23 August 2009

Joe Francis to Eric Ripper on retail liberalisation: bring it on

Joe Francis MLA, Member for JandakotTranscript of the speech delivered by Joe Francis MLA, Liberal member for Jandakot, to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly on 18 August 2009.

MR J.M. FRANCIS (Jandakot) [4.14 pm]: I understand that this is a fairly passionate issue for many sectors of the community. Sometimes there is no black and white answer to some of the questions that are posed. I honestly appreciate the input that members opposite have made to this debate. However, I do not come here and lightly make a decision that will hopefully in some way affect the lives of my constituents, without giving it very serious consideration and certainly without talking to them first. We will obviously agree to disagree on many matters.

I did go through some of the history of this matter, and I will touch on it briefly. When the retail trading hours laws were first introduced into Western Australia 20-odd years ago, there were three main reasons for it. They confirmed the regulations that were already in existence; they were intended to give a limited protection for the lifestyle at the time; and they also preserved the idea, to some extent, that Sundays were family days and that retail workers, where possible, could ensure they would have a shorter working week.

Mr W.J. Johnston interjected.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: I am talking about the original act that enshrined rules that were already in place. It has also been 21 years since Australia celebrated its bicentenary.

Mr W.J. Johnston interjected.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: The member will get his chance to make a contribution. Australia in 2009 is a very different place from what it was 21 years ago, and that includes Western Australia. Our lifestyle, population, work ethic, standard of living, spending habits, working hours and society have changed dramatically in that time. Metropolitan Perth is really no exception. Changing lifestyles mean that more people have been undertaking tertiary education, vocational training and shift work. More people are involved in fly in, fly out work, and there is more casual and part-time work. The whole gamut of employment and lifestyle issues has changed the shape of metropolitan Perth. As well as the demand for this kind of work there has also been a demand for flexibility in shopping hours. That is obviously mainly around the retail sector. Unfortunately, although so much has changed, the one sector that has not changed is the retail sector, apart from in 1994 when shopping hours were increased from 12 o'clock on Saturdays until later. I would hate to see the response if any member threatened to wind back the clock on that one. I remember going to shops when they shut at 12 o'clock, and it was not a pleasant experience.

One of the things that have surprised me in this debate is that the Labor Party members have said that they consulted with small businesses. Some have said that they consulted their constituents.

Point of Order

Mr C.J. BARNETT: There are some standards in Parliament, and one of them is that people do not drink out of bottles; indeed, members should not consume liquids in the house. Members should not consume liquids or food, and they should not drink out of a bottle in the house. If the member for West Swan wants a drink, she should use a glass, be civilised and be courteous.

Ms R. SAFFIOTI: When I talked to the Speaker about my pregnancy, I asked whether I could bring bottled water into the house because I do not drink water that has been left around for a while. He said that it was okay.

Several members interjected.

The ACTING SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

Debate Resumed

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: The point I wanted to make—I hate to talk about obvious observations—is that one of the issues that has not been raised is that the current retail trading regime in Perth —

Several members interjected.

The ACTING SPEAKER: Order! The member for Mandurah is on two strikes. I do not want to formally warn him for a third time. I have given the call to the member for Jandakot, and the member for Jandakot is the person whom I would like to listen to at this moment.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: Thank you, Madam Acting Speaker. I am trying to do this in a non-confronting way. The issue that has not been raised is that the current regime really benefits the rich. Let me explain why to the member for Wanneroo, because I know he will be fascinated by this. The bill deals with trading until 9.00 pm on Monday to Friday, but if people live closer to a tourism precinct, and the main one is the city, they are probably more likely to own more expensive real estate. If they want to go shopping outside normal trading hours, they do not have far to travel. People who live at Jandakot or Armadale have a bit of a hike to get into the city. There are so many inconsistencies with retail trading laws that I would be absolutely surprised if members did not realise that the current regime benefits those people who live closer to the city and tourism precincts as opposed to those people who live in the suburbs in the south east and must make the extra effort to go somewhere to make a considered purchase.

Ms A.J.G. MacTiernan: Have you analysed how people voted in the referendum?

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: I have.

Ms A.J.G. MacTiernan: Had you done that, you would see that, contrary to your speculation, the further people are from Perth the less inclined they are to support it.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: The member for Armadale makes a good point. I do not write off the referendum lightly, but I will make this point: if a referendum were held now, it would be very hard to say what the outcome would be in my electorate because in the referendum held in 2005 only 11 000 people were on the roll in Jandakot; since then, 10 000 people have moved into the area. I see what happens in my electorate. I see the absolute nightmare that people go through when shopping on a Thursday night and a Saturday. I am thoroughly disappointed with the member for Cockburn, because generally the majority of my constituents shop at the same shopping centre, Cockburn Gateway Shopping City, and it is not easy to move about there—shoppers cannot get a car park. Extending trading hours on Mondays to Fridays would alleviate the Thursday night and Saturday rush for the soccer mums and the mums and dads with other sporting commitments who force the issue of grocery shopping into their weekend regime. For working mums and dads—I hate that phrase—extending trading hours would give them the option to do their grocery shopping on a Monday night, a Tuesday night or a Friday night. Effectively, whatever we may say, we are really talking only about food and groceries. It is matter of choice for consumers and it is also a matter of choice for business owners—that is, whether they open.

That brings me to another issue—namely, the results of the referendum. I appreciate that a large percentage of people did not vote for extended hours at the recent referendum. However, it was a fairly loaded question. When talking about loaded questions, it is well worth noting the consultation done by members opposite in their electorates. I refer to the letter sent to small businesses by the member for Victoria Park in which he stated —

I am surveying all businesses in my electorate of Victoria Park to seek your views in relation to extended weeknight trading.

I have to say that other members opposite used the same loaded questions asked by the member for Victoria Park. These are pretty loaded questions. For example, the member for Victoria Park asked —

2. Do you support the State Government overturning the results of the 2005 referendum?

He should have asked whether people thought that business owners —

Several members interjected.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: If members opposite want me to go through it, I will. They loaded the questions. If members opposite had sent out a survey that asked whether business owners thought that they should be able to determine when they can and cannot open their businesses, it might have been —

Mr P. Papalia: Which line do you reckon we will run at the election?

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: Be it a big business or a small business, shareholders—the member for Warnbro's constituents own shares in big businesses—are denied the opportunity at the moment.

Mr P.B. Watson: Not too many of mine do!

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: They do, in their super funds.

When it comes to the last referendum, regardless of what anybody says in the house, I would have to say that any person who seriously voted on this issue—I am asking for the member for Warnbro's indulgence and for him to put on his political strategist's hat—did not log onto the Liberal Party's website and read the policy document. People made up their minds reading the front page of The West Australian just before the election. Before the last election, people who really cared where the Liberal Party or the Labor Party, or any party, stood on the retail trading hours made up their minds after reading the front page of the paper and the quotes from the Premier. Robert Taylor wrote —

A Liberal Government would extend weekday shopping hours in its first term and fix some anomalies limiting weekend trading but would retain the ban on major grocery chains opening on Sundays, Opposition Leader Colin Barnett said yesterday.

A little later, the article continues —

He would seek to reach a consensus on extended Monday to Friday trading with the major grocery chains, Coles and Woolworths, industry and employee groups after he was elected.

The article goes on to quote the then Leader of the Opposition —

"On general trading hours I would sit down with Coles and Woolworths and the independents, consumer groups, representatives of the employees and industry," he said.

"The agreement I'd be seeking would be to extend weekday shopping as the next step in deregulation. Any staged deregulation needs to have time and I would want this to settle down before any further step in deregulation, so for the coming term of government if we can reach agreement what would be on the agenda would be an extension of weekday trading."

Mr Barnett insisted his move to extend weekday shopping hours honoured the spirit of the referendum, which rejected further deregulation.

He said —

"I respect the referendum result that was held. Labor failed to govern, they deserted the issue, they asked the people and now they're ignoring the people. I will not do that no matter what might be my views about deregulation,"

The point is, as I have said, people who voted on the issue of extended trading hours really did not make up their minds on the basis of what was on a website hosted by the Liberal Party or the Labor Party, but by reading what was in the mainstream media. It is pretty black and white. The heading on the front page of The West Australian states —

Libs promise late shopping on week nights

Mr P. Papalia: Did the Premier canvass it with the Nationals when he formed government?

Mr C.J. Barnett: No.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: We were not a coalition going into the election. The National Party had —

Several members interjected.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: I will tell members what the member for Warnbro's problem is with the debate about the National Party: the National's position, going into the election, was black and white.

Mr W.J. Johnston: Ours was black and white and yours was.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: According to the Weekend Courier, the member for Rockingham —

...said he welcomed Labor's plan to extend trading hours, which would allow Sunday trading in Rockingham and continued trading on public holidays.

Mr P. Papalia: You are in government. You cannot get three of your own cabinet ministers to agree to your own legislation. You are a joke! The government is a joke.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: Members opposite were far more divided on this issue than we ever were.

Several members interjected.

The ACTING SPEAKER: Order, members! I am sure Hansard has no hope whatsoever of recording any of this debate, which may in fact be in the wider interests of the general public. I call on the member for Jandakot to continue. Member for Warnbro, you are on two strikes.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: Members opposite know as well as I do that the Labor Party has flipped and flopped on this issue for a long time. We know that in her heart the member for Armadale wants Sunday trading—I note her comments on 18 November of last year. The member for Willagee wants it, although he has changed his mind a number of times on this issue. There are a lot of facts and there are a lot of myths.

The retail sector in Western Australia is worth about $25 billion annually and we know that it employs about 74 000 people. Extending trading hours would give us the potential to grow that sector ever larger. In every state across this country that has slowly deregulated its trading hours, the figures and the facts prove that the retail sector has slowly grown greater than what could have been expected had that deregulation not happened.

As I have said, this is really a groceries issue. It comes down to the fact that at the moment some operators, through fairly convoluted and undisclosed franchise agreements, get away with not having the required minimum number of staff on their payroll. They are, therefore, exempt from the act and can open under certain provisions. My challenge to the people who run those stores and who essentially have a monopoly on extended trading hours, including late nights and Sundays, is that, if they really want to play fair and in the sprit of the game, they should publish their franchise agreements. Let us know what they say. Let us see that they are truly independent operators. Companies such as IGA are generally influenced by Metcash, a fairly large South African company, and I would hate for people to wrongly assume that they are not as independent as they make out to be. It comes down to a choice for consumers. At the moment, companies such as Aldi, a fairly large and popular discount retailer of grocery items in the eastern states, will not come to Western Australia. Aldi will not come to Western Australia because it does not think that the market is big enough for it to compete in. It is not the population size—in fact, there is an Aldi store where my parents live in Moss Vale in New South Wales. Certainly, towns such as Bowral and Moss Vale do not have anywhere near the population of my electorate alone. It is important to get a few other matters right as well. It is important to point out that this legislation does not force people to open; it just gives people the option to open.

I want to mention one of my experiences. In 2003 I was on a navy ship, HMAS Tobruk, when it berthed in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. When we pulled in there, I thought, "Well, we are in a communist country; it is going to be fairly backwards here." However, what stuck out more than anything else was that retail shop owners in Ho Chi Minh City, in a communist country, were not told by their government when they could or could not open their shops. But we do it in Western Australia. It is absolutely ludicrous.

Anyone who believes in the spirit of competitive capitalism, as I do and hopefully everyone does, will realise that increased competition will only benefit the consumer. I can use the example of my little local independent store. To be honest, it rips me off every single time I walk in. I pay 15 bucks for a jar of coffee that I can buy for seven bucks elsewhere. The tomatoes are green, the cheese is mouldy, the milk is at use-by date, the ham is sweaty—yet I am forced to pay the price. I do not have the option to go, after hours, to Coles or Woolies because they are not open. If Coles and Woolies could open —

Mr P.B. Watson: You don't support your local business if you go to Coles and Woolies.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: There are two little businesses. One is in my electorate and the other is in the member for Cockburn's electorate, which I will come to, and they are poles apart. The extra amount of time that it takes to drive to the other shop is so great that people only go there to buy the minimum number of consumables. If I had to choose whether to go to Coles or Woolies tonight rather than the local guy around the corner, I would go to Coles or Woolies. I would do that to send my so-called local independent retailer a very clear message; that is, stop ripping me off or I will go somewhere else. These little guys can compete with the big businesses.

There is a little retailer in the member for Cockburn's electorate called Tony Ale and Co. I would encourage anyone to go there when they are in that part of South Lake. Tony Ale walks into Canning Vale markets, the fresh food markets, not the flea markets, at 4.00 am every day when they first open. This place is the thriving hub of capitalism in Western Australia. It is brilliant to watch in action. He goes in there and says, "I will take the best of everything you've got and I don't care how much it costs." He buys it and puts it on his shelf. People queue to get into his shop most days. Why? Because his tomatoes last longer and his lettuces do not go soggy after two days. He does such a better job at retailing food and groceries than anyone. He really does not care if Coles and Woolies open 24/7.

My point is that IGA and other independents can compete with the big guys. This bill will not make those retailers less competitive; it will force them to compete and to stop ripping people off. Not all IGAs are like that.

Mr P.B. Watson: You're saying that one of the businesses in your electorate rips you off.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: Absolutely, especially when I have to pay $15 for a jar of coffee.

Mr P.B. Watson interjected.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: I am happy for it to go into Hansard because 99 per cent of the consumers in my electorate who are forced to go to that retailer and pay $15 for a jar of coffee that they can buy for $7 in Coles will agree with me.

I challenge the independents such as IGA that are so beholden to Metcash, its parent company, to publicise their franchise agreements. Let us see how many people are really on the roll and how independent they are with their state-wide buying power.

Mr P.B. Watson: You are a member of Parliament on $150 000 a year criticising small business.

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: I am not criticising all small businesses; most small businesses do an absolutely outstanding job. The member should not put words in my mouth.

I am disappointed today because the Labor Party had the chance to come into this place and support this legislation. It would have been supporting the consumers. At the end of the day, 99 per cent of the people we are talking about who will be affected by this legislation are the consumers who will benefit from increased competition and increased choice. I gain my philosophical belief from that notion. In a perfect world I would like to think that some time in the future we will not have a Retail Trading Hours Act. I am realistic enough to know that we have to take small steps. We are aiming for a nine o'clock closing time. Even eight o'clock Monday to Friday is no great step—it is just a small step that will allow people to slowly come into line so that some time in the future we can bring Western Australia into the twenty-first century.

I want to make two points in my last two minutes. In all honesty, I say to the Leader of the Opposition that I think he has failed in his political judgement. He was going to make this an election issue at the next election. If he wants to make this an election issue in my electorate or any other marginal electorate at the next election, he should bring it on. He has got it wrong. He has read the mood of the people wrong. He asked loaded questions in his survey. He has not consulted with the consumers enough. I walked into the Leeming Bowling Club last Friday. Quite a few people were there. Before I even gave the members a spiel on deregulation —

Mr P.B. Watson: Did they rip you off there?

Mr J.M. FRANCIS: They made me the patron. I asked them an unloaded question. I said, "Before I speak about the issue, who here supports the deregulation of trading hours?" I got a standing ovation from the old people. If members think that the demographics are a bit tougher with old people, they are even greater on our side with young people. For the Leader of the Opposition's own political survival, he should go back and rethink this one. If he wants to make it an election issue, he should bring it on.

I will conclude by making one last point. I want to quote someone who passed on many centuries ago. He was one of the people that I have always admired. He was a navigator, a sailor, an explorer and a discoverer. Christopher Columbus famously said something that I think applies to this debate more than anything else that any member here can contribute. He said that nothing that results from human progress is achieved with unanimous consent, and those who are enlightened before the others are condemned to pursue that light in spite of others. Those words are very noteworthy and I ask the Leader of the Opposition to take them on board.

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