27/08/2009 - 00:00

Don’t be backward in coming forward

27/08/2009 - 00:00


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Progressive or backward? It depends which side of the fence you sit on.

Don’t be backward in coming forward

ONE of the great things about online news is you can more accurately grasp what readers want and what grabs their attention.

Of course, the average online audience member may be different from those who read this august journal, but the web is still a pretty good guide for an editor.

After nearly four years in the business of sending daily email bulletins, a period which is a lot longer than our local mainstream competition, we've come to know what people will react to.

That is especially the case since we allowed online readers to comment on stories. There are certain issues that generate a lot of that kind of interactive traffic.

It would probably be no surprise to you that community issues such as daylight saving and retail shopping hours generated the most responses. These are hotly debated issues and many people feel very passionate about them.

For instance, our story on Tuesday entitled: 'Labor to oppose retail trading change', which revealed that the opposition decided to join the Nationals in opposing extended retail trading hours, attracted quite a few comments within minutes of our email going out.

"What a backflip! Wasn't Labor advocating changes to retail hours a few years ago? If people do not wish to shop after 6pm, it's easy - do not go shopping!" one reader commented.

"If more than 85 per cent of businesses opposed extended trading then all those businesses should also be prevented from trading outside of the standard hours; there should be one rule for all," said another.

"If Darwin can have a 24-hour Coles, why can't Perth have at least shops until 9pm?" was a third comment.

I tend to agree with these sentiments (see them in full on page 28) but another theme ran through these and earlier comments, which parallels with many conversations I've had on the subject - that of Western Australia's backwardness.

"What an absolute joke. How is this state ever going to progress with old, outdated and restrictive trading laws," was the opening to one of the comments above.

"Well, I won't be voting for Labor again! Come back from the dark ages people!" another started.

This is a slightly more problematic area for me.

Those who want daylight saving (which I opposed, by the way) and retail trading deregulation, consistently come back to this line.

I think it's unfair for every form of conservatism to be seen as something from the dark ages and, conversely, every form of change to be something from the renaissance.

Yet, less than two years ago the nation voted for Labor at the federal level, predominantly on the basis of its plans for industrial relations reform. I use the word reform guardedly because, in reality, Labor's IR laws take Australia back to the 1980s, restoring union power and inviting a potential return to widespread industrial action.

WA did not vote for this. The Liberal party holds 10 federal lower house seats in this state, while Labor holds five. In the upper house, Labor holds two of the six seats, the Liberals three and the Greens one.

So who is more backward looking? In comparison to industrial relations, daylight saving and retail trading hours are trivial issues.

The IR regime we have in place now - along with the impending modernisation of awards which will be cosmetic at best and even more retarding of business at worst - takes us back to an era when retail trading hours were restrictive across Australia.

Back then, there was even rostering of petrol stations. Does everyone remember that abomination of government imposed trading rules? That was a time when running out of petrol was a real option in Perth at the weekend with stations rostered as open sparsely distributed throughout the metropolitan area. Woe betide anyone who found themselves caught short on a Saturday afternoon with too little petrol and too far to drive to a roster station - back then cars didn't have sophisticated systems to remind you how many kilometres you had left in the tank, either.

In the 1980s, retail trading rules meant even delicatessens, the once ubiquitous corner stores, probably couldn't open after 8pm - though I stand to be corrected on that.

Oh, and let's not forget banking hours and all manner of other silly restrictive practices which made themselves a nuisance.

Despite the present restrictions, there's no way that we would go back to that.

However, the rest of the country is prepared to go back to the days of strikes over the flavour of ice cream in the miners' mess and turf wars between thuggish union leaders.

They have voted against individuals looking after themselves and, instead of seeking to enshrine the rights of individuals with some safety net laws, they opted for a return to collective bargaining - an outmoded style of labour negotiation from the Victorian era, which had clearly served its usefulness by the 1980s.

And how much of the workforce do unions represent? About 19 per cent, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Let's put that in context: as a nation (but not this state) we have voted for a restrictive regime that favours a group that represents less than one fifth of the workforce, yet people whinge when governments don't overturn the results of referendums that have won a majority.

So let's cease the reminders about who is progressive. Western Australians didn't vote for this retrograde IR legislation, yet we are the ones who may well bear the brunt of it.

Personally, I'd like to see complete deregulation and I certainly believe weekday shopping until 9pm is more than an acceptable compromise that most people would appreciate.

But I am not going to lose any sleep over this issue, let alone get online agitating about WA being a backward place.



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