IT WAS a meeting of like-minded souls.
Independent senator for South Australia Nick Xenophon made his first trip to Tamworth yesterday to catch up with parliamentary colleague, newly-elected federal member for New England Barnaby Joyce.
The two held meetings all day with parliamentary staffers present to discuss many issues pertinent to Mr Joyce’s new appointment as Agriculture Minister within the Abbott government.
In a pavement interview, Mr Joyce was pulling no punches in his slamming of supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths, who he said had far too much control of the Australian grocery industry, at 80 per cent market share.
He also fielded questions about his alleged rorting of taxpayer funds to pay for part of an overseas trip to India to attend a wedding and also to attend a mate’s wedding in Australia.
Senator Xenophon said he and Mr Joyce would discuss agricultural matters such as water, farmers getting a raw deal with exports and labour laws.
He said he was looking forward to talking with Mr Joyce, who he said he’d worked well with on matters such as food-labelling laws when Mr Joyce was a former senator representing Queensland.
“I worked very well with Barnaby while he was in opposition and I expect that to continue,” Senator Xenophon said.
“I think he’s an outstanding choice for agriculture minister.”
On Mr Joyce’s alleged rorting of taxpayer funds, he said people needed to look at the bigger picture – the rules on taxpayer-funded trips were “ambiguous” and they needed a shake-up.
“I think the public wants this fixed up but the rules are ambiguous,” Senator Xenophon said.
“I don’t think it’s fair that individuals are being hung out to dry.”
Mr Joyce was even more blunt, slamming the “insinuation” by the media of mining magnate Gina Rinehart’s role in his trip to Malaysia and India, even going so far as to defend political donations, too.
“Any donations made to me get declared and any donations made to the National Party get declared,” he said.
The two men were also set to discuss food-labelling laws.
“If we don’t get it through government we’re not getting anywhere; Nick is an absolute crucial player in that,” Mr Joyce said.
He attacked Coles’ and Woolworths’ stranglehold on the grocery industry.
“The major supermarkets have a greater say on agricultural policy than the government does,” Mr Joyce said.
“We have this incredible concentration of supermarket power ... there’s no other country in the world where two supermarkets own so much of the market.”
He said in the United Kingdom, up to six companies were in the grocery market and in the United States, “the top four control 40 per cent of the market”.
Mr Joyce said he was appalled at Woolworths’ decision to phase out the sale of caged eggs by 2018 and said that within hours of the conglomerate making its announcement last Friday, he’d arranged to have a meeting in Canberra soon with the company.
* NEXT Monday’s Country Leader will detail the caged-eggs story in more detail.