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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2032


Senator VIGOR(10.08) —I move:

That the Trading Hours (Amendment) Ordinance 1984, as contained in Australian Capital Territory Ordinance No. 66 of 1984 and made under the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910, be disallowed.

This Ordinance seeks to increase tenfold various fines that may be imposed on people who sell non-exempt goods outside specified hours. These penalties are inappropriate as this antique, unenforceable Ordinance is somewhat of a sick joke. Money wasted on token attempts to police the Ordinance from time to time can be spent much more constructively, and in this the poor inspectors get public ridicule while the real culprits, those who force them to unsettle the trading conditions for the people of Canberra, head off interstate after issuing dire warnings that the blitz will be on.

The former Minister for Territories and Local Government had this change gazetted on 2 November last year while the matter was still before the Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly. A sub-committee of the Assembly was considering the whole question of trading hours when the previous Minister loaded it up with an extra reference. He could not wait for the report. He just had to increase the fines. He did not want seven days a week trading de facto. The matter was of the utmost importance. He could not afford to wait any longer. Perhaps he had not been able to improve the substance of the ordinance in nearly two years in which he was Minister in this area, but he was determined to leave his mark.

Let me be blunt about this. The Ordinance belongs to the distant past. At least those having to administer it think that this is so. It would be a splendid service to the Territory on the eve of self-government if the Attorney-General's Department-one of the 12 departments that look after the Territory-went through all the ordinances to cull the bits which are of nuisance value only. Perhaps the House of Assembly will consider this task suitable for a sub-committee. There should be a place for dead wood. Either it should be cleared for new growth to push through or it should go on the fire.

I take just one amusing example of the effects of an ordinance-the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance 1959. The Ordinance deals with a very important matter. At one point it says that animals which are chained up and kept in close confinement must be exercised daily and reasonably. I would like the Senate to picture the Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes) heading down to Parkwood Eggs to take all the hens for their daily constitutional. If the matters had been left to the Australian Capital Territory community to decide I am sure that a workable provision would have been made in its place ages ago. But these things naturally tend to be low down on the priorities of Ministers of the Federal Government, especially when they have their other major portfolio responsibilities.

The history of trading hours in the Australian Capital Territory is a saga of public indignation, reports thrown into the bin, periodic warnings by the Department and business as usual. I hope that this cyclical charade will come to an end once the people in the Australian Capital Territory have the unfettered power to make their own decisions as a community. I look forward to self-government of the Australian Capital Territory. Prior to 1927 the provisions of the New South Wales early closing Act applied to limit the exploitation of employees. When the Parliament moved to Canberra the objectives of the New South Wales legislation were embodied in the Trading Hours Ordinance of 1926. One of the early tasks of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory was to examine whether trading hours should be regulated and, if so, with what underlying principles. One feature of its recommendation was for late night closing on a week night agreed upon by employees and employers alike. The Trading Hours Ordinance 1962, which is still the principal Ordinance, was based on these findings. It introduced the notion that some goods would be exempt from selling time controls, especially in the food and beverage area. The list of exemptions-the goods that can be sold at any time-has been refined over the years to leave us with a number of goods. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard the list of the exempt goods under the Trading Hours Ordinance.

Leave granted.

The list read as follows-

SCHEDULE

EXEMPT GOODS

1. Foodstuffs and non-alcoholic beverages

2. Flowers

3. Garden requisites

4. Goods for use in the decoration, renovation or repair of domestic premises

5. Hardware

6. Hobby and handicraft goods

7. Ice

8. Motor vehicles and parts for motor vehicles and engines

9. Newspapers, books and periodicals

10. Paints

11. Plants, trees, shrubs, seeds and turf

12. Petrol, fuel-oils and lubricants

13. Second-hand goods

14. Soap, toothpaste, tooth-brushes, shaving-cream and lotions, cosmetics, razors and razor blades, adhesive bandages and toilet paper and tissues

15. Souvenirs, postcards, stationery, art works and reproductions of art works

16. Timber and goods for use in wood-working

17. Tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, cigarette-papers, cigarette-holders, matches, pipes and pipe-cleaners

18. Tyres and tubes

19. Wallpaper


Senator VIGOR —I thank the Senate. The fourteenth of these headings is:

Soap, toothpaste, tooth-brushes, shaving-cream and lotions, cosmetics, razors and razor blades, adhesive bandages and toilet paper and tissues.

Matches are mentioned three lines down. Last October the previous Minister unveiled a new model which he commended to the House of Assembly. I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard also.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Food and beverages;

Flowers;

Garden requisites, plants, trees, shrubs, seeds and turf;

Goods for use in the decoration, renovation or repair of domestic premises, but not including furniture, white goods, domestic electrical appliances, carpets, curtains, floorcoverings, and manchester;

Hardware, timber and goods for use in woodworking;

Ice;

Motor vehicles, bicycles, and parts for motor vehicles, engines and bicycles;

Newspapers, books and periodicals;

Petrol, fuel-oils and lubricants;

Bona fide second-hand goods sold at premises run by non-profit community and charitable organisations;

Toilet requisites;

Souvenirs, postcards, stationery, art works and reproductions of art works; and

Tobacco products and accessories.


Senator VIGOR —I thank the Senate. The really interesting part is that the Minister wanted to exclude 'furniture, white goods, domestic electrical appliances, carpets, curtains, floor coverings and manchester' from the goods that could be bought, from-and I quote the new model-'Goods for use for the decoration, renovation or repair of domestic premises'. The Minister really wanted to make exemptions distinctive instead of having the previous situation where 80 per cent of goods were no problem in theory and virtually 100 per cent in practice. Naturally, this fervour to introduce the ordinance, the election and the $5,000 donation made to the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association are utterly unconnected!

It has become the practice, and still is, for retailers to sell goods to their customers once a form has been filled in declaring:

I am making this purchase, for use in the decoration renovation or repair of domestic premises.

Some people might even have been buying light globes or designer kitchen kettles. If the customer is always right, surely just about anything can qualify, if not under the heading of house repairs then under that of hobbies and handicraft goods. The Minister wanted to give this last one the chop and to make second-hand goods saleable only if they were 'bona fide' and sold at premises run by non-profit community and charitable organisations. One could expect trouble if one wanted to buy office furniture, and apparently that is what inspectors would ask when they were sent around to have a cup of tea and a friendly chat with the staff and proprietors of shops. They would have to wait until Monday to buy their office furniture.

However, these exercises in protecting the public from itself did not come cheap. For instance, a House of Assembly Hansard reveals that a blitz by six inspectors on the long weekend in October 1983 rattled up about 68 hours of work at an all-up cost of $1,700. No one was charged, but the Department did consider taking action against 15 Canberra stores over alleged breaches of the Australian Capital Territory Trading Hours Ordinance. In fact no one was ever charged by the Department. That is right; no one! The only conviction I could find in looking through the records happened to be when a major retailer did not defend a case brought against it last year. It accepted the $200 fine, which was the maximum penalty then for first offenders, after a private citizen who had purchased a citrus juicer laid a complaint. The company was breaching the legislation to draw attention to the lack of action over earlier breaches by others.

In recent times the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association has periodically laid quite a few complaints, including one celebrated case when a trader was incorrectly summonsed and the case was thrown out on a technicality. Seriously though, I would have thought that when an industry was undergoing vast restructuring those looking after the interests of employees would try to encourage more economic activity and, as a result, more jobs.

I also pay tribute to the inspectors and the work of the consumer affairs officers here and around the nation. Eight people are empowered to act as inspectors under the Trading Hours Ordinance 1962. One plays a supervisory role and two others are only called on away from the normal course of events. Of the other five, all of whom have other duties, four handle consumer complaints. Unfortunately for their workload the Australian Capital Territory has neither a small claims tribunal nor a residential tenancy tribunal which would make their work a lot easier. People should not be forced into the courts to uphold their rights in such matters as small claims and residential tenancies. Such provisions are available in Victoria and other States. The latest annual report of the Consumer Affairs Bureau mentions 18,000 consumer inquiries and some 2,700 rental queries in the course of the financial year. Officers providing assistance to the public under this sort of pressure should not be bullied at the Minister's whim, nor should they get the blame for non-enforcement of silly or trifling provisions under ordinances and regulations.

I shall leave to others the opportunity to describe the events that followed the Fraser Government's attempt to include the total repeal of the Trading Hours Ordinance 1962 in a Bill submitted during the last days when it had control of the Senate. I look forward to the people of the Australian Capital Territory being able to decide for themselves the shopping hours question in the very near future. A lot of residents are already voting with their wallets on the weekend. Overall takings of over $500,000 in the Fyshwick area alone on a Sunday would probably be an understatement, according to some people with wide industry knowledge.

Just under half of Canberra's families have both husband and wife working. Among married couples, 54.8 per cent are two-income families, compared with an Australia-wide average of 40 per cent. Therefore, it is not surprising to see large numbers of families choosing to go out as a group on a Sunday to shop for major items. Only an intolerant society would seek to deny them the opportunity of making up their minds what to buy in a relaxed atmosphere at a time most convenient to them. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table comparing the Australian Capital Territory with the rest of Australia in relation to family work patterns.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

FAMILY COMPOSITION, MARCH 1985

As a percentage

of married couple As a percentage

Number families of all families

('000's) Per cent Per cent

Australian Capital Territory

Married couple families 50.7 87.7

Husband and wife both working:

Children 0-14 years present-

none 11.4 22.5 19.7 one 6.7 13.2 11.6 two or more 9.7 19.1 16.8 Total 27.8 54.8 48.1

Other families 7.1

Total families 57.8

Australia

Married couple families 3,483.4 86.7

Husband and wife both working:

Children 0-14 years present-

none 662.9 19.0 16.5 one 280.4 8.0 7.0 two or more 450.3 12.9 11.2 Total 1,393.7 40.0 34.7

Other families 536.5

Total families 4,019.9

Compiled at request by the statistics group of the Legislative Research Service from March 1985 Labour Force; Australia and information supplied by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.


Senator VIGOR —I thank the Senate. Finally, I wish to bring to the attention of honourable senators the disruption of trade that enforced blitzes by inspectors bring in their wake. A furniture retailer who opens on one Sunday of each month was kind enough to extract some figures from his books for me. In April, on the one Sunday that he opened for business, he took just over 25 per cent of his monthly turnover-on one day. He said that his staff originally talked him into opening on a Sunday; he told me that he would have been just as happy down at the coast. In March, this same retailer did 27 per cent of his business for the month on the one Sunday on which he opened. Interstate manufacturers ring on the Monday morning following such Sundays to find out how it all went and to see whether they can get any more orders. Yet there are people who want to put an end to this sort of enterprise which is obviously in high demand in Canberra. In February, after summonses had been taken out by union officials against various companies, this chap did not open as another blitz was on. His takings fell by $170,000 in that month. The same sort of thing happened in July, November and December of last year. The real losers, it seems to me, were the public of Canberra and those manufacturing, selling and delivering who missed out on the handsome wages and commissions resulting from this sales boom. I think it would be criminal to fine fellows like him $2,000 for the first offence or $5,000 after the second offence. I am sure that most other senators will agree. I urge the disallowance of the Trading Hours (Amendment) Ordinance 1984.