The Treasurer has accused the Greens of “confected outrage” after the Woolworths chief was threatened with jail during a senate inquiry.

Greens senator Nick McKim on Tuesday said Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci could be held in contempt after he repeatedly declined to answer questions about the company’s return on equity – an important profitability gauge – during a discussion about whether profit levels were reasonable during the cost-of-living crisis.

Senator McKim, who chairs the senate probe into supermarket prices, warned Mr Banducci that he could be in contempt of the senate if he refused to answer legitimate questions, publishable by up to six months imprisonment.

Mr Banducci eventually conceded he would take the question on notice.

On Wednesday, Jim Chalmers blasted Senator McKim for putting on a show for the cameras, adding that the Senate “hasn’t jailed anyone before, and I don’t think they’re about to”.

“The difference between the way the Greens go about this and the way that the Labor government goes about this is (Senator McKim) does what he does for the cameras, and we do what we do for the consumers,” he told ABC Radio.

“We think the best way to get at these real issues, which are genuinely felt as people are under pressure around the country, is to do it in a methodical and considered way and to get real change and take real action.

“I think that’s a contrast with the kind of confected outrage we saw from Senator McKim.”

Nationals senator Matt Canavan said Senator McKim’s “carry on” had “undermined everything this senate inquiry is about”.

“Nick McKim has just blown up his own senate inquiry yesterday, and it’s just a totally ridiculous look,” he told Channel 9.

“Hopefully, we can put those theatrics behind us and focus on the real issues here. There is a real issue of market concentration in this country, that’s a real issues that small businesses and farmers feel.

“The empty threat of sending people to jail … is just absurd.”

Senator McKim doubled down on his approach, saying it was “about time” the big corporations were held to account.

He said his motivations were pure.

“We really understand that millions of Australians are doing it really tough … it’s around food and grocery costs as well,” he said.

“We really want to see downward pressure on food and grocery prices in Australia.”

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