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Aug 10, 2012

Fair Trading causes remote town’s only grocer to close

There seems to be some confusion as to the closure of the only food supplier in Wilcannia, a remote Western NSW town between Cobar and Broken Hill. The IGA supermarket there is under investigation by the state Office of Fair trading for alleged ‘price gouging’ although given the remoteness of the town and the high crime rates reported from the region, prices are bound to be higher than average.

Some later reports indicate that the owner has a ‘shoulder injury’ and intends to reopen if possible or if a family member can help out. This seems to indicate that the shop is not profitable enough to afford hired help. If the investigation forces the lowering of prices, the closure could be permanent:

Wilcannia's only supermarket closed suddenly on Monday and residents have no idea when it will reopen. The store had been the subject of a Fair Trading investigation into price-gouging and its closure comes after NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts recently visited the town.

He said he was "disturbed" and "alarmed" by high prices at the food store. The town's nearest supermarket is now at Broken Hill, two hours away.

Chief executive of the Wilcannia Local Aboriginal Land Council, Jack Beetson, says people are very worried about running out of fresh food. …

… NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs general manager Jason Ardler says the closure is worrying. "Look, it's very concerning, of course, it creates a real risk for food security for staples, for things like baby formula, those sort of things that people are reliant upon on a day-to-day basis.” …

… Premier Barry O'Farrell said the state government would do what it could to help Wilcannia residents. "I'm concerned that a community has been left without a store to provide basics such as nappies and baby food," the Premier said. … "But I make the point that the state government is not in the business of competing with Woolworths and Coles.”
Given that the population of the town is stated to be 800 and it is on the main highway, which means the possibility of passing trade, it seems reasonable to assume that if the owner was ripping off the people with exorbitant prices, someone else would open up in competition and run him out of business or force prices down.

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