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No apology to union from Lucas over 'junked' shop trading submission

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Treasurer Rob Lucas says he doesn’t owe the retail workers’ union an apology despite claiming it failed to lodge a submission to his stakeholder consultation on Christmas trading hours – before later discovering the submission in an email junk folder.

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It comes amid the fallout from the Government’s weekend announcement that Boxing Day trade would be allowed in the suburbs for the first time this year, with Lucas using his ministerial powers under the Shop Trading Hours Act to allow major shopping centres to open from 9am to 5pm on December 26 if they choose to, with city stores given extended trading from 9am, instead of the previous 11am opening.

Lucas announced the move last weekend in a story ‘dropped’ to the Sunday Mail, which he told that “a number of stakeholders [had] responded to his request for feedback about extended trading hours over the Christmas period asking for Boxing Day trading, but the SDA [Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association] did not respond”.

The SDA is the main union affiliated with the ALP’s Right faction, and effectively runs the party’s dominant wing, with Labor leader Peter Malinauskas a former union secretary.

Lucas repeated the claim in parliament yesterday, saying “in relation to Christmas trading hours I wrote to a range of the stakeholders, including the union bosses in the shoppies’ union, seeking their views in relation to Christmas trading hours… I received a range of submissions, but the union bosses from the shoppies’ union did not respond”.

Under questioning from Labor members, he maintained he had received no correspondence to his office email address, “unless something has arrived in the last 24 or 48 hours”.

“Certainly, whenever the cut-off date was for responses to the consultation and for the week or so afterwards, the shoppies’ union didn’t respond to our request for comment on Christmas trading hours,” he said.

Lucas was asked whether the correspondence might have been sent to “a general email address”, with Labor revealing Lucas’s call for submissions seeking responses to a generic government address.

Lucas later conceded in a ministerial statement that his office had investigated and “I understand that the advice from the Treasury ICT security adviser is that the particular email… was sent to a junk email box”.

“The email was identified by Outlook, which is the email client, as containing ‘a potentially unsafe attachment’ and was automatically redirected by the system through a junk filter,” he said.

“It has been retrieved and scanned by the ICT security adviser… I am not sure whether it was going to explode or something along those lines. Anyway, he or she determined that it was safe to open and has opened it, and has now forwarded it to the Treasurer’s office.”

The SDA submission concedes some extensions of Christmas trading in line with previous years.

SDA assistant secretary Josh Peak said the Treasurer had “for only political reasons highlighted that he didn’t receive a response from the SDA”.

“If he’s going to go to all that effort to say the SDA hadn’t responded, he could have taken some additional steps to assure himself that was, in fact, true – or he could have given us a call,” he said.

Peak said Lucas was “required under the Act to consult with stakeholders – and in our view the biggest stakeholders are the tens of thousands of retail workers who are going to have their Christmases turned upside down”.

“He’s failed to consult with retail workers, who are most impacted by it,” he said, arguing that the decision was thus “potentially invalid and he should suspend it”.

But Lucas insisted that was “a nonsense”.

“I can make the decision with or without consultation – I have the power under the Act,” he said.

The Act states that when granting or declaring an exemption, “the Minister may have regard to such matters as [they] consider relevant” and “is to have regard to… the extent to which there has been consultation within the community” – but only when an application has been made.

“I was aware of the general views of all the major stakeholders, and the request for submissions was not specific to Boxing Day anyway – it related to Christmas trading,” Lucas said.

He said it wasn’t important to receive the union’s submission in any case, because “I was well aware what the views of the shoppies’ union was in relation to trading hours”.

“There’s no lack of knowledge of what the position of the shoppies’ union was [so] we didn’t need further discussion or consultation with the union to know what their position was,” he said.

“Their position was well known to me.”

Lucas said he didn’t know why the submission ended up in a junk folder, but wasn’t concerned about the efficacy of the consultation process.

“It was junk because of the way it was sent, for some reason… I’ve no idea why it got treated as spam, that’s for the ICT boffins in government and Treasury to work out,” he said.

“I don’t think I need to issue them an apology, but I do accept the fact they tried to make a submission.”

Labor’s Upper House leader Kyam Maher said the Treasurer “has been caught red-handed making false claims in his media release, in the media and in parliament”.

“He’s failed to consider the views of thousands upon thousands of retail workers across the state,” he said.

“This mess raises serious questions about his consultation processes… [he] has an obligation to meet with the people who are directly affected by these changes and listen to their concerns.”

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