Trading hours under scrutiny

MOVES by the City of Stirling to create a Scarborough tourism precinct with extended trading hours could bring the controversial topic of deregulated trading hours back on the State Government agenda.

At its meeting last month, the City of Stirling adopted the Scarborough and Environs Area Strategy, a long-term plan to revitalise the popular beachfront suburb.

Part of the strategy involves an investigation into designating the beachfront area a tourism precinct.

Such a classification would allow retailers within the SEAS area to extend their trading hours, similar to those in Perth city and Fremantle.

Coastal ward councillor Troy Pickard said such a classification for the suburb’s beachfront areas made sense as it gave local businesses the flexibility to service the area’s growing number of tourists.

Cr Pickard said a number of businesses initially had been wary of the proposal but had embraced the idea after several workshops.

“What we have done is requested our officers to investigate the possibility,” he said.

“There are a lot of tourists in Scarborough, especially in the summer months, it is a hive of activity.

“We think we have a strong case to have Scarborough deemed a tourism precinct ... it will give us that 24-7 atmosphere that we really want.”

However, while the city may believe its case for a new tourism precinct is strong, the Gallop Government has promised to retain retail trading hours in their present form.

Department of Consumer and Employment Protection retail trading hours coordinator Graeme Watts said the Retail Trading Act applied to retailers south of the 26th parallel.

Outside of the Perth metro-politan area, local governments could apply to have retail trading hours varied, or even totally deregulated within their boundaries.

“The Act empowers non-metropolitan local governments to vary their trading hours … of course there are a number of conditions they must meet. For example they must consult widely,” Mr Watts said.

“If they satisfy all our criteria then we usually provide them with the exemptions they seek.”

Mr Watts said since local governments were permitted to vary or deregulate trading hours they had done so at a steady rate.

“The reasoning is that (the local governments) are in the best position to decided what will work for them, and this system works very well,” he said.

Seven WA shires now have deregulated trading hours, including Augusta-Margaret River, Dardanup and Mingenew, while a further 13 have varied hours, including Albany, Busselton, Kalgoorlie and York.

Trading hours in the metro-politan area have been heavily regulated and only exempted general retail shops and special retail shops are able to apply for a variation to existing trading hours.

Exempted general retail shops are defined as those owned by less than six people, operating no more than three outlets with no more than 10 people working at one time.

Special retail shops are those that are considered necessary for emergency, convenience or recreation supplies and can include pharmacies, video shops and souvenir shops.

Retail Traders Association manager Brian Reynolds believed the inequity between non-metropolitan and metro-politan trading hours needed to be addressed.

A staged deregulation of trading hours across the State would be the best course of action, he suggested.

“The position of the RTA is that the trading hours of a business should be determined solely by the operator of that business,” Mr Reynolds said.

“The current approach is ‘one size fits all’. Under general trading hours we have a lot of businesses who have their staff in place at 8am who may not even see their first customer until 10am.

“Deregulated trading hours would allow individual busi-nesses to say this is my market, this is what they want, this is when I should open to better cater for them.”

The RTA’s position is supported in recommendations from a leaked report by the State Government retail trading hours legislative review committee.

The report, leaked 18 months ago, recommended the retail industry be totally deregulated within five years’ time.

However, the Court Government did not act on the report, which is now under review by Consumer Affairs Minister John Kolbelke.

Mr Reynolds said the retailers who opposed deregulated trading hours generally fell into two categories.

“There are those who already have the advantage of being able to trade when they want and wish to hold on to that advantage, and there are those who have come to the decision they don’t want to open later, so they don’t want anyone else to either,” he said.

“It is a popular misconception that deregulation will mean 24-7 trading everywhere, but that is not the case.”

Margaret River Chamber of Commerce immediate past-president John Thompson said deregulated trading hours had only had a positive effect on the town.

“We have had deregulated trading hours for seven years now and nobody trades all night long,” Mr Thompson said.

“Deregulated trading hours give businesses here the opportunity to extend opening hours for the summer seasons.

“Traders here work out their market and try and open when the sales are there.

“We really couldn’t do without deregulated trading hours.”

In Busselton, retailers are able to trade seven days a week, however Busselton Chamber of Commerce president Bob Fletcher said only a small proportion of retailers took advantage of those hours all year long.

“We introduced the extended trading hours in June last year,” Mr Fletcher said.

“Quite a few businesses tried it but what we found is that it is not for all of us all year round.

“The majority of the small retailers are closed on a Sunday. They don’t have to if they don’t want to, but most will open up again in the summer period.”

Mr Reynolds said about 92 per cent of all WA retailers were classed as small businesses and that proportion was almost the same in Victoria, where retail trading hours had been deregulated.

“Deregulated trading hours are not a deterrent to small businesses,” he said.

“The growth in the retail industry is in Victoria, which is deregulated, and Queensland, which is getting to be much more flexible.”

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