Jones claims victory

Last updated 05:00 21/02/2014

Shane Jones

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Shane Jones is claiming victory in his campaign against supermarket group Countdown, with the Commerce Commission confirming it is investigating allegations of anti-competitive behaviour.

After days of Jones making allegations about the Australian-owned company in Parliament, Commerce Minister Craig Foss suggested an investigation into the entire ‘‘supermarket sector of New Zealand’’, although the regulator later confirmed it was only looking at Countdown.

‘‘The investigation will involve seeking a wide range of information from a variety of sources, including organisations from all areas of the supermarket sector,’’ the commission said in a statement.

Jones has been calling for an investigation into supermarkets since his tilt at the Labour leadership last year, but stepped up his campaign last week when he claimed in Parliament Countdown was using ‘‘Mafioso’’ tactics, accusing it of using blackmail and extortion against Kiwi suppliers.

The claims, coming over a number of days, ranged from Countdown demanding ‘‘tens of thousands’’ in cash payments from suppliers because of poor trading, through to suggesting that Ralph Waters, chairman of Woolworths, Countdown’s owners, was calling suppliers warning them not to talk to the commission.

Both Countdown and Waters have strongly denied the claims.

Last night Jones was claiming victory ahead of a meeting with commission officials about the investigation, but signalled the attacks would now cease.

‘‘It’s time for me to move on from the hyperbole,’’ he said, adding that he had never intended that staff at Countdown would face attacks from the public, as has been claimed.

‘‘I have to book it as a win, but the true winners, hopefully, at the end of the day, are those of us who buy our groceries for a sharper price and the suppliers who keep employing people and hopefully stay in business.’’

Government ministers have repeatedly challenged Jones to back up his ‘‘unsubstantiated’’ claims, while yesterday a leading business figure warned that his repeated attacks could have a ‘‘chilling effect’’ on businesses considering investment.

Phil O’Reilly, chief executive of BusinessNZ, said continuing the attacks under the protection of Parliament, even after the commission signalled it was making inquiries last week, created a ‘‘dual process’’ against which a company could not defend itself.

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‘‘This puts the subject of the allegations in the position of being tried in what is effectively a kangaroo court – with serious allegations made but not justified with evidence in a proper judicial process,’’ he said, adding that he did not believe the tactics amounted to an abuse of process..

But Jones dismissed the criticism, claiming O’Reilly was an unofficial member of the National Party caucus.

‘‘What Phil O’Reilly seems to forget is it is business, serious businesses, that are complaining to me, and not the organic worm farmers he seems to assume they are.’’

- Fairfax Media

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