Commercial Tenancy (Retail Shops) Agreements Amendment Bill 2011

Extract from Hansard
[COUNCIL — Tuesday, 28 June 2011]
Hon Ljiljanna Ravlich; Hon Max Trenorden; Hon Lynn MacLaren; Hon Philip Gardiner; Hon Simon O'Brien


Second Reading

Resumed from an earlier stage of the sitting.

HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [5.44 pm]: I rise on behalf of the Greens (WA) to express our
support for the principal aims of the Commercial Tenancy (Retail Shops) Agreements Amendment Bill 2011.
This government has embarked on some very serious and important reforms in small business regulation. We
have discussed on a couple of occasions in this house the various protections afforded to small business in this
time of change. I am clearly on the record saying that the commercial tenancy act should be amended. The bill
before us amends the commercial tenancy act in the way that we called for when we deregulated trading hours. I
thank the minister for listening to the requests of various parties in carrying out those reforms and in delivering
us a bill that we could debate. It goes a considerable way to address the concerns that small businesses have
today. The principal aims of the legislation that I want to go on the record as supporting are: to encourage the
fair treatment of small businesses in their commercial dealings with other businesses and with governments; to
provide support to small businesses in their transition to a more deregulated trade environment; to reduce the
vulnerability of small businesses to unfair market practices; and to reduce the frequency and cost of disputes
involving small businesses. The Commercial Tenancy (Retail Shops) Agreements Amendment Bill 2011 amends
the Commercial Tenancy (Retail Shops) Agreements Act 1985 by improving protections for tenants.

I have listened carefully to the previous speakers who expressed their very serious concerns about how this bill
will deliver protections to tenants. I too am concerned that the bill does not go far enough. The lease register we
talked about should be part of the legislation to amend the commercial tenancies act. I note, however, that it was
clearly acknowledged in the briefing I was provided that that lease register is still on the cards and that ongoing
consultation is taking place with small business. The department aimed to have something on the table within
12 months. I can share the pain of my colleagues in this place because, in the first place, we wanted these
protections to extend to small business before we deregulated trading hours. We suffered because those reforms
went through first; however, these are not that tardy in coming to us.

We share the fear that the bigger players have more negotiating power because they have more information at
their fingertips. This bill goes some way to address that power imbalance in negotiations. I would hate to see us
lose that because, like members before me, I am acutely aware of the problems that small businesses are facing
in Western Australia. Only last weekend the Fremantle Herald ran a front-page story about the Chamber of
Commerce head, Peter Nolin, being very distressed about the closure of small business in our little port city.
Retail shops are suffering in the global economic crisis. Small business is suffering because we are not spending.
I do not think that the proposed amendments are going to make us spend more.

Hon Max Trenorden: I have seen you at Fremantle a couple of times, and I think I have seen you spending.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Yes, I was out for dinner one night, and I did run into Hon Max Trenorden. What we
are talking about here is retail, and retail shops are suffering. This bill goes some way to make it better for them.
I would hate to see us lose the momentum established through the tabling of these amendments.

I support the bill. The recent changes that we have already agreed to in this place necessitate these reforms. I
know that the WA Retailers Association is very concerned about the impact of these changes and feels that we
should be doing more. As I said, I agree. It is definitely a weakness in this bill that we have not put forward an
opportunity for open and transparent information about leases, because I know that that is one of the things that
will assist small business in those shopping centres. I would like the minister to respond to the concerns that
have been raised and come up with a solution for that. He has demonstrated an ability to think on his feet. I
would like to see us move forward with this and not see it fall in a heap. It would be a shame to miss out on the
other reforms that are being proposed because these weaknesses have been exposed. I really would like to see
this bill improved.

The two issues that have been raised are the lease register and the confidentiality of information available to
valuers. It is my understanding that valuers have very professional standards of confidentiality. It would be most
unusual for a valuer to release information to other clients. However, it is imperative that we protect small
business if we can, because it is a vital part of our commercial sector.

I note the comments about landlords and tenants acting in good faith. Some readings of this amendment bill have
illustrated that it may not be encouraging and facilitating landlords and tenants to act in good faith. I am
concerned about that. That might be something that the minister and the department could take on board to see if
there was some way that they were encouraging unhealthy competition. However, at the end of the day, on
assessment, I have repeatedly said that we need the Small Business Commissioner. We need to balance out the
scales, because they are moving a little bit too much in favour of big business, and I think this bill is a good step
in that direction.

The last point I want to make is the lack of robust data about the health of the small business sector. I would like
to see that improved so that in debates such as this we can assess whether the changes that are proposed are
going to dramatically impact on the many families that are relying on small business. That is something that we
can improve upon. It is something that the Small Business Development Corporation has acknowledged and is
working towards addressing. If we had more data about how these changes would be impacting families who are
dependent on small business, then we could perhaps consider the amendments before us in a different light.
In conclusion, the Greens (WA) support the bill. We look forward to the debate on the proposed amendments
and we appreciate the efforts that the minister has made to address the inequities between small and big business
in the commercial sector.