MP's supermarket letter made public

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 17:19 18/02/2014

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Shane Jones letter re: supermarket practices (.pdf)

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Countdown says it is disappointed Parliament is being "used" to raise unsubstantiated and "unspecific" claims, as Labour MP Shane Jones continued to raise allegations of blackmail. 

Parliament has ordered the release of a letter Labour MP Shane Jones wrote to the Commerce Commission, alleging supermarkets were threatening to blacklist New Zealand suppliers if they didn't hand over cash payments. 

Using parliamentary privilege last week, Jones said New Zealand suppliers had told him about meetings they were being summoned to with Countdown management, in which they were told that if they did not make the payments, they faced permanent exclusion from the shelves.

Likewise, if they revealed the meetings to anyone, they would be "blacklisted".

Countdown, owned by Australian company Progressive Enterprises, was at the centre of the claims, but has rejected the accusations and said it would co-operate fully with any investigation.

This afternoon Countdown released a statement noting the release, but expressing frustration at the way it was playing out and that it was affecting front line staff. 

"We are disappointed that Parliament has been used to raise very serious and unsubstantiated accusations and the letter released today is equally unspecific," Countdown said. 

"As we have said previously, we reject the allegations made by Shane Jones MP. If any MP or supplier has questions or concerns about our business they are welcome to contact us directly to discuss them."

Jones wrote to the Commerce Commission calling for an investigation into claims from suppliers who wanted to remain anonymous.

"These concerns centre on allegations that Woolworths is demanding large payments from suppliers allegedly to defray margins or losses on earlier transactions," he wrote in the letter to Commerce Commission chair Mark Berry.

"Such allegations are significant of themselves but of extra concern given the market power that currently exists in the New Zealand supermarket sector."

He tabled the letter last week in an attempt to make it public. However, the Clerk of the House decided that she would not make the letter available through her office because of the risk of legal action against it.

Today, the house passed a motion to order publication of the letter.

Speaker David Carter said, as he understood it, that meant it was protected by parliamentary privilege.

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INVESTIGATION INTO CLAIMS

Today Jones admitted supermarkets were likely to "play hardball" if given the chance.

He has so far refused to repeat his statements outside the house, where parliamentary privilege does not apply.

Jones said that since he had made the comments in the house, "dozens" of suppliers had come forward to talk to him about their own dealings with the supermarket chains.

"Rest assured I'll not flinch from sitting down and talking with the Commerce Commission about this," he said.

The Commerce Commission has launched an investigation into the claims, and guaranteed anonymity for those who wished to provide information.

A Facebook group calling for a boycott of Countdown had drawn close to 10,000 "likes", but Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that he would not boycott Countdown on the back of "unsubstantiated" claims.

Key said that he was reserving judgment and that had he done the supermarket shopping at the weekend he would have made a point of going to Countdown.

"These are unsubstantiated claims," Key said.

"Until somebody proves to me that they're right I wouldn't be boycotting them."

Although he could not rule out that the allegations were correct, the company should not be judged in the meantime, he said.

Key has repeatedly called for Jones to make the claims outside of Parliament, which the MP has so far refused to do.

Jones said he would have more to say on the issue in the House today.

- Fairfax Media

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