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Doors likely to shut on shopping hours referendum

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The State Government’s proposed election-day referendum to give voters a say on deregulating shop trading hours is unlikely to pass parliament, with Labor and crossbenchers branding it a “stunt”.

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Treasurer Rob Lucas told reporters this morning that a government bill to hold a referendum on deregulating shop trading hours would be introduced to the Upper House on Thursday, with a vote likely in the coming weeks.

If passed through both houses of parliament, the referendum would be held at the state election next March, with voters to be asked the question “do you support the Retail Trading Bill 2021?”.

A majority “yes” vote at the referendum would be binding, regardless of which party is elected to form government.

Lucas said that the referendum would cost taxpayers in the order of $2 million, but the government was still determining whether holding it at the same time as a general election would lower costs.

He said allowing shops to choose when to open would attract more people to South Australia and provide an “enormous” boost to the state’s economy.

“Online trading is starting to kill brick and mortar retailers in South Australia,” he said.

“Now is the time to let the people decide, once and for all, whether they want the freedom to shop, trade and work when and where they choose without our confusing, outdated laws stopping them.

“We know that sensible shop trading hours reform has overwhelming public support.”

But both the Opposition and crossbench this morning flagged that they would block the passage of the legislation through parliament, after previously voting down several government attempts to reform retail hours.

Shadow Treasurer Stephen Mullighan described the proposed referendum as a “desperate attempt” to distract voters from Liberal party room ruptures following the scheduling of debate on the voluntary assisted dying bill.

He said it was also an attempt at distracting voters from the “ambulance ramping crisis”.

“At a time when SA has the worst unemployment rate in Australia, the government should be focused on supporting local businesses and local jobs, not pursuing policies which will see local businesses close and local jobs lost,” he said.

SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo described the proposed referendum as “nothing but a cunning stunt by Rob Lucas and the Government to divert attention away from their own serious internal squabbles”.

He said crossbenchers were “resolute” in their opposition to a referendum and would use their numbers to side with Labor in voting the bill down.

“I would have thought there are far more pressing issues that could demand a referendum than this,” he said.

“I reckon what’s happened over the last few days (is) Steven Marshall and Rob Lucas have got together and they’ve pulled out their Motown 45s and started playing Smokey Robinson and thought oh yeah that’s a good idea lets bring this up, lets shop around.

“I think this is probably an attempt by Rob Lucas to have his legacy remembered when he departs.”

Advance SA MLC John Darley added that a referendum would be a “waste of time”, while the Greens’ Robert Simms said it was a “another king hit on the small business sector in Adelaide”.

Independent Retailers SA CEO Colin Shearing, whose association represents supermarkets such as Foodland and IGA, told InDaily that he had the support of the crossbenchers and Labor Party in voting down the referendum.

He said a referendum on deregulating shop trading hours in Millicent in 2018 found 76 per cent of voters were in opposition.

“What we are saying state-wide is that we don’t support any referendum at all,” he said.

“We just think there’s bigger issues to consider in this state at the moment.”

The SDA Union added that the proposed referendum was a “pathetic attempt by the Government to solve its political problems”.

Lucas said it was “nonsense” that the Government was announcing the referendum legislation to distract from other issues.

“(To) the conspiracy theorists who say that we just dragged this out overnight to distract, the reality is our cabinet process requires us to give 10 days-notice for approval,” he said.

“This has actually been worked on for more than a couple of weeks.”

If supported by the parliament, the referendum would be just the tenth in South Australia’s history and the first in 30 years.

The last referendum was held in 1991, which approved the redistribution of electoral boundaries after each election.

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