Retail Trading Bill

October 16, 2018

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (16:57): This bill sees some of the biggest changes to our shop trading hours since the introduction of the Shop Trading Hours Bill in 1977. Shop trading hours were first regulated in 1900 and were designed to protect shop assistants who were forced to work unreasonably long hours. This was especially so for farmers who were forced to travel great distances to trade. The original legislation also aimed to provide for consumer demand. In 1911, changes were made to the Early Closing Act to introduce a Saturday closing district, which outlined that all shops within the district were to close at 6pm from Monday to Thursday, 9pm on Fridays, and 1pm on Saturdays.

 

Further changes were made to the act in 1923 and 1924 to stipulate different opening times for tobacconists and butchers respectively. These rules remained relatively unchanged until 1940, when the hours were reduced slightly, from 6pm to 5.30pm from Monday to Thursday, and from 1pm to 12.30pm on Saturdays for those shops in the designated Saturday closing district. Reduced resources and manpower during the Second World War saw late-night trading on Fridays suspended.

 

With the growth of shopping centres in suburban areas in the 1950s, a growing number of retailers and consumers from the inner city were calling for a uniformity of shopping hours. Most of the regulation was confined to shops within the inner city, resulting in shops outside of this area being largely unregulated. This call for uniformity continued until 1970 when the government held a referendum, which asked all metropolitan voters the question: are you in favour of shops in the metropolitan planning area and the municipality of Gawler being permitted to remain open for trading until 9pm on Fridays? As a result of the referendum, the government legislated to extend the metropolitan shopping district.

 

In 1977, the government established a royal commission to inquire into the law relating to shop trading hours and ancillary matters. The commission recommended that shopping hours be changed to allow for one night of late-night trading per district, that is, one night for the inner city and another night for metropolitan areas. The commission did not believe it necessary to expand Saturday trading beyond 12.30pm but did make several comments in relation to exempted goods in shops. This resulted in the Shop Trading Hours Act 1977. There have been a few changes since then, including the extension of trading hours from a half day to a full day on Saturday as well as Sunday trading from 11am to 5pm.

 

Having read the report of the 1977 royal commission, it is clear that we are still arguing about the same things over 40 years later. The commission's report outlined the requirements to strike the balance between need and convenience. The retail industry should service the community, but they made a distinction between consumers who wanted the convenience that longer trading hours would offer, as opposed to consumers who had an actual need for trading hours to be longer.

 

There is no doubt that consumers will want what is more convenient for them. However, I am yet to see an actual need for longer shopping hours. I requested statistics on the number of transactions and the amount of transactions from 5pm to 9pm from a large supermarket operator earlier this year. It showed that after a peak at about 6.30pm, there were only minimal transactions made at night, with the exception of the traditional evening that is subject to late-night trading. To me, this demonstrates there is not a big demand for extended trading hours, if existing evening hours do not have the same number of shoppers as during the day.

 

Similarly, I have witnessed shopping centres at night where big retailers such as Big W and Kmart stay open until 9pm on weekdays. The centres are empty and, with the exception of skeleton staff who seem to be very bored, the shops are also empty. Small retailers are essentially deregulated now; however, we see very few operating 24/7 because this is not what the market wants. There is little or no demand for it and so owners choose not to open and instead spend time their family and friends. If shopping hours are deregulated, big companies are likely to open, which will force small businesses to open, too, in the name of competition. This is not healthy for our community.

 

In 1977, small traders argued that extending trading hours would affect their business, because these people would go to the city or large suburban shopping centres. At the time, there was no evidence of this being true, but given the experience of time, we have seen that this is true. Now we are seeing retailers giving similar predictions. Given the experience, it could be said that it is likely their predictions will come true this time, too.

 

We have seen the growth and growth of suburban shopping centres, practically at the cost of our main streets. Suburban shopping centres offer convenient parking, shopping sheltered from the elements and major retailers all wrapped up in an attractive package. In comparison, Jetty Road, Glenelg, is practically a ghost town on Thursday nights, with an abundance of empty retail spaces. I believe vibrant main streets add to the community, and it has been disheartening to see their decline over the years. Tourists do not often visit a city to visit a shopping centre. After all, they are practically all the same. Instead, tourists are drawn to main streets, and it does not leave a good impression of our city if our fledgling main streets are left to linger and die.

 

The experience of the meat industry is particularly telling. In 1977, butchers were responsible for 73 per cent of the market. Trading hours were extended for retailers with the exception of butchers, who had their trading hours limited. The reasoning behind this was that at the time there was only a limited number of butchers working in the trade, and it was thought having them trade for longer would put undue pressure on them. However, the result of this move was that people moved towards buying meat from supermarkets due to the convenience, and the number of butchers has declined dramatically.

 

Now the majority of meat sales are done through supermarkets. Again, we see small retailers such as florists, newsagents and bakers making a similar argument against deregulating shop trading hours. I cannot see how they and their industries will not experience what the butchers did 40 years ago.

 

SAPOL's submission to the royal commission was interesting in that they asserted that, should shopping hours be extended, they would need more resources. They asserted that there would be more traffic on the roads due to extended trading hours, and they would therefore need more resources to manage this. They also submitted that crime would increase, as there would be more exposure and more opportunities to shoplift. General crowd control would need more resources to manage, and they also submitted that sexual assaults on women may increase due to extended shopping hours.

 

This brings about an interesting point: the safety of employees. We already have a problem in the community where many—I would say most—women feel unsafe walking alone at night. If these women are then rostered on to work a graveyard shift, I have genuine concern about their safety if they finish in the middle of the night. South Australia's public transportation system outside of peak hours is already problematic. We are not like our eastern state cousins, who have public transport operating regular and relatively frequent services throughout the night. We simply do not have the population to support this. How will the safety of workers going home at odd hours be ensured if we move to a 24/7 economy?

 

Consumers seemingly want longer shopping hours; however, shopkeepers do not. The main difference from an historical perspective is that there are now fewer owner operated shopkeepers and that the market, particularly shops that sell foodstuffs, are dominated by large corporations with many employees. Historically, the cry from shopkeepers was heard loudly during debate on this issue. Their arguments often outstrip those of the consumer, as there are many more shopkeepers who are concerned about the pressure that increased trading hours would have on their work/life balance.

 

These days, however, we see this as an argument that is being made by employees of large companies, as well as owner operators of small businesses. There is concern about the impact deregulated trading hours will have on family pressures and people's social lives at a time when people are being encouraged to take better care of themselves from an holistic perspective. It seems a backward step to introduce legislation that would see people be pushed, or push themselves, to the brink.

 

The current act provides exemptions for shops with a floor area of under 200 square metres, or 400 square metres if they are selling foodstuffs. However, I understand there is ambiguity over what constitutes the floor area. I understand there are retailers who will section off parts of their store on certain days that they can trade, and I have heard arguments about measurements from the inside of fridges. There needs to be clarity around this issue.

 

It is unhelpful for the government to just say that, unless they get their way with the passing of this bill, they will then prosecute people for not following the rules. If the rules are unclear, then the government should be aiming to provide clarity and make it clearer, rather than just punishing people.

 

Interestingly, the royal commission in 1977 recommended that retail hours should be determined by an independent body, such as the new Industrial Commission, or a tribunal, rather than parliament where it could be politicised. This suggestion had the overwhelming support of traders, unions and the public, and I would be interested in hearing whether the government is giving consideration to this proposal. Given the above, I cannot support this bill and urge the government to rethink its plans on this issue going forward.

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