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Deja vu debate: SA supermarkets slam Lib shopping hours plan

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South Australian independent supermarkets have warned a Liberal move to deregulate shopping hours would hand more market power to Coles and Woolworths and lift the cost of groceries.

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Steven Marshall garnered a front page on Saturday ahead of the state Liberal AGM with the news that he wants to deregulate South Australia’s shopping hours – a long-standing policy desire for the local Liberals.

Nevertheless, today Drake Supermarkets CEO Roger Drake said he was “staggered” by the policy.

“There’s no doubt about it that extra hours will mean extra costs and that must be passed on to the consumer in the end,” Drake told FIVEaa this morning.

“South Australia is one of the cheapest places to buy groceries, and if that’s the case then why are we going to extend it? I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world and big cities like Rome and Paris don’t have the trading hours that we have.”

Drake said the policy wouldn’t create jobs.

“I really feel for the butcher, the fruit and veg shops; these small businesses that the Liberal Party is supposed to support are just going to go to the wall.

“All this will favour will be the big end of town – it will favour the Coles, the Woolworths and the Westfields … because the big end of town can afford to open, they can withhold the extra wages that they’ll have and all of a sudden they’ll push the butcher shop, they’ll push the fruit shop out. They’ll be forced to close and where will the volume shift? It will shift to the big end of town.”

The SA Independent Retailers, which represents local IGA and Foodland supermarkets, echoed the sentiments, warning the policy would shift the balance in favour of the big two supermarket chains.

Labor has close ties to at least one corner of the Foodland supermarket empire. Marshall’s Labor opponent at the 2014 state election, Jo Chapley, works in her family’s business running Foodland supermarkets. Chapley has indicated she will seek pre-selection for Marshall’s seat of Dunstan for the next state election.

Almost the exact policy espoused by Marshall on Saturday has been on the Liberal wishlist for years, with frontbencher Rob Lucas using similar wording as long ago as 2011. However, Marshall was quiet on the issue in the lead-up to the 2014 election.

The Marshall plan would allow shopping in the city and suburbs from midnight to 9pm, seven days a week, and on public holidays, excluding Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day morning. At the moment, SA trading hours vary for businesses, depending on their location and nature. Some businesses in the CBD, for example, face 5pm closing on Saturdays and 11am openings on Sundays.

Marshall argues shoppers in South Australia use online shopping more than those in any other state, and that liberalising trading hours will offer consumers more chances to shop locally, and will create jobs.

Weatherill, whose elevation to the Premiership came with the support of the Shoppies union, the SDA, which is implacably opposed to liberalised shopping hours, said today South Australia’s trading hours regime had allowed independent retailers to flourish.

“Well one of the great success stories of South Australia has been the independent retailer arrangements here, our Foodlands, those types of smaller retailers are incredibly successful and they’re much bigger here than in any other state,” he told FIVEaa.

“One of the reasons that that industry’s grown is partly because of our shop trading hours; because they’re exempt from these arrangements it gives them a certain advantage. And what that effectively does is create a vibrant small business sector in South Australia.”

Almost these exact arguments have been run for years by the independents in South Australia – such as during this hearing of a joint select committee of the Commonwealth Parliament into the retail sector in 1999.

Marshall defended his plan today, saying the current shop trading regime was overly complicated and restrictive.

“We’ve been contacted by small businesses who say they would relish the opportunity to have more flexible opening hours,” he said.

“Some businesses are going to like this and some won’t. It’s about providing greater choice for businesses and for consumers.”

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