‘Cop out’ Sunday trading decision leaves businesses in limbo after Queensland inquiry

Key points:

  • Big businesses in regional Queensland could be eligible for Sunday trading come August 2023
  • The decision is one of nine recommendations following a parliamentary inquiry
  • Both sides of the Sunday trading debate say they are disappointed with the inquiry’s outcomes

Small retailers in regional Queensland have been given until August 2023 to prepare before Sunday trading could open up to big businesses, creating an influx of competition.

At the moment, legislation prohibits larger retailers from opening doors on the seventh day of the week.

But a recent parliamentary inquiry has recommended the ban be lifted next year when big businesses would be able to apply to the Industrial Relations Commission to open on a Sunday.

The recommendation was one of nine handed down in a report last week after a four-month investigation by the Queensland Education, Employment and Training Committee.

a Coles supermarket sign
Major retailers like Coles and Woolworths are closed on Sundays in towns like Mount Isa.(ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson)


Independent shops say they are preparing themselves for the inevitable influx of competition and are concerned about being run out of town.

Meanwhile, bigger businesses are frustrated over the one-year wait time before they can apply to open on Sundays.

But one thing both sides agree on is that, after months of meetings and forums, submissions, lobbying and debating, the inquiry’s results are underwhelming.

Emma Harman, is the president of the Chamber of Commerce North West, based in the rural city of Mount Isa.

A woman smiles at a camera in a floral dress.
Commerce North West president Emma Harman.(ABC North West Queensland: Kelly Butterworth)


She believes the opening up of Sunday trade will enliven rural communities but said the year-long wait had left big businesses pawing the ground behind the starting gate.

“It feels a bit like a cop out. It feels like they are afraid to have made a definitive decision,” she said.

“We are a mature community, we’ve been through our ups and downs. By saying to us, ‘No, not for another year.’ It just feels like they don’t trust us to be able to make our own decisions.

“I think a lot of us thought that by the end of last year, we might be moving forward into a new 2023 and that our larger players would be able to operate seven days.”

With a population of 20,000, Mount Isa is a key hub for travellers and farmers in Queensland’s west and the town was a focal point for the inquiry.

people sit in conference room for a meeting
Mount Isa residents, business owners and community leaders gathered before a parliamentary inquiry to share their views on Sunday trading.(ABC North West Queensland: Larissa Waterson)


Marketing and media manager for the Mount Isa Tourism Association Nadia Cowperthwaite said the outcome of the inquiry was disappointing.

“We were all a bit shocked about the whole process, it all kind of seems like a waste of time at this point,” she said.

“The feedback from tourists, from some residents and from farmers who travel hours to Mount Isa for grocery shopping, is that Sunday trading would be a real boost to this area.

“To so easily say, ‘Yeah, we’ll just tag an extra 12 months onto that,’ when there are people relying on this, that is what disappoints us the most,” she said.

Small-business owner Bob Burrows said that, while the next 18 months buys him some time, it was inevitable that the tail end of 2023 will be challenging for his Colonial Convenience grocery store.

“Sunday is our busiest day of the week with Coles and Woolies shut.

“Our trade on a Sunday makes up for slow days like Mondays and Tuesdays. It is pretty much the reason the business can survive.

“For now we’ll still have that little piece of the pie. We’re trying our best to build ourselves up strong enough so if they do come in we can try and get through it. But it is definitely going to be hard, it will be a rough time,” he said.

Owner of the local Brumby’s bakery Michelle Russell said a seven-day trading week would run her out of business.

“We would suffer major losses,” she said.

“We would lose 20 per cent of our business, and we can’t afford to do that with the wages we pay on a Sunday,” she said.

shopfront of Brumby's bakery store
Owner of Brumby’s bakery, Mount Isa, Michelle Russell, says the business would suffer 20 per cent losses should Sunday trading open for big retail.(ABC North West Queensland: Mount Isa)

The Queensland Government has three months to table in parliament its response to the committee’s report and recommendations.


Extracted from ABC

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