New Zealand suppliers are fearful of speaking to the Commerce Commission about anti-competitive behaviour in case they are blacklisted across the Tasman, Labour MP Shane Jones has claimed in Parliament today.
Mr Jones last week claimed in Parliament that supermarket chain Countdown was demanding retrospective payments from local suppliers for historic losses on the sale of their products or face having their goods removed from the supermarket chain's shelves.
The commission is assessing the complaint it received from Mr Jones shortly after he first made his allegations and is allowing suppliers to come forward anonymously with information as it considers launching a formal inquiry .
Again under the cover of parliamentary privilege this afternoon, Mr Jones asked Commerce Minister Craig Foss whether he was ``concerned that despite anonymity... New Zealand based suppliers are fearful that what they tell the regulator could be passed on to [Countdown parent company] the Australian Woolworths supermarket chain and they could end up blacklisted off Australian supermarket shelves''.
Mr Foss pointed to the commission's press release last week "reinforcing the confidential nature of any complaint''.
"The Commerce Commission, as part of their normal business, are dealing with sensitive affairs at all times and as in their press released treat matters in confidence and very sensitively''.
Mr Jones' questions followed his successful bid this afternoon to have Parliament authorise the public release of his letter of complaint to the commission. The letter was tabled in Parliament last week but Clerk of the House Mary Harris deemed the risk of defamation action against her office too great if she was to release it more widely than just to MPs.
NZ First Leader Winston Peters moved that the House order the Clerk of the House release the letter, a motion that was passed without opposition.
The motion gives Mr Jones' letter the protection of parliamentary privilege meaning the media can now report on its contents, which are in line with the the allegations Mr Jones made in the House last week.
The Commerce Commission yesterday confirmed that in addition to Mr Jones' letter, it had now received "a small number of complaints'' from suppliers alleging anti-competitive behaviour by Countdown.
Prime Minister John Key yesterday said his Government had encouraged the commission to begin a formal inquiry.
"My view is it's very healthy to have the inquiry. Let's have a look and see what comes out of it.''
A Countdown spokeswoman yesterday said it would ``participate fully with any inquiry from the Commerce Commission''.
The company would have to see the detail of the concerns raised by suppliers before commenting.
Shane Jones' letter to the Commerce Commission: