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Editorial - Deregulation’s hidden agenda

IT has been a long time coming but it seems the fight to deregulate our shopping hours is on in earnest.

It’s not a new fight, it’s one that’s been played out for decades as the fabric of our once-staid community life has been chipped away with late-night shopping, all-day Saturday trading and later shopping hours for smaller retailers.

Sports people can now buy new boots before their game on Saturday. Of course, whether or not they have a team is a bit of an issue – everyone’s working these days, who has the time for it?

Apart from the excuse of Federal funding over competition policy, the latest polls are also putting the pressure on the State Government to deregulate our trading hours.

And consumers would know, wouldn’t they?

Well, I’m not so sure. I reckon the big retailers creed is: give enough rope to consumers and they will hang themselves.

Usually its price-based rope. Like the self-service petrol stations, which offered cheaper fuel if you skipped the service. That was the case until all the real service stations went out of business. Now we just pay the one price and look after ourselves at these so-called ‘service’ stations. Note who owns most of them; there aren’t too many local operators, are there.

Insurance is another ripper. Consumers demanded cheaper insurance and they got it. Well, they also got HIH, and now we all have to deal with the mess that occurs when pricing gets out of whack with reality and when consumers don’t understand that they sacrifice quality when they buy on price.

Obviously you don’t want a ‘nanny State’, but it’s all a question of balance.

It is another of those things, like speed limits, which commentator Paul Murray wrote recently are completely arbitrary. In a way, all political decisions are arbitrary, because they are based on trying to please as many people as possible.

Consumers will demand deregulated trading hours for the once in a blue moon they need to buy something that isn’t available at their local shops after hours, except for the relatively few people who work shifts that make daytime shopping impossible.

Without wanting to sound patronising, the truth is they will soon discover how inconvenient it is when every other small business (the really close ones) go out of business and the big stores revise the need to trade so late (it’s basically unprofitable).

In my opinion, doing away with restrictions on trading hours is a false way of deregulating.

It doesn’t create a level playing field at all.

If you wanted that you would:

p Really reform our tax system, because small businesses do their own statements, not rely on some monster accounting division in Melbourne.

p Remove industrial relations obstacles for small businesses that can’t afford a human resources division to oversee staff development or handle claims from disaffected employees or unions.

p Change planning rules that allow big retailers with legal clout to win concessions for their new shopping centres within the trading zone of existing shops.

p Stop shopping centres from requiring small retailers to be open during unprofitable periods.

Unless we do these things we are not deregulating, we are simply favouring big organisations that can best deal with certain other types of regulation.

Big retailers have realised that longer trading hours are the best way to put their competition out of business and they have put enormous resources into lobbying for change. It seems they may be succeeding.

Anyway, there are a whole lot of things that should be deregulated long before shopping hours. Like our ridiculous and archaic liquor licensing laws. Far more people would like to have a drink at 1am than go shopping.

And our taxi system, where partial deregulation has left a whole bunch of taxi plate owners making the money while consumers who can actually find a taxi have to deal with drivers who often can’t make a decent living.

If anyone has a right to feel over-regulated, it’s small retailers, yet the last thing most of them want is unrestricted shopping hours. For many it will be the last straw.

We need to keep these people in business. They keep that ‘head office’ expenditure in WA, they spend their profits here, they make buying decisions here that give local producers a leg up, and they are interested in their local community when it comes to sponsorship and other social initiatives.

If you want to keep that here, you need a balance, not open slather on shopping hours without removing some of the real burdens on small business first – let’s see the big boys lobby for that.

Lawyers in early

WE’VE had a rush of early responses to WA Business News’ Legal Elite, launched on these pages last week.

A voting form was distributed among members of the WA Law Society last week and we have a received a wide and diverse range of entries in all categories.

 Starring role

WHILE the best performers among WA public companies are often highlighted, the strong and consistent growth of the private sector is sometimes overlooked.

Bearing this in mind, Deloitte Growth Solutions and WA Business News have joined forces to put together Rising Stars – a platform to showcase value-creating strategies being used by successful WA private enterprises.

Rising Stars seeks private companies with: minimum turnover for FY 2002 of $4m; minimum turnover growth of at least 50 per cent for FY 2000; and willing to have business name and other key information published in WA Business News if it makes it to the top 20 growth enterprises.

We know that growth is not easily achieved and even harder to maintain. 

Without divulging confidential information, collated data from the Rising Stars project will be featured along with appropriate editorial in WA Business News on April 17.

The survey should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete.  It will be available on-line and in hard copy format from Deloitte Perth cmandzufas@deloitte.com.au or WA Business News. jodi@wabusinessnews.com.au and must be returned to Deloitte by March 19.

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