Ritchies CEO Fred Harrison has expressed his dismay at German supermarket giant Kaufland and backed up recent claims made by Master Grocers Australia (MGA), saying the Schwarz Group owned business is getting favourable treatment by the Victorian government in their planning applications.
MGA has said that local Melbourne retailers are furious at government officials for letting Kaufland “ride roughshod over local decision-making processes”. The comments came shortly after a decision was made by the Victorian government to allow Kaufland into Epping, Chirnside Park and Dandenong.
Speaking to Retail World at the opening of Ritchies’ latest store in New Lambton, Newcastle, last week, Mr Harrison reiterated this view.
“I have been a panel witness at two hearings where Kaufland has applied for stores,” he said. “I have, on behalf of the company, heavily objected – not to the fact that Kaufland want to come to Australia but to the process in Victoria.
“For example, we [in Newcastle] have gone through council every step of the way for the DA, for the building permit and the planning permit – we have done and complied with the rules of the land. The council process is very detailed, very thorough and we complied with it.
“What’s happened with Kaufland is that they’ve said: “No! We don’t want to deal with council. We just want to go straight to the planning minister in Victoria and get him to rubber stamp our applications. We don’t want council – who are experts in this area, who take into account the wants of the local community. We just want to be able to put the stores where we want.”
Fairness needed for true competition
Mr Harrisons says Kaufland is bypassing council to unfairly push into areas that have not been zoned for retail.
“They’re going out the back into almost green wedge land in some cases, or industrial land that’s not even zoned for retail, and trying to get the Minister to rubber stamp all of their plans in one hit,” he said
“It’s not fair! We don’t object to competition. We just want everyone to play to a level playing field. Why should one of the richest companies in the world be given all these special treatments in Victoria or Australia?
“If the average punter wants to do an upgrade or a refurb, he’d have to go back through council and then they would consider everything. Kaufland is going directly to a Minister and he’s beyond reproach. You can’t even appeal the decision, because it’s final.”
Mr Harrison went on to say that the general approach Kaufland has taken from the beginning has already off-sided people in Victoria but also expressed concerns for the rest of Australia.
“I’ve got no problem with them coming,” he said. “We didn’t object to Costco, but they went through the right process. So can Kaufland please do what the rest of Australians do, and that is go through the process? I mean, these people come in from overseas and think they are special and should be given favoured treatment. No way!”