Shop till we drop?

January 2009: Council was presented with a proposal to extend the boundaries of the “Fremantle Tourism Precinct” to cover the whole of the City of Fremantle. The gist of this is that it allows some of the big retailers who had been banned from trading late every night or on Sundays to now do so. The retailers concerned are Harvey Norman, The Good Guys and Retravision in O’Connor; as well as the South Fremantle Woolworths and Fremantle Officeworks.

This is all part of the ongoing tussle over unrestricted trading hours. Obviously the big retail outfits want it and both Labor and Liberal are keen to oblige, when they’re in government anyway. However because the majority of the community has been against it, both of them have opposed it when they’re in opposition!

Barnett has tried to change the laws but Labor have refused to cut a deal, even though they were in favour when the issue was put to a referendum in 2005. He hasn’t got the guts to put it to referendum again so instead he’s using a back door method to scrap the laws. He’s giving councils that already have “tourism precincts” that are exempt from trading restrictions the ability to extend their tourism zones. He’s also allowing other councils to apply for a similar status.

I spoke out against the proposal because I don’t think our council should be used as a tool of the Barnett government or treat the views of WA voters so lightly. In the 2005 referendum over 60% of the population (including Fremantle residents) voted against relaxing trading hours. People are against unrestricted trading for a whole variety reasons; some are concerned about the impact on workers in the retail sector, small business owners are worried about protecting their market share and for others it’s a day of religious significance.

We can all think of occasions when it would be really convenient to drop in to one of these stores on a Sunday, but inevitably it means some workers will end up being compelled to work on a Sunday when they don’t want to. I haven’t got an in-principle objection to Sunday trading and I think the best way to deal with the issue is to ensure that people who have to work Sundays get well paid for doing so. But remember the big retail bosses who want unrestricted trading are the same ones who say we should get rid of penalty rates!

For me the most important thing was community democracy. The proposal was absolutely thumped in the referendum, and you can’t be in favour of democracy only when it suits you. You’d want to have a pretty good reason for ignoring that result, and helping the big retail bosses chase a few extra dollars wasn’t good enough for me. In the end the proposal got up, with Councillors Dowson, Sullivan and me voting against. If you support Sunday trading, fine. Just make sure you come out in support of retail workers’ rights when they need you.

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