Queensland government considers changing retail trading hours to do away with “patchwork” system

Queensland businesses may soon be able to sell more sausages and hammers on Sundays, with the state government considering streamlining complex laws around retail trading hours to make things easier for businesses and shoppers.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the current rules, which were reviewed in an independent report in 2016, did not reflect the lifestyles of Queenslanders, and confirmed on Sunday that cabinet will consider changes to trading laws in the state off the back of concerns raised by the review.

Laws around opening hours in Queensland classify shops into three categories: “Exempt shops”, “non-exempt shops” and “independent retailers”.

Non-exempt shops, which include hardware stores, large supermarkets and butchers, have been subject to a number of regulations over the years that have resulted in opening and closing times for these businesses varying between regions and being more limited than other shop categories, including limiting trading hours on Sundays.

Potential changes that will be considered include simplifying the current “patchwork” system of regulations that have caused anomalies, such as butchers being unable to open on Sundays in South East Queensland. One proposal is to allow shops that have restricted trading because of these regulations to instead be able to open from 6:00am on Sundays.

The Premier has said the complicated regulatory landscape “no longer suits our modern lifestyles” and the retail sector deserves a more simplified model.

However, some small businesses have previously raised concerns that deregulation would hurt independent stores if bigger businesses in the region get more freedom. A 2011 Productivity Commission Report acknowledged that some businesses were worried they would lose competitiveness if they were competing directly with another operator that could be open longer.

Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, says more streamlined trading rules will likely help all businesses in the long run.

“I think this is probably a very good way to move. That being said, obviously there will always be angst by smaller retailers, but I think there are great benefits for all retailers,” he told SmartCompany this morning.

“We need to realise we’re in the 21st century. There’s very little need for restrictions in trading hours.”

Zimmerman says it’s likely that smaller businesses could even benefit from having more retailers that they trade alongside open for longer.

But he believes there are other concerns that are more pressing in the Queensland retail landscape, and in other parts of Australia.

“The cost of retail rents, you cannot sustain rents that go up on the CPI [Consumer Price Index] plus two when trade is not sustaining that,” he says.

The sharp increase in retail rents over a five-year period is a significant concern for small businesses, Zimmerman says, potentially erasing some of their growth in trade over that time.

Then there’s the challenge posed by international retailers, and the reality that while overall sales might be increasing, there’s more competition to get a slice of the action.

“We know that clothing is growing at around about seven percent. The pie is growing, but the international stores are coming in and there are more people taking out of the pie,” Zimmerman says.

“That in itself causes concern for the retailers, and then you cannot have those rents sustained on those [terms].”

Premier Palaszczuk said on the weekend that any changes to trading hours would not be forced upon businesses, which would instead be given more flexibility to be open for longer.

“We must cut needless red-tape and ease the regulatory burden for retailers,” the Premier said.

The Queensland Government estimated in 2013 that reforming trading hours could deliver a net economic benefit of as much as $200 million annually.

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