The argument for extended shopping hours

JOHN LANGOULANT, Chief Executive, Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA believes the case for modernising hours is compelling.

He has stated:

Reduced regulation is good for consumers. Surveys consistently show that most West Australians want more choice of shopping hours. The benefits for shoppers include greater convenience, wider choice of goods and services and lower prices.

WA is the only state that still regulates general shopping hours. Where deregulation has happened in other states, consumers have responded enthusiastically, and Sunday has become the second most popular shopping day.

Deregulation is good for the retail sector. WA’s retail sales growth has lagged behind the rest of Australia in recent years, despite WA’s strong population growth. More convenient shopping hours and more choice of goods and outlets will make retailers better able to compete for the consumer dollar.

Freer shopping hours are also likely to mean more employment, as retailers take on staff to meet turnover growth and cover extra hours. Employment growth in WA’s regulated retail sector has lagged behind retail employment in the rest of Australia in the past five years.

Reducing restrictions on shopping hours will be good for the state’s economy. As well as boosting retail employment and consumer spending, it will make WA more attractive as a tourist destination — and maybe less of a laughing stock among the rest of Australia where such restrictions have been left behind and where the public has heartily embraced the new retail environment.

Freer shopping hours are fairer than regulation. They will remove the arbitrary rules that give businesses that are allowed to open all hours an artificial trading advantage over those that not, and which can lead to retailers being prosecuted and fined for breaking the law by trying to meet their customers’ wishes.

Less regulation will mean that the right to determine who shops where and when rests with shoppers and shopkeepers, not politicians and bureaucrats.

Experience in states that have deregulated trading hours disproves the alarmist claims of those who oppose deregulation. Prices have not risen as a result. Employment has not fallen, indeed it has grown faster than in regulated markets.

Most importantly, the small business sector is not wiped out by more retail competition. Opponents of deregulation regularly claim that freeing shopping hours will devastate small business but there is no reputable evidence to support this. Small retail businesses survive in NSW, which deregulated more than a decade ago; in Victoria, which deregulated in 1996; and in Tasmania, which deregulated in late 2002.

There is no reason to expect that the experience of deregulation in WA would be any different to the rest of Australia in this respect. And it is worth noting that, in every state that has freed up its trading hours, the subject is a non-issue — nowhere is there any significant pressure from consumers, or even retailers, for re-regulation.

Nonetheless, a vocal minority of WA retailers lobbies vigorously for regulation of their competitors to be retained. Their appeals can be emotionally charged but it is important to consider both the substance of their case and their motives.

Most are businesses that already have the freedom to trade when they wish, but oppose that freedom being extended to their competitors. They profit from regulation at the expense of consumers and other retailers.

We should not confuse such self—interest with the community interest. No independent review, in any state, has ever concluded that maintaining trading hours regulation is in the interests of the broader community. The WA Government’s own 2003 review concluded that regulated trading hours were not in the public interest.

This debate is not about small grocers. It is about all of retailing. It is not about small business, it is about all business.

Above all, it is about fairness and freedom of choice, and getting Government out of the micro—management of our markets and lifestyles.

CCI looks forward to a strong vote in favour of deregulated trading hours in the forthcoming referendum.

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