Let people decide! South Australians to vote in historic shop trading hours referendum

South Australians will be given the ultimate power to decide whether the state introduces popular job-creating shop trading hours reform, with the Marshall Government announcing plans for an historic referendum to be held on the same day as next year’s state election.

The referendum would be the first in SA in 30 years and only the tenth in the state’s history.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the referendum was a ‘bold but necessary’ move to ensure South Australians finally had their voices heard on this popular, long-awaited reform.

“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and for all, whether they want the freedom to shop, trade and work when and where they choose without our confusing, outdated laws stopping them,” said Mr Lucas.

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

The Government will this week introduce to State Parliament a new Referendum (Retail Trading) Bill 2021, together with the Retail Trading Bill 2021 (unchanged from 2018 but renamed to reflect the new year), seeking Parliament’s approval to put the following question to electors on March 19 next year:

“Do you approve the Retail Trading Bill 2021?”

A majority ‘yes’ vote at the referendum will be binding, resulting in the Bill being submitted for the Governor’s assent and becoming law, regardless of which party is elected to form government.

“In the same way referenda have been held here in the past on a range of issues, from whether the state introduces fair elections, daylight saving, or promote and conduct lotteries to what hour pubs should close, which gave rise to the so-called 6 o’clock swill, South Australians deserve to be able to decide,” said Mr Lucas.

“This decision has not been taken lightly. We took greater freedom of choice in shop trading as a major policy to the 2018 election seeking a mandate from South Australians, they delivered us that mandate but it has been frustrated by Labor and their shoppies’ union mates every step of the way.”

Treasurer Lucas said urgent reform was also critical to support local businesses struggling to respond to the rapidly changing needs of consumers in a post-COVID world.

“The rise of online shopping, flexible work hours and working-from-home arrangements demand our laws keep-up with the changing times and reflect the modern society in which we live,” said Mr Lucas.

“There was a time when Sunday trading was banned, and the Act even restricted when you could buy red meat or even get a haircut – all that inevitably changed. The reality is our businesses are desperately trying to keep up with changing consumer needs and expectations, but our existing laws are a practical and economic handbrake.”

Online shopping has surged in recent years, but particularly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with latest ABS stats (March 2021) showing ‘total online sales have averaged an annual rise of 64.8 per cent between the 12 months of April 2020 to March 2021’.

According to an Australia Post report, published last month, an average of 1 million additional households shopped online every month in 2020 compared to 2019 – spending a total of more than $50 billion online.

Mr Lucas said existing outdated laws also:

  • Created a disincentive for stores to expand and create more jobs and also negatively impact tourism and the visitor economy. Harbour Town at West Beach, for example, which backs the Government’s deregulation push, says there are several big-name retailers that would like to either expand their stores, or invest and move into the centre, but are discouraged because of existing laws which prevent stores over 200sqm from opening at certain times.
  • Stifled fair competition by favouring some businesses – such as petrol stations, which are permitted to open 24-hours 7-days a week – at the expense of smaller supermarkets and stores. For example, the IGA at Moana has to close at 5pm on a weekend but the OTR up the road can trade when it likes, servicing tourists and locals alike.

The Retail Trading Bill 2021 brings South Australia in line with most other states and territories, including New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory.

It will allow all shops, regardless of their floor-size or location, the option of opening any day of the year at any time except Christmas Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day morning.

The Bill makes clear that it does not alter penalty rates and the current protections already afforded to public holidays by the National Employment Standards under the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009.

The referendum would be conducted by the Electoral Commission of South Australia.

Most recent referenda in South Australia

1991″Do you approve the Constitution (Electoral Redistribution) Amendment Bill,1990? – YES

1982 “Are you in favour of Daylight Saving?” – YES

1970 “Are you in favour of shops in the Metropolitan Planning Area and the Municipality of Gawler being permitted to remain open for trading until 9pm on Fridays?” – NO

1965Are you in favour of the promotion and conduct of Lotteries by the Government of the State?” – YES

1915 Referendum as to the Hour for Closing of Bar-Rooms in Licensed Premises

(a) that the hour be 6pm* (*This remained closing hour for more than 50 years) – YES

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