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Do you fancy buying a caravan? Great. But don't bother us on Sundays, thanks


The Queensland Parliament’s review of retail trading hours reminds us that red tape is in the eye of the beholder writes Robert MacDonald

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If you want to know why it’s so hard to cut red tape, take a look at the submissions to the Queensland Parliament’s current inquiry into retail trading hours.

Or don’t. Just read on. I’ve ploughed through them all and can report they confirm, once more, that red tape is in the eye of the beholder.

One person’s unnecessary government edict is another’s die-in-the-ditch essential requirement for the way things should be.

Here’s an example:

Say you’re a bricks-and-mortar retailer and demand for what you’re selling suddenly soars. Wouldn’t you want to keep your doors open for as long as possible?

Not if you’re selling caravans.

Caravan sales are booming – thanks to Covid-19 and closed international borders – to levels not seen since the 1970s, the Caravan Trade & Industries Association Queensland (CTIAQ) says in its submission to the inquiry.

Caravan and recreational vehicle imports are nearly 90 per cent above year-ago levels and local manufacturing is up by two-thirds.

Given this huge surge in demand you might think the industry would be clamouring for as much face-to-face time as possible with potential buyers.

But no.

Queensland’s caravan sellers are currently prohibited from selling on Sunday and the CTIAQ “strongly opposes any change” to the current arrangements.

It argues Sunday trading would hurt work-life balances and raise costs in an industry dominated by family-run businesses.

It also dismisses the argument that caravan sellers could simply choose not to open on Sundays even if they were allowed to.

That’s because, according to the CTIAQ, there’s always a business – “through desperation arising from poor business practices and/or inferior quality products” – that opens on Sunday, “forcing everyone else to open also”.

In short, please keep the red tape to protect our lifestyles and our businesses from competitors hungrier than us who might see an opportunity in selling caravans on Sundays.

In any event, consumers apparently don’t even want Sunday trading according to the caravan industry.

“Caravan dealerships in Northern New South Wales towns such as Lismore have chosen not to open on Sundays, despite being legally able to do so, because of lack of consumer demand and the additional costs associated with opening,” its submission says.

It’s good to know that  in northern NSW at least, despite the association’s concerns, there are no desperate caravan traders engaging in poor business practices.

Of course, if you haven’t actually tried to sell caravans in Queensland on Sundays, how would you know what the actual demand might be?

The Australian Automotive Dealer Association also hates the idea of Sunday trading.

It says the cost of selling cars on Sundays would be prohibitive for Queensland’s 675 dealerships.

It would also exacerbate an already significant skills shortage across the sector by driving away staff who don’t want to work on Sundays.

In other words, keep the Sunday-trading ban in place so that we don’t have to spend any more time thinking about how else to attract and retain staff.

The car dealers also claim that, in any event, there’s not much public demand for Sunday trading.

“Feedback from members suggest is it uncommon for customers to ask whether dealerships are open on Sundays,” the association submission says.

Perhaps that’s because most customers probably already know the answer.

Various of the submissions to the inquiry highlight another truth about red tape – it often produces unintended consequences.

Whenever governments review retail trading hours one of their big concerns is how to make sure the big supermarkets and department stores don’t overwhelm local businesses.

When the Palaszczuk Government last reviewed trading laws five years ago its solution was to continue the existing ban on Sunday trading by big retailers in 23 towns across the state for another five years.

The decision seems to have backfired, at least in Mount Isa.

The Mount Isa City Council, in its submission to the current inquiry, argues the Sunday trading ban needs to be overturned to revitalise a tired city centre, meet the demands of a growing tourism industry and help attract new workers and families to the region.

It would also, it says, “improve liveability for locals” and “create more job opportunities, especially for juniors, over the weekend”.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ), which five years ago argued for continued protection for mum-and-dad businesses, by maintaining the Sunday ban for big retailers, has changed its mind.

It’s now arguing for more deregulation to give local businesses a chance to respond to Covid-19 disruptions, compete with the surge on in-line shopping and service ever-growing regional tourism.

“Many years have passed since the review in 2016, and with this the economic, market and operating conditions which businesses operate in have also undergone considerable change,” the CCIQ submission says.

“Regional economies need more opportunities under the current conditions to gain further economic benefits by meeting consumer expectations.

“The last thing we should be doing is creating disincentives for businesses to establish themselves and thrive in regional communities.”

That’s another problem with red tape; it can never keep up with the real world.

No sooner does the government spool out a bit more of it to address this or that issue, then things change.

What starts as a presumably honourable attempt to address a problem, shielding small businesses from the villainy of large corporations for instance, ends up hurting a whole community.






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