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Bigger isn’t always better

I HAVE already shown my colours in the debate over retail trading hours but, with the extended deadline for submissions set to close this week, I thought it was worth revisiting the subject.

One of the reasons was that information relating to some of the submissions has been creeping out, some of it leaked, some of it splashed across the headlines.

From the big guys we are already hearing the expected and welcome promises of more investment and more employment, which also resemble veiled threats, as you assume they won’t happen if there’s no deregulation.

At WA Business News we encourage all forms of new investment but not if that means decision-makers are taken out of the State.

Every independent retailer makes decisions that provide a different form of indirect employment, something much harder to tally than employee numbers.

One interesting statistic being bandied around by the big players is their claim that independents have not gone bust due to deregulation. In fact, they say independent numbers have remained the same.

Unfortunately, I am not sure that is a reassuring statement. In Victoria, where there has been deregulation for some years, Coles and Woolworths have had significant growth in market share.

Does this mean that independent stores have been unable to compete? Isn’t static market share in a growth market the same as going backwards? If Australia’s GDP was 0 per cent when world growth was 5 per cent, the government would probably fall.

And what’s all this call for unbridled competition? As I have already suggested, when the labour market is free – when small retailers are able to freely negotiate with shopping centre owners and when smaller retailers are relieved of the disproportionate level of tax-related paper work – perhaps then we can talk about a deregulated environment in shopping hours.

Maybe we should take a leaf out of the rule books of the nation’s most successful sporting bodies.

In this respect we have salary caps, player drafts, regional incentives and all manner of cross subsidies in the interest of maintaining competition, not destroying it.

And what about those in the supply chain.

Wine companies have already faced the horror of their domestic retail markets being locked up by Coles and Woolworths – does the consumer really win when smaller players can’t get shelf space?

Ask even the biggest wine companies how they have been treated here and in the UK, where retail is dominated by a few big chains.

These are serious questions. I have yet to see them properly addressed by the major players, who realise that not only is WA one of the last trading-hours dominoes to fall, but it is also home to the last of their major rivals, Foodland Associated.

Lobster woes

COULD WA’s rock lobster industry become a victim of its own success?

News that beach prices have plunged as export markets suffer has been quite alarming, and may signal that some structural issues in the industry may no longer be ignored. Effectively, the rock lobster world that WA ruled has changed, as traditional markets turn to alternative suppliers of lobster and other species because of economic and cultural change.

The big issue is that processors know they need to spend more on market development to address this but are squeezed between buyers reacting to poor conditions and fishermen used to getting top prices. Throw in a deal of mistrust between these parties and you have the ingredients for disaster.

This is one area that the State Government could play a major role. Because the fishery is regulated through licences, the Government has some responsibility for how one of our most successful niche exports is managed at all levels – if in no other way than to make sure all parties are communicating properly.

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