A draft report into Australia’s competition policy recommends that remaining restrictions on retail trading hours be removed, saying that full deregulation of trading hours is overdue.

Retail is a strong focus for the wide-ranging Harper Competition Review, which released its draft report and key recommendations today.

The panel, headed by Professor Ian Harper, recommended that restrictions that remain on trading hours be “strictly limited to Christmas Day, Good Friday and the morning of Anzac Day.”

“The growing use of the internet for retail purchases is undermining the original intent of restrictions on retail trading hours, while at the same time disadvantaging ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers. This provides strong grounds for abandoning remaining limits on retail trading hours,” the draft report stated.

In recent years online retail sales have grown more quickly than spending at traditional bricks and mortar retailers and National Australia Bank estimates that Australians spent $15.5 billion on online retail in the 12 months to June 2014. The report stated that this growth demonstrates consumers are demanding more diversity in how and when they shop.

“Restrictions on retail trading hours impede suppliers’ ability to meet consumer demand. They can discriminate among retailers on the basis of factors such as products sold, size of retailer or location of retailer. They can also impose costs on consumers by creating inconvenience and congestion. The rules can be complex and confusing and create compliance costs for businesses.”

The report noted that the ACT, Northern Territory, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW have largely deregulated trading hours altogether, whereas Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland have retained restrictions.

In the past Gerry Harvey has actively campaigned for  Western Australia’s restrictions around trading hours to be relaxed.

However, the report noted that support for deregulation is not unanimous, particularly among smaller retailers, and views were often based around store location and the form of retailing.

The Australian Retailers Association welcomed the Harper Competition Review draft report.

“We were pleased to see the issue of trading hours brought to attention – as long as retailers are not forced to open by landlords if not profitable,” ARA Executive Director Russell Zimmerman said.

“The ARA is hopeful that this review will help identify ways to build the economy and promote investment, growth, job creation and durable benefits to consumers and retailers alike.”

Click on the infographic for a larger view
Click the infographic for a larger view

Professor Ian Harper, chair of the review, said the recommendations in the draft report seek to bring Australia’s competition policy up to date.

“Australia’s competition policy needs to be fit for purpose, and updated for the economic opportunities and challenges Australia will face in coming decades. We face forces for change from increased globalisation, population ageing and new technologies, which are rapidly changing the way our markets operate.

“The Panel’s assessment draws on nearly 350 submissions and close to 100 consultation meetings with a wide range of stakeholders. But the judgements that underpin the draft recommendations are our own,” Professor Harper said.

The ACCC has also expressed its support for the recommendations made in the draft report which it called the “most significant review of the area for over 20 years.”

“The ACCC particularly welcomes the panel’s view that there is a need to reinvigorate Australia’s competition policy, and ensure that competition policy evolves,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims

Consultation on the draft report is now open, and will run for eight weeks until 17 November 2014.