22/03/2005 - 21:00

Reader Response - Referendum all in the timing

22/03/2005 - 21:00


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Conjecture as to why the ‘No’ case won the retail trading hours referendum is understandable and will no doubt be of considerable interest to social marketers, researchers, psephologists and politicians, not to mention those who fought the battle, for some time to come.

Having worked for the WA Independent Grocers Association on this issue, the breadth of analysis contained in Jane McNamara’s report (WA Business News, March 10) rings true in a number of instances. However, another angle that might shed even more light on the reasons for the outcome, is the ‘when’ of the matter.

To be blunt, it is quite possible that the trading hours question was decided well before the referendum. In fact, independent research strongly indicates that the collective ‘No’ decision was not made on February 26, or for that matter in the week leading up to the referendum.

Support for our contention can be found in two articles published nearly three months apart by The West Australian.

Article one appeared on December 14 2004 and was based on a statewide Patterson Market Research poll jointly commissioned by WAIGA and The West. This poll, of 400 voters, showed the ‘Yes’ vote for Sundays somewhat ahead – at 56 per cent – of the ‘No’ vote at 43 per cent. A little less ahead was the weeknight question with the ‘Yes’ vote standing at 53 per cent and the ‘No’ vote at 44 per cent.

On Monday February 21 and Tuesday February 22 PMR asked the same questions of 500 voters. The outcome was a back-flip of premier proportions. At this point ‘No’ voters on the Sunday issue accounted for 60 per cent, while ‘Yes’ voters slipped to 40 per cent.

A similar shift occurred in respect of the weekday question, with 58 per cent now opposed and only 42 per cent in favour.

Based on these results and the referendum outcome – about 60 per cent against weeknights and Sundays and 40 per cent for – it would appear that voters well and truly settled on their position at least two to three weeks before February 26.

The reasons why and at what point the tide went out on the ‘Yes’ campaign are still a matter of debate.

Certainly, the December to January period presented something of a conundrum. On the one hand, people experiencing extended Christmas shopping time, surely would have influenced thinking in favour of the ‘Yes’ proposition.

On the other hand, however, was the ‘who-cares-about-anything-but-the-beach’ mindset that often sets in during those lazy days of summer.

Similarly, during the election/referendum campaign, the plethora of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ advertising messages, at the very least, placed the referendum and salient issues on the public agenda.

However, the volume and frequency of both quite possibly had a cancelling effect, thereby leaving the state’s 1.2 million voters to weigh up personal and community values against the impact of large nationally-based retailers being given the green light to increase their dominance of the local market.

Add it all up and our belief is that the referendum was quite probably lost before it began. In conjunction with the tendency to vote in the negative at referendums, the majority of Western Australians already had a well-established predisposition against the Sunday and weeknight propositions and, when confronted by the need to make a decision, they responded accordingly.

Des Riley, Director 

Riley Mathewson Public Relations


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