THE LAST GASP: In short supply

Richard Goyder says suppliers are to blame for their own pricing pressures, then defends them, Labor goes into denial and Sembawang just doesn't get it.

The Last Gasp is a wry take on the week’s biggest stories, every week. This week, Richard Goyder washes his hands of the troubles of suppliers, Emerson puts on a brave face as Labor slowly loses one, and Sembawang can’t quite take the hint.

We make the demands

Wesfarmers managing director Richard Goyder came out in defence of the retail industry this week, claiming greedy suppliers incessantly whinging about the supermarket war, which they claim is completely destroying their price margins, should really be blaming their incompetent selves. Goyder told Business Spectator that some suppliers have not invested enough in themselves and are choosing to blame Wesfarmers-owned Coles and its rival Woolworths for their own shortcomings. And he kind of has a point, really. I mean, come on suppliers; sort it out. If you were any good, you’d be able to make the often disgustingly low prices offered for the fruits of your hundreds of hours labour work wonders. I mean, how dare they accuse the mighty supermarket giants of throwing all others to the wolves in their noble quest to squeeze every last dollar out of already railroaded clients in order to one-up each other. It’s as clear as day that these producers are woefully inefficient, and are wasting money on needless things like paying staff, maintaining equipment and feeding their children. It’s god damn amateur hour out there.

Heel face turn

Within days of telling them where to go, Goyder was back in the corner of suppliers, seemingly ignorant of the fact that he was the one who just helped to put them there, beaten, bloody and exhausted like an overly drawn out boxing analogy. The Wesfarmers boss promised to crack down on any Coles employees who were unfair with suppliers, admitting that it was inevitable some would act inappropriately. Lucky they have a solid and consistent example at the top to keep them in line, then. Both Coles and rival Woolworths are currently facing investigations from the ACCC after complaints the retail leviathans misuse their power to drive prices lower. In reply, Goyder said he was happy to take calls from suppliers who feel they have been treated unfairly. However, its rumoured he couldn’t guarantee they would get the exact amount of time with him that they wanted, and said if that was a problem for the suppliers, it was clearly due to their own inefficiency with time.

Dude, let it go

In a fashion bordering on creepy, jilted Indian takeover suitor Sembawang has refused to rule out another bid for the construction arm of Macmahon, despite the local group agreeing to sell the asset to Leighton and knocking back multiple approaches from the Indian conglomerate quicker than Barnaby Joyce’s MENSA application. This week saw Macmahon's shareholders overwhelmingly vote in favour of the Leighton deal, which bizarrely only seemed to strengthen Sembawang’s resolve. In a release scathing of both Macmahon and Leighton, Sembawang stated simply that "we'll be back", in a sign the group’s executives may be spending their time watching early 90s action movies instead of paying attention to their mounting pile of rejection letters.

Hope sinks

Still firmly entrenched in the first stage of grief, Labor MPs trotted out one after the other this week to deny that opinion polls showing the party’s primary vote at 31 per cent, compared with the coalition's 47 per cent, are a sign the party is doomed come the federal election in September. Cabinet minister Craig Emerson was insistent the government will be competitive, in a speech that sounded suspiciously like Kevin Sheedy talking up GWS’ chances against a top four side at Blacktown on a Thursday night. Just a little more desperate.

Did you check the stable?

As long as Labor keeps praying for a miracle, we may as well keep up the biblical references. Despite the state of the polls, right now the ALP strategy appears to reflect the worst parts of MS Dohni’s captaincy in the field: if it looks like you’re going nowhere, do nothing. Eventually it will sort itself out. Despite mounting speculation, key Labor players have steadfastly ruled out a change in leadership. Cabinet minister Greg Combet defended the (in)decision by claiming there is simply no room for such a big change this far out from the election. This is despite the fact that it is currently seven months before the poll, whereas in 2010, Labor went to the ballot in August not even two months after knifing Kevin Rudd and installing Julia Gillard. Apparently that timeframe has been conveniently forgotten.

Well, that makes sense

So it turns out Clive Palmer has attempted to trademark the name ‘Katter's United Australia Party’, in an interesting move given the fact that Palmer is not Bob Katter nor has any formal association with Katter's United Australia Party. Katter reps have formally objected to the move, which was initially processed when Palmer was considering forming his own party, and creating a potential alliance with Katter’s. Any chance of such a partnership, according to the Katter camp, has since dried up. On behalf of Australia, may we say thank Christ for that.

Quick misses

– Foreign Minister Bob Carr has told Italy that it needs to move toward further economic reform in the same week the country reached political gridlock on the back of a tight election result, because Labor‘s global reputation as masters of federal budgets means it can pretty much hand out advice to anyone.

– The PM has loudly announced plans to spend a week in western Sydney, in a move expected to provide her with good practice in living outside The Lodge.

– And finally, Carr called for state governments to be given more responsibility this week, suggesting it would be great if they could be made responsible for this year’s federal budget, or pretty much anything that goes wrong between now and September.