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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4923

Senator FORSHAW (7:24 PM) —Tonight I rise to speak about a greedy grab by the owners of Warringah Mall in Sydney. The owners of Warringah Mall have made an application to Warringah Council to vary the development consent on this supermarket complex to allow them to charge employees working in the mall daily parking fees. They propose to charge, if consent is granted, a $4 per day fee for all employees parking their cars in the shopping centre complex. A similar application was made to the council in October 2000. At that stage the owners of Warringah Mall sought to introduce a $3 per day parking fee for employees. At that time, the council, following a campaign which was led by the shop assistants union and supported by the community and the major retailers in the complex, rejected the application. Indeed, this is the third occasion in three years that the owners of Warringah Mall have made such an application. On this occasion, as I said, the proposal is to charge $4 per day, so it appears that each time they make the application the fee is increased.

Some people might think that $4 per day is not a lot of money but to employees in the retail industry it is. Over the course of a year it would amount to a substantial impost upon their wages if they were required to pay this fee each time they drove into work at Warringah Mall. Let me just give some examples of how this would affect typical shop assistants employed in a shopping centre such as Warringah Mall. The first example is a working mother engaged at Grace Bros. Typically, she would be working part-time, doing five shifts per week for four hours per day. The weekly wage for such a working mother, before tax, would amount to $261. A $4 per day parking fee would amount to a total of $960 per annum that this working mother would be required to pay to park her car in the complex whilst working there. That would represent the equivalent of 3.7 weeks of that working mother's income which would have to be spent on parking fees.

My second example is an 18-year-old student engaged at Kentucky Fried Chicken as a casual employee, working, say, three shifts per week for three hours per day and often working at night. That student, struggling to get some additional income to help them whilst they are doing their studies, would receive around $95 a week before tax. Over the course of a year, the $4 per day flat fee for parking would amount to $624—the equivalent of a loss of 6.6 weeks wages for that student.

In one further example, an employee engaged part-time at Woolworths stacking the shelves, doing what is called `night fill', would typically be working four shifts per week for four hours each night—quite late hours, usually from 11 p.m. to, say, 3 a.m. That employee would receive a weekly wage of around $275 before tax. The total fee for parking their car there while they worked at night would amount over the year to $768. That means a loss of the equivalent of 2.8 weeks income. One can see that this would be a significant impost upon workers at Warringah Mall if it were introduced.

Retail workers are characterised by low to modest incomes. A full-time adult retail employee engaged under the shop employees state award in New South Wales earns an ordinary weekly wage of $489.80 before tax. But the high proportion of junior, part-time and casual employment means that the average income for employees across the industry is less than half that amount per week. If this proposal were introduced it would have a disproportionate impact upon young workers and female workers. The union advises me that around 75 per cent of employees in this sector are women and 38 per cent to 41 per cent are between the ages of 18 to 25. Further, as I have indicated, the industry is characterised by high levels of part-time, casual, and shift workers. Over the course of a year, parking fees would have a substantial impact upon young people, female workers, particularly working mothers, and other employees working casual or shift work.

In Warringah, which is in the electorate of the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Mr Abbott, driving to work is not a matter of convenience. Firstly, the area is not serviced by the Sydney train system, so employees have to get to work either by driving their own car, car pooling, bus service or walking to work. The hours that are worked in this industry by these workers are not the typical nine to five daily employment hours. They often travel to work and work outside the hours when regular public transport is available. That is particularly the case for workers who are employed at night as casuals; for example, people working in supermarkets stacking the shelves for the next day. I am told that as many as 25 per cent of retail employees drive to work because they have family or domestic responsibilities. They may have to drop the kids off at school or child care, go to work and then pick them up on the way home.

Clearly this proposal will have a severe impact upon the employees at Warringah Mall. What we have seen in other situations where shopping centres charge parking fees is that the fees do not stay at the introductory level. I am advised that in other centres such as Parramatta and Chatswood, where parking fees are charged because of the particular development consent arrangements made at the time the centres were built, the fees started out at low rates but they have since increased significantly. You often find in those centres that the customers may get the first two or three hours of parking free but the employees who have to stay there for longer periods end up paying parking fees. They bear the cost.

If this proposal were to be agreed to by Warringah Council, where would all this money go? It would go to the owner of Warringah Mall. It would not assist retail shops in the complex; it would go to the owners of the mall. I am advised that in the first year of operation of such a proposal, the owners would receive around $2.5 million. That would be paid for by the ordinary workers, the low income workers, employed at Warringah Mall. I am happy to be associated with the campaign by the shop assistants union who are opposing this application. I look forward to the support of the member for Warringah, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Mr Abbott, in standing up for the workers against the greedy grab of the owners of Warringah Mall.

Senate adjourned at 7.34 p.m.