The Commerce Commission today refused to comment on whether
it has received a complaint that Countdown demanded a $2
million retrospective payment from a supplier as part of its
investigation into the supermarket giant.
The competition watchdog was quizzed on the claim as it
appeared before MPs in Parliament this afternoon.
Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove asked commission chief executive
Brent Alderton whether he could confirm that "a complaint of
a $2 million retrospective payment was made to the
commission" and that "once it reached your desk, that
complaint effectively vanished because Progressive went to
the supplier and basically said it was a big mistake, that
they didn't want $2 million?"
Mr Alderton said said it would be inappropriate to comment
given the commission's ongoing investigation into allegations
made by Mr Cosgrove's colleague Shane Jones that Countdown
and its Australian owned parent had bullied suppliers into
making such payments.
Similarly, Mr Alderton refused to comment when asked how many
complainants who had come forward so far had been threatened
by reprisals by Countdown.
But Mr Alderton did respond when Mr Cosgrove asked if he
could confirm that the commission had received in excess of
30 complaints from suppliers, telling him that was not the
He indicated that not all complaints received so far were
about Countdown, but said that company's practices remained
the focus of the inquiry at this point.
The commission has seven investigators working on the
investigation which is expected to take several months.
Mr Alderton answered questions on the supermarket probe as
commission chairman Mark Berry said he may have a conflict of
interest on the matter. Dr Berry told the committee while in
private practice as a lawyer few years before, he acted for
suppliers over similar complaints.
The commission last month said it would formally investigate
Mr Jones' complaint of anti-competitive behaviour by
Countdown, and encouraged suppliers to come forward,
promising anonymity for those who sought it. Countdown has
denied the allegations and says it will co-operate fully with