22/10/2009 - 00:00

Retail stalemate an hour-by-hour concern

22/10/2009 - 00:00


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WHY is one hour so important in Western Australia? Earlier this year, the battle was over daylight saving, that magical hour of time difference that splits the electorate almost evenly down the centre.

WHY is one hour so important in Western Australia?

Earlier this year, the battle was over daylight saving, that magical hour of time difference that splits the electorate almost evenly down the centre.

Last week, that other war involving time – retail trading hours – erupted anew, on this occasion whittled back to an argument over one hour.

The government, which hopes to deregulate shop-opening rules for big shops, sought a compromise in its efforts to engineer some development on this front. It advocated a weekday closing time of 8pm, a concession from the original objective of 9pm.

Industry supported Premier Colin Barnett’s move, with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA stating it was pleased the government was prepared to examine all the options available to give Perth people the chance to shop outside normal working hours.

The CCIWA is currently driving for an hour more than Premier Colin Barnett’s compromise, seeking a 9pm weeknight trading campaign. The chamber urged supporters to write to their local member of parliament and log their support on a special website.

But the state Labor Party rejected Mr Barnett’s 8pm weeknight trading compromise, but says it will support 7pm trading if the government supports its small business protection package. So, one hour less was on the table.

Opposition Leader Eric Ripper said the decision came after a caucus meeting.

“Labor resolved that there is community support, in our view, for 7pm weeknight trading and if the government introduced that to the parliament we’d be prepared to vote for that, subject to the government’s supporting Labor’s small business protection package,” he said.

Mr Ripper said he was concerned for people who have a long trip home to the outer suburbs after work, and needed additional time to get their groceries.

“I think 7pm is a modest advance, its four extra hours of weeknight trading,” he said.

Mr Barnett then responded by unveiling a plan to widen the tourism precincts around the Perth CBD to include retail areas of suburbia such as Subiaco, Mt Lawley and Victoria Park.

He also suggested Joondalup could be considered in the same vein.

This would allow wider trading hours for retailers in those precincts that are currently allowed to open on Sundays.

But all that argy bargy over just one hour of additional shopping time for four weeknights hit a brick wall when Mr Barnett’s partner in government, Nationals WA, said it wasn’t interested in any extra hour at all, effectively undercutting Labor’s proposal by one hour to maintain the status quo.

Nationals WA leader Brendon Grylls said he would not support the Liberal plan to extend shopping hours through increasing Perth’s tourism precincts, which would require the drafting of new regulations and could be susceptible to disallowance motions.

Mr Gylls said his party was maintaining its election commitments in opposing extended trading hours.

“Until there are enough members in parliament supporting deregulation I don’t see it happening,” he said.

“Our position is to support small business and the third force in the grocery sector.”

He said there were no fractures appearing in the Nationals-Liberal alliance and did not believe a further referendum was warranted.

Reflecting on the Nationals’ move, Labor leader Eric Ripper said nothing had changed and he believed most of the proposal still required parliamentary approval.

Approvals push

While the retail trading ‘hour’ debate was getting bogged down, the state government was moving ahead with resolving issues around the approvals process for projects – attempting to deliver on a key election promise to industry.

Last week, Mr Barnett said it would formalise its proposed new lead agency framework along with a string of legislative changes as part of its plan to overhaul cumbersome approvals processes to deliver more decisions quickly, and avoid the loss of another project like Inpex’s Ichthys, which was lured to Darwin.

The lead agency framework works by determining specific government departments as the first point of call for a project, with the Department of State Development the lead agency for major resource projects such as Gorgon and Oakajee.

“We must create and maximise the opportunities presented by attracting investment in the state and ensuring that investment provides long-term benefits for all Western Australians,” Mr Barnett said in a statement.

“We need an approvals system that welcomes investment and stimulates economic development, not stymie it.”

The Department of Planning is the lead agency for projects such as the sinking of the Northbridge rail line and the Perth waterfront development, while the Department of Regional Development and Lands will be responsible for developments such as Ord River Stage Two.

Another example provided by the state was the emerging uranium sector, where the Department of Mines and Petroleum will be the lead agency.

The government also said it would introduce on-line monitoring of approvals for any project, including smaller, less complex projects, to allow proponents to see where their application was at and enable government to monitor what stage proponents were at in their submission of relevant material for approval.

Feds in on the act

And as WA government was making noises about bending over backwards for industry, its federal counterpart tried to do the same.

Infrastructure and Regional Development Minister Anthony Albanese announced he had given three multi-billion dollar mines proposed by Hancock Prospecting ‘major project facilitation’ status, which is part of the bid to support major new private investment during the global recession.

Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, daughter of the late mining magnate Lang Hancock, owns Hancock Prospecting.

Flying well under the usual publicity radar, Ms Rinehart’s empire has become increasingly active of late through joint ventures and in its own right. Former BHP Billiton WA Iron Ore president and chief operating officer Tim Crossley joined the Hancock business a few months ago in a senior executive position.

The mine proposals outlined by Mr Albanese, including the Roy Hill 1 iron ore mine in the Pilbara and two Queensland sites, will be fast-tracked through the planning process with federal government help.

The Roy Hill 1 iron ore project, 270 kilometres south of Port Hedland, is expected to generate $5 billion worth of annual export earnings, and create 1,200 jobs when operations begin in 2013.

The Alpha and Kevin’s Corner coking coal mines in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin are expected to create 3,000 jobs and generate annual export earnings of $6 billion.

A spokesman for Mr Albanese said the federal government would help the mines negotiate the approval process with different levels of government.

“It doesn’t give them special treatment,” the spokesman said.




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