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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2035

Senator REID(10.23) —Many of the reasons for disallowing the Trading Hours (Amendment) Ordinance have been given in the speech which we have just heard from Senator Vigor. Much of the history of trading hours in the Australian Capital Territory has also been given. The Trading Hours Ordinance has operated since 1962. The construction of shops in the Australian Capital Territory has followed the fact that those trading hours existed. The small neighbourhood centres in the Australian Capital Territory trade extensively on the weekends and, in fact, earn a lot of their income then. To deregulate the trading hours totally is something that would need to be phased in gradually. I do not think that there has been much disagreement about the fact that this matter needs to be considered as far as some traders are concerned. I cannot imagine what business government has in fiddling with trading hours. Once government has proceeded along a certain course it has to have some regard for the consequences. It is now fairly plain that in Canberra there are many groups which do not agree with the proposal that trading hours be restricted. The Australian Chamber of Commerce has recently had a debate on this matter. Two meetings were held. Two out of three of its members now favour deregulation of trading hours.

It seems that the Minister for Territories (Mr Scholes) is planning to make changes. I just cannot imagine how he could have brought in these draconian penalties at the same time as changes were being considered. Undoubtedly, it is a case of putting the cart before the horse. The matter has been explained in part before the House of Assembly. I make the comment that the way in which this Government plays with the House of Assembly is extraordinary. If it suits the Government to place a matter before the House of Assembly, it does so; if it does not suit it, it does not do so. We know what happened to the Casino Control Ordinance. That Ordinance was tabled within 10 days of a Cabinet decision, without going to the House of Assembly. For some reason, the Trading Hours Ordinance was sent to the House of Assembly and these draconian penalties were introduced without the House of Assembly having the full opportunity to debate them. One can only speculate on who was really governing it and pushing it along.

Now that we know that self-government is to emerge quite soon, there can be no doubt that this is a local matter that ought to be left to the House of Assembly. Many other matters are being left aside on the pretext that they will be matters for the new Assembly to work out. We are constantly being faced with that excuse. The Government is being totally selective in its attitude to Canberra in regard to the decisions it will make and what it will leave for the future. The matter of trading hours certainly ought to be decided by the House of Assembly if self-government is to proceed. The penalties that would be appropriate for breaches ought to be considered only then. I venture to suggest that some of the penalties that might be suffered for trading out of hours-in fact penalties for working-are far more draconian than many other penalties one is likely to encounter in the courts of the Australian Capital Territory. One only needs to read through the court lists to see that what I say can be substantiated.

In one situation under the present Ordinance the unions wanted to prosecute the owner of a shop selling dress materials on a Sunday for being in breach of the Ordinance. Of course, that absurdity did not proceed. Quite clearly-and this is allowable under the present Ordinance which provides these draconian penalties-people buying material from such a shop, especially on Sundays, would want it for a hobby. There are other examples that illustrate graphically that, as has been stated, trading in things which relate to house repair and renovation and hobbies is excluded from the present trading hours restrictions. While the present Ordinance exists with so many grey areas that make it impossible to police and while nobody can be absolutely certain where a number of items fit, it seems extraordinary indeed that the Minister should see fit to increase the penalty for an alleged offence of trading outside the present restricted hours from $200 to $2,000 and, for a second offence, to $5,000. I think the Government ought to have another look at what it is doing. If it has plans for changing the trading hours those plans ought to be made known.

The Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory looked into trading hours and tabled a report entitled 'Retail Trading Hours in the Australian Capital Territory' in August 1982. It recommended that changes be made to the trading hours to increase trading on Saturday afternoons but to leave it still somewhat restricted on Sundays. As honourable senators will remember, there were two minority reports-one by Senator Georges and the other by Mrs Kelly, Mr Fry and Senator Colston. I think those reports indicated the degree of controversy over the question of trading hours. The Committee report indicates quite clearly the deficiencies of the present Ordinance, whether one has restrictions or not. I suggest that to proceed to increase the penalties under the Ordinance is totally unacceptable and, in fact, will not change anything very much because there will still be the same confusion as to what the exemptions really mean. Those exemptions have been incorporated in the Hansard record of this debate so that people may read them.

It is clear that people want to shop at weekends. For instance, when the market at the National Exhibition Centre was opened people flocked to it. Now that it has been restricted to Saturday mornings they continue to do so. About 20,000 people go to the Exhibition Centre on any Saturday morning when it is open for trading. Of course, that causes great confusion and chaos on the roads leading to the Centre. No doubt it would be a much more successful and orderly affair if the market were allowed to trade into Saturday afternoon. Changes are needed to the Ordinance. These changes need to be addressed. To start by increasing the penalities for breaches of the Ordinance before cleaning up the Ordinance itself is beyond comprehension. The Ordinance ought to be disallowed. I hope the Senate will disallow it so that the matter can be addressed appropriately.