and are still protesting an unfair deal, made worse recently with rising fuel costs in distributing their products.  Tasmanian vegetable farmers went on a tractor march from Devonport to Canberra in July–August.  Their Fair Dinkum Food Campaign highlighted the excessive power of the supermarket duopolists and fast-food industry giants, the need for country-of-origin labelling of food to give consumers informed choice, and the implications of cheap imported food flooding the domestic market. 

Fuelling the duopoly controversy

As well as going after growers, the duopolists are continuing their drive for the fuel, liquor and pharmacy sectors in a massive way.  They are also using enterprise bargaining to chip away at the wages of their staff.  According to the Employment Studies Centre (ESC) at QUT, Woolworths saved eight per cent on wages (about $450 million) by using enterprise bargaining.  This study, "No Disadvantage for Whom?", states that Woolworths and Coles have used enterprise bargaining to achieve huge savings to the detriment of the retail workforce. 

But enterprise bargaining is not the only way the supermarkets are hurting us.  A fuel duopoly is now being formed by the big two.  The Service Station Association (SSA) estimates that up to 20,000 jobs will go and around 30,000 service stations will close in Australia over the next three years if nothing is done about this degree of duopoly control.  According to Ron Bowden, CEO of SSA, the big two are selling petrol for less than the independents can buy it.  He believes these tactics are potentially illegal, destructive, unfair and un-Australian. 

In July, Tony Howard, executive director of the Motor Trades Association of the ACT, said that Woolworths and Coles already control 50 per cent of the Australian fuel market, and that their market share will continue to increase while they sell petrol more cheaply than anyone else.  Research from petrol price watchdog MotorMouth found that, around Australia, the majority of service stations with the cheapest petrol are independently owned. 

The shopper-docket discounts offered by Woolworths and Coles are very effective marketing tools that do not always equate to bargains, despite the promises of savings.  These vouchers save drivers very little in areas where there are no independent supermarkets.  Independents keep the majors honest, but they may not be around much longer.  Simon McCall, of Quantum Market Research, noted a recent study which found that 66 per cent of customers admitted the shopper dockets were a major reason why they shopped where they did for their groceries. 

Last year, Woolworths lodged a development application with Lismore City Council for a Petrol Plus outlet.  Residents protested and signed petitions, arguing that there were already two Caltex stations in town where Woolies could offer its discount petrol.  They also suggested a vacant service station site be used, instead of having a new one built along one of the smallest streets in Lismore. 

Woolworths property GM Peter Thomas told the Northern Rivers Echo last October:  "Petrol has always been part of our agenda, but the main game was working with the developer to get the centre up and running and we wanted to deal with those bigger issues first.”  (I wonder what this could mean for Maleny!)  When Mr Thomas was asked about road safety and environmental concerns, he responded:  "We are very conscious of safety and environmental standards.  We are happy to talk with people who have concerns and see how we can manage any impacts they are concerned about." 

This certainly has not been the experience in Maleny.  Apparently Lismore City Council listened to its residents and voted against this application.  If only Maleny had so far-sighted a Council!

Liquor licensing and gambling are other areas that Woolworths has invaded.  Its subsidiary MGW Hotels has submitted an application for the Villa Noosa Hotel and the Waterfront Hotel at Maroochydore to extend gaming hours and open at 8 am! 

Recent surveys have found that independent dealers offer cheaper liquor and petrol but continue to lose customers to the supermarkets because people think they're getting great bargains, when they're often paying more. 

When the independents finally go, that's when all the bargains are off.

Higher prices, local supply barriers

A Courier-Mail survey, published on 24 January, found that Brisbane shoppers are paying up to 60 per cent more for meat and up to three times more for fruit and vegetables by shopping at Woolworths and Coles rather than at independent shops and markets.  Furthermore, staples like milk and bread are often priced cheaply to lure customers in the hope that they buy other, more expensive, items.

In 2003, the ACCC announced that the major supermarkets are detrimental to a healthy local economy.  These corporations are obliged to maximise their return to shareholders, not to serve local communities.  Maleny IGA donates $70,000 a year in community grants, and other local businesses (Maple Street Co-op included) give up to $50,000 to community groups.  Peter Thomas told a Maleny meeting in December 2003 that each Woolies manager has a donations budget of $2,500 per year.

Woolworths uses predatory pricing policies as standard procedure whenever it invades a new location.  It undercuts the local competition, which undermines and potentially destroys the local business economy and community.  It does not believe in a fair go. 

Woolworths CEO Roger Corbett, in a telephone statement to A Current Affair, denied trying to eliminate competitors:  "Of course we check our competitors' prices.  We don't go out targeting the little guy to put him out of business.  Yes, there can be occasions when we'd sell at a loss…there will always be plenty of competition if he's no longer around."  What kind of competition would there be if all the independents were gone and, with them, variety and choice?  We'd be left with the two giants battling to get consumers to buy their cheap, generic, imported homebrand rubbish!

Woolworths' size is a barrier to local producers getting their products on the shelves in their own locale, and the corporation does not buy such goods directly (as do the Co-op and the IGA, for instance).  Maleny producers would have to comply with strict regulations and incur greater costs in  transporting their goods to a central Woolworths depot in Brisbane, from where their products would be transported back to Maleny. 

Maple Street Co-op pays over $100,000 each year to local suppliers, while Maleny IGA's annual turnover of local produce is about $1.7 million (10 per cent).  What will happen to our unique local produce if local outlets are forced out of business?  The way to go is to support our local retailers.

Woolworths has enormous buying power, advertising clout and media coverage.  The independents don't have the same advertising budgets and so cannot get their messages out to the same extent, even though they may have cheaper prices.  Newspapers and some commercial TV networks have editorial conflicts because they rely on corporations like Woolworths for huge advertising-dollar revenue.

The community expands the protest

Woolworths has ignored 79% of Maleny residents, and its minions Cornerstone and now Hutchinson/ Uniton are building a huge, ugly cement box beside the Obi Obi Creek where protected platypuses live, breed and play.  These corporations have acted with greed in their hearts and dollar signs in their eyes.  They don't care about our environment or the safety of children traversing the footpath.  They have ignored the pleas of almost an entire community – a community that has been forced to stand up for what it believes in. 

Maleny has been seen and heard around the nation and the globe because it has refused to accept the unacceptable.  Maleny is a community of committed and concerned citizens who are trying to protect a very special place.  It's these very people who contribute to Maleny being so exceptional.  They will continue their protest, and hopefully others will join them and not shop at Woolworths when it eventually opens. 

Continuing to boycott Woolworths sends a very strong message to its directors and shareholders.  All of them need to know that there is a bottom line – and that they have crossed it.  We can expect their strategy in Maleny will be to initiate an advertising blitz to lure consumers to shop with them, and undercut prices in local stores at the same time.

Just remember, though, that a few cents saved in the short term could lead to higher prices and no alternative in the future.  The choice is yours. 

[From "Maple Street Co-op News", October/November 2005; published by The Maple Street Co-operative Society Ltd, 37 Maple Street, Maleny, Qld 4552, Australia, tel (07) 5494 2088, email maplest.co-op@serv.net.au, website http://www.maplestreetco-op.com.au]

From Maple Street Co-op News,
October/November 2005 issue
Published by The Maple Street Co-operative Society Ltd,
37 Maple Street, Maleny, Qld 4552,
tel 07 5494 2088, email maplest.coop@serv.net.au
website http://www.maplestreetco-op.com.au

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