Liberal leader calls for shopping hours ‘fix’

By Chris Thomson | posted on May 3, 2018

PREMIER Mark McGowan will not compel the City of Albany to extend trading hours for Coles and Woolworths, while Opposition Leader Mike Nahan and the Economic Regulation Authority say Albany’s shopping hours must be liberalised.

Mr McGowan told The Weekender he did not intend to change the long-term arrangement where local councils decide when Coles, Woolworths and ALDI can open.

“The council makes the decision,” he said.

“I’m happy for that to continue.”

But Dr Nahan, who has a PhD in Economics, said trading hours needed to be consistent across regional Western Australia.

“Albany is an important tourist region and it would be bewildering for visitors to the city to not be able to shop on a Sunday at retailers when they can do so in other regional centres, or in their home towns,” he said.

“Not only should we have shops being able to open on weekends to provide choice for consumers and employment opportunities for locals, it is important to provide certainty and consistency for tourists.”

Albany is the only place in the south-western corner of Australia with a Coles, Woolworths or ALDI where these larger supermarkets are not permitted to trade on Sundays and most weeknights.

IGAs can trade seven days a week, and every weeknight.

Dr Nahan said customers should not be denied choice, nor young people jobs.

“It is inconceivable that on a Sunday someone in Albany can purchase groceries online, but they can’t go to a bricks-and-mortar shop, which is paying rent while it is closed, which is not employing anyone while it is closed, because of the antiquated trading hours,” he argued.

“I note that Albany has lower median incomes, so introducing competition can drive down prices, which is in the interests of consumers, particularly those on fixed and low incomes.

“It’s time to fix this.”

Asked if employment gains at larger supermarkets could come at the expense of jobs at his North Road IGA, proprietor Bob Cybula referred The Weekender to a spokesman who suggested that it speak to WA Branch Secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association Peter O’Keeffe.

Mr O’Keeffe said emphatic anecdotal evidence from members of his union, was that big supermarkets did not employ extra staff when trading hours were extended.

“What you’ll find is they’ll stretch the existing staff,” he said.

“They’ll get salaried staff to work additional hours.

“Typically, [the large retailers] don’t get huge boosts in their wages budgets just because there’s been an extension of trading hours.”

Mr O’Keeffe said that in a deregulated environment, people who shop at night or on Sundays at an IGA tend to shift to the bigger supermarkets.

“The small stores will come under pretty savage pressure in terms of sales and they may well start laying staff off,” he added.

He said the union objected to extended trading because members would be compelled to work beyond hours to which they had become accustomed and planned their lives around.

In 2014, the Economic Regulation Authority recommended that shopping hours be fully deregulated statewide except for three public holidays.

ERA Chair Nicky Cusworth said her organisation had not examined the issue since.

“The ERA stands by the recommendation made in its Inquiry into Microeconomic Reform in Western Australia that trading hours should be fully deregulated with the exception of Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day morning,” Ms Cusworth said.

In 2016, a majority of Albany councillors voted down a plan, put forward by a senior city official, that in 2019 the council consider consulting the community on extended shopping hours.