Supermarket Taskforce Case Study
An interview with Sam Grunhard, First Assistant Secretary/Deputy Group Manager, Cyber and Infrastructure Security Centre
This month we hear about the Supermarket Taskforce, chaired by Sam Grunhard, First Assistant Secretary/Deputy Group Manager of the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Centre at the Department of Home Affairs.
What is the Supermarket Taskforce?
Originally established to mitigate national food supply risks arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supermarket Taskforce brings together Commonwealth, state, territory and industry representatives to collectively resolve issues, share best practice and forward plan for COVID-19 impacts. Industry and government convene at both the working and executive levels and to respond to complex issues. To achieve best results for our members, we collaborate with a range of Commonwealth departments who are instrumental in providing specialised advice and information to the group and who contribute to the resolution of complex issues. We also draw on the National Coordination Mechanism in the Department of Home Affairs as the escalation route for the taskforce to progress or resolve urgent and/or complex issues with State and Territory governments.
What has the Supermarket Taskforce focussed on in response to COVID-19?
Throughout the pandemic, the Supermarket Taskforce has addressed:
- the safety and wellbeing of staff and customers in supermarkets
- equitable access to food for all Australians, including those who are self-isolating and those who live in rural and remote areas of Australia
- the resilience of supply chains, including resolving barriers to domestic freight, food importation and packaging, and domestic manufacturing.
How has industry and government collaboration contributed to the success of the Supermarket Taskforce?
Effective communication and collaboration has been key to the success of the Supermarket Taskforce. The central question at every meeting is: what can Government do to assist industry to ensure the continued supply of food to Australians?
We have developed a number of forums that enable industry to engage directly with key jurisdictional and Commonwealth representatives. At these meetings, we particularly encourage frank and fearless discussion and provide a “safe” space for members to raise issues and develop solutions. We structure agendas to ensure industry and government members have the opportunity to give and receive feedback. We also ensure that key representatives are aware of agendas before each meeting so they can prepare to speak to specific issues. Importantly, we also seek to include representatives from jurisdiction health departments who can inform health orders during lockdowns.
This has also enabled members to develop and share best practice, which has positioned industry and jurisdictions, including those with no current outbreaks, to respond to issues as they occur.
We work in between meetings to connect industry and jurisdictions bilaterally. Building these productive working relationships has led to members discussing and resolving issues at the local level without Commonwealth involvement, which is a great outcome.
Our approach has developed a high level of trust amongst the members, who can see our intent to build relationships in order to solve issues cooperatively. This has fuelled a high level of engagement and collaboration, which we hope will continue between members beyond the life of the Taskforce.
Did you have any governance or legal issues to consider?
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) authorisation was sought by industry to allow cooperation between the supermarkets in response to COVID-19. The current ACCC ruling allows supermarket industry participants to convene and cooperate in the interests of national food security until 31 March 2022.
What are some of the key issues you are addressing through the Supermarket Taskforce in 2021?
This year the Supermarket Taskforce met through the Supermarket Senior Executives forum to consider strategic issues and through Food Supply Working Group to consider operational issues. We worked to resolve national food supply issues arising from jurisdiction lockdowns, including priority vaccinations for supermarket and supply chain staff, isolation rules for supermarket staff who are close and casual contacts and cross-border food supply. We have also called on the National Coordination Mechanism to drive responses to particularly urgent issues, such as QR code requirements, close and casual contact policy and relatedly, the national freight protocol.
What are some of the recent outcomes achieved through the Supermarket Taskforce as a result of effective collaboration?
The Supermarket Taskforce has achieved a previously unseen level of industry to government collaboration and engagement in the food and grocery supply chain. The Taskforce has been heralded as a major success, particularly by industry representatives.
Since its inception, the Supermarket Taskforce has contributed to a number of positive outcomes, including:
- during the March 2021 NSW flood events, sharing information on food supply issues in flood-affected regions, and connecting industry and jurisdictional officials to facilitate delivery of essential supplies
- with support from the National Coordination Mechanism, promoting effective testing regimes for workers and establishing vaccine prioritisation for distribution centre staff
- supporting the development of a National Coordination Mechanism-led supermarket paper on the supply chain impacts of jurisdiction close and casual contacts policy. This paper was presented to the Australian Health Protection Principals Committee (AHPPC), and the policy settings of several jurisdictions have been amended to reflect the paper’s proposed best practice.
What is next for the Supermarket Taskforce?
As we adapt to the new normal of living with COVID in the community, the Supermarket Taskforce will shift its focus accordingly. In this next phase, we will look at transitioning the taskforce into a business as usual forum through the Trusted Information Sharing Network, to support continuing collaboration between industry and government on an ongoing basis.