The tactics of an unfriendly giant

When people think Woolworths, they think primarily about the supermarket chain Woolies – ‘the fresh food people’. You replay the all too familiar jingle in your head and see the impossibly happy customers and staff featured in the commercials.

Of course behind the friendly facade lies a supermarket behemoth that together with Coles forms a near duopoly of the Australian grocery market. And behind the supermarket giant, stands an even bigger titan, Woolworths Limited; the second largest company in the country, the largest takeaway liquor retailer and the largest hotel and gaming poker machine operator in the land.

It is no exaggeration to say that when it comes to alcohol, gambling and tobacco, Woolworths Limited has the market in addictive and harmful products well and truly cornered.

Woolworths didn’t reach that position of market dominance by taking no for an answer. However, you might be alarmed and dismayed at the lengths Woolworths will go to crush opposition and increase its market share.

If its behaviour in the Northern Territory is any guide, Woolworths doesn’t agree that the customer is always right. Woolworths wanted to establish a Dan Murphy’s big box liquor outlet in Darwin, and the opposition be damned.

But thankfully, in light of the already well acknowledged and totally unacceptable levels of alcohol harm in the Territory and the well-established links between the size of a liquor outlet and the level of associated alcohol harm, the NT Government put the health and welfare of Territorians first and blocked the application.

Woolworths’ response? A disappointing but entirely predictable ‘we’ll see you in court’.

In this, Woolworths have form; a track record of denigrating scientific evidence, discrediting researchers, intimidating public servants and bullying governments.

Woolworths’ tactics are straight out the tobacco industry playbook. When we examine its corporate behaviour we don’t see a civic-minded grocer that cares about its local community, but rather the country’s biggest purveyor of addictive products, and a corporation that promotes company profit and expansion ahead of public health, and at any cost.

FARE joined public health experts and organisations around the country in writing to Woolworths Chairman, Mr Gordon Cairns, expressing our concern about its plans to build a Dan Murphy’s in Darwin.

FARE, together with the Public Health Association of Australia, the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol, the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition and the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT have released that letter to the public today.

We were particularly outraged by recent public comments by Dan Murphy’s Head of Corporate Services, Shane Tremble who falsely claimed there ‘is no such evidence’ showing that the size of a liquor outlet is related to alcohol harm.

Tremble is at it again today doubling down on his claim and challenging FARE to produce evidence.

That’s something FARE is very happy to do.  The greater challenge it would seem, is to get Woolworths to read it and acknowledge it.

Tremble and the Woolworths Limited Board could begin with familiarising themselves with the Monash University study, Disaggregating relationships between off-premise alcohol outlets and trauma.

This research examined what bearing the characteristics of the takeaway liquor outlet have on the resulting harms.

Monash University Lead Researcher Chris Morrison noted, “From this analysis we see clearly that alcohol chains are contributing to more assaults and injuries than independent outlets.”

In a jurisdiction that already has one of the highest ratios of liquor outlets per population in Australia, Tremble’s claims are not simply disingenuous, but downright dangerous and we have demanded Woolworths publicly refute Mr Tremble’s efforts to deceive the people of the Northern Territory.

In light of the long recognised and unacceptable levels of alcohol harm in the NT, the high ratio of existing venues, and the relationship between large packaged liquor outlets and alcohol harm, we implore Woolworths to discontinue its efforts to open a Dan Murphy’s in Darwin and immediately end its legal action against the Northern Territory Government.

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Michael Thorn

Michael is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), and tweets from @MichaelTThorn.

This article has 1 comment

  1. John CROZIER Reply

    Well said Michael. I strongly endorse all of your observations and comments.

    Few councils, and indeed, as the current NT situation demonstrates, few jurisdictions have the resources, or desire, to mount the legitimate challenge to protect vulnerable communities from the the Grog and Gaming related harms Woolies current business model causes – privatized profit and public penalties for the harms produced

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