It’s bemusing to read that the ACCC will audit Woolworths’ liquor division for compliance with last year’s anti-competitive behaviour verdict – the one where Woolies was lucky to get away with only a $7 million fine.

No doubt Woolworths is now keeping the letter of the law and no longer does illegal deals to stop potential customers from opening bottle shops. That particular trick worked as something of an extortion racket – if the would-be competitors didn’t do as they were told, Woolworths threatened to unleash the retail giant’s full legal might to oppose and drag out the granting of any liquor licence.

But if the ACCC is interested in the spirit of the law instead of the letter, it might send an investigator to Palmers Island, up Yamba way on the NSW north coast.

It will be three years next month since the good folk of the local store started their fight against Woolworths for the right to compete in selling booze. They’re back in court again next Monday, with the threat of much more to come.

Woolworths no doubt would say it is merely exercising its legal rights, but we’ve been keeping an occasional eye on this David v Goliath fight as an indicator of Woolworths’ true character – and it doesn’t look good.

After watching this three year fight for the right to compete, one could form the opinion that the only thing that’s changed about Woolworths in trying to prevent competition in the liquor business is that it no longer cuts an illegal deal.

The illegal system was probably easier on the little guy.

Peter Fray

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