Shopping centres need a stronger voice

20 April 1998

Countries: Australia

Westfield Managing Director Australia, Steven Lowy, told theProperty Council of Australia’s International Shopping CentreConference today that last year’s debate into fair trading and therecent review into shop trading hours in South Australia bothhighlighted the need for a stronger voice for shopping centres inthe public debate.

“The fact is that shopping centres are a major contributor tothe economic and social life of the community,” Mr Lowy said.

“In Australia the top 20 shopping centres are turning over $7.2billion a year. Those centres are major employers supportingthousands of workers and their families. More than 51% of peopleaged between 15 and 19 who are in paid work are working in retail -so it’s a vital training ground.

“And all of this activity has a significant multiplier effectwith every $1 spent in retail generating another $1.77 for thelarger economy in areas like manufacturing and distribution.

“The listed property trust industry is worth $21.2 billion inAustralia – and retail property trusts are a third of that. Thereare thousands of Australians with a direct investment in retailproperty trusts and millions who have an indirect stake throughtheir super funds. That’s the impact we have and the story we needto tell.”

Mr Lowy said it was disappointing that the South Australianbranch of the Property Council of Australia was unable to supportthe deregulation of trading hours – a national PCA policy supportedby shopping centres. He said members in the local branch were wellserved by the current situation of deregulated trading in the CBDand restricted trading everywhere else.

“It is myopic to perceive this as a simple argument between theCBD and small retailers on one hand and their competitors in thesuburbs on the other, because that ignores the larger forces atwork in the economy,” Mr Lowy said.

The emergence of new media and channels of distribution make amockery of attempts to regulate retail via trading hours. Alreadyconsumers can bypass Adelaide retailers completely by using theinternet to buy certain goods. And that contributes nothing to theSouth Australian economy.

“We need a shopping centre industry body that is strategic,proactive, well resourced, well funded and well organised that cantake our case to the people who make the decisions that impact socritically on our businesses.”

Mr Lowy said issues like fair trading and deregulation oftrading hours both increased the focus on the relationship betweenshopping centre managers and retailers who rent space fromthem.

“As business gets more competitive, I believe the fineincremental improvements that define our competitive edge will comeout of management,” Mr Lowy said.

“For three years now Westfield has been developing amulti-faceted retailer relations program. It focuses on education,improving the skill base of our retailers and our staff, and onconsultation, working one-on-one with retailers and categories ofretailers to help build their businesses.

“We are working to improve the quality of Australian retailing -and that’s where our energies should be.

“We have to loosen our minds from the restrictions of shortsighted debates, and get them working creatively on the bigchallenges of the future.”