'Menacing' supermarket letter to be public

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 18:22 08/04/2014

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Parliament's commerce committee has agreed to make public a letter from Countdown supermarket lawyers but has blocked a move to invite the company to appear before it.

Committee acting chairman, Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove, who described the letter from the lawyers for Countdown's owners Progressive Enterprises as "menacing", said today he had won the backing of the committee to release it.

Progressive had been happy for it to be made public.

Speaking after the meeting today Cosgrove said the government members used their majority on the committee to vote as a bloc and defeat his attempt to give Progressive bosses their "day in the sun" to address their concerns.

"I find this very strange and disturbing given it is rare where natural justice issues are raised by individuals and entities," he said.

"What is there to gain or lose from doing that?"

He said the supermarket group should be given the chance to raise any issues it had. The committee was also entitled to ask questions of entities that "send the lawyers around with the baseball bats".

Cosgrove said that if Countdown-Progressive was happy to appear, he would take the issue back to the committee to ask it again to invite them.

The full transcript of the committee's questions to the Commerce Commission last month would also be released.

At that meeting Commerce Commission chief executive Brent Alderton said the commission had received "a number of complaints" against Countdown, since it launched an investigations into allegations made by Labour economic development spokesman Shane Jones under parliamentary privilege.

Most of the complaints related to Countdown-Progressive.

Jones had accused Progressive of demanding cash from suppliers for past losses or risk losing space on its shelves.

Cosgrove had asked several questions related to those allegations. Progressive Enterprises has strongly denied the allegations.

A spokeswoman for Progressive said the company was seeking a transcript of the commerce committee's review of the Commerce Commission last month "and the inquiries that we understand were made of the commission about its investigation by members of the select committee".

She confirmed the company was comfortable that the letter would be made public, which is expected tomorrow.

"We aren't seeking an opportunity to appear before the committee," she said.

"We are simply seeking to understand what was said at a meeting to consider whether there were any views expressed or things said that we felt we needed to comment on." 

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- Fairfax Media

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