Shopping Centres still playing with the facts

By Peter Strong . On 26-Jul-2015

Shopping Centre Council misses the mark – as always

Recently the Shopping Centre council, sickness that bastion of grasping big businesses and vested interests, sale challenged the ACCC over a statement that …. ”shows the ACCC, buy viagra between January and June 2015, dealt with 5,020 ‘complaints’ from small businesses”, which the ACCC describes as a ‘large number’. The Shopping Centre Council goes on to say “Well, the volume may tax the ACCC’s resources – and undoubtedly some complaints are serious – but is this really a large number?” They then develop an odd argument that as there are so many small businesses in Australia, some 2.1m, that this figure is amazingly small and should be disregarded.

Here is their statement

“This is actually a very, very small number, not a ‘large number’. Indeed another 75% of small businesses had no cause to complain to the ACCC. Now that is a large number! But don’t expect to see business dispute figures placed in their proper context. Pointing out that the evidence actually shows that the relationship between small business and big business in Australia is an overwhelmingly positive one does not way of putting it is to say that 99. suit the narrative of the ‘small business lobby’.”

So where do I start?

Firstly that is not 5,020 businesses, it is 5,020 people and their families. It is people who are worried, stressed, being bullied (especially by the corporate members of the Shopping Centre Council), and probably unhealthy from the stress and worry. They are people and must be considered. 5,020 people is not a small number.

Secondly as we all know statistics need to be professionally assessed. Anyone can use statistics to justify whatever argument they need. So here is my view of the statistics.

There are some 2.1m small businesses in Australia. Some 60% of all small businesses do not employ anyone, they are independent contractors and home based businesses, which means they will rarely if ever have contact with the ACCC. So our number is down to 800,000 businesses.

There are say 200 large shopping centres in Australia, run by big businesses represented by the Shopping Centre Council. They may have at the most 20,000 true small businesses as tenants, probably less as the big retailers and franchises dominate their shopping centres. The report from the ACCC shows that of the 5020 small businesses who made a complaint: 3132 of them were about issues to do with misleading conduct/false representations; 247 were about unconscionable conduct; and 367 were about misuse of market power. All these complaints are areas where the landlords and of course Coles and Woolworths are to be found. So now we are getting closer to a true figure. Potentially some 15% of tenants in shopping centres are being screwed over by the members of the Shopping Centre Council. That figure could not represent the real number as most small business tenants are afraid to complain as experience shows that the big landlord will punish those who complain by either moving them to some desolate part of the Shopping Centre or increasing their rent by exorbitant amounts.

The Shopping Centre Council further states

“Pointing out that the evidence actually shows that the relationship between small business and big business in Australia is an overwhelmingly positive one does not suit the narrative of the ‘small business lobby’.”

They of course fail to remember that at our National Small Business Summit 2 years ago in Brisbane we actually celebrated the fact that the relationship between most big businesses and small business in Australia is a good relationship. We had as a keynote speaker Jennifer Westacott the CEO of the Business Council of Australia talking on that point. The few big businesses with whom we do not have a good relationship are mainly the biggest landlords and the duopoly, with some specific issues found in other sectors. But overall the big landlords treat small business as prey and without respect. Interestingly these small number of badly behaved big businesses are so powerful they also have very poor relationships with most other big businesses

Finally the difference between the Small Business Lobby and the Shopping Centre Council? One is fighting for the rights and the health of people, the other is fighting for profits and maintenance of a position in the business ruling class. One fights for culture and community, the other fights to lord it over community and to change culture to make a profit through creation of local retail monopolies.

Small business people are key parts of our culture and our community and our employment base. The Shopping Centre Council members destroy culture, treat people with scant respect and count profit ahead of a healthy community and a healthy society.


Some facts and stories that show the problem from Peter Strong CEO COSBOA

When I owned a shop some years ago I had a visit from the people who supervise the sellers of the Big Issue, those members of society who have had a hard time of it and sell an interesting magazine to eke out a living. They asked for my shop to be a pick up point for the people who sell the Big Issue. I of course agreed but also asked why they wanted me to provide that service.

It seems that the other pick up spot for their sellers was in a shop in the QIC owned giant shopping mall, the Canberra Centre. The management of the Centre had banned the best Big Issue salesman from entering their mall. As a result he couldn’t pick up the issues he needed to sell to make a living. It seems that the Canberra Centre is not really part of Canberra but a gated community that decides who can or can’t enter; why do we let them do this?

The same Canberra Centre some years prior had a display of Year 12 artwork at the end of the school year.  The centre management demanded that 3 paintings and drawings that were of the naked female form be removed from the display as they were offensive. Poor offended management, yet that same art display was surrounded by advertising showing scantily clad women and young girls advertising underwear in provocative poses, but that is OK. Seems that a Queensland company is now the censor of Canberra. How did that happen?

Westfields is a company who has been named and shamed for tax dodging. This so called pillar of society see themselves as above paying tax, they move their profits offshore to the Bahamas and do not contribute to the maintenance of the roads that lead to their malls or the health care provided to the business tenants they screw over. Classic ruling class behaviour – they follow their own rules.

Now we come to Federation Centres. Whenever I complain about the treatment of small business people in shopping malls it is explained to me that it is the small business owners fault if they fail as they are obviously incompetent and inept. I disagree as the onerous leases are more often the problem. Also when a small business person fails it is more than a business failure, it is more than likely a family home that is lost, personal health that is lost, relationships and marriages that are lost and sometimes a life. When Federation Centres was known as “Centro” they lost some $6 billion of shareholder funds. ASIC took them to court, they were found guilty of something or other and the then CEO was fined the equivalent of 20 hours pay and all the directors were let off as the magistrate said “the embarrassment and shame was enough punishment”. Seems there are different rules for the big end of town and for small business. If only the punishment for a failed small business person was just shame and embarrassment.

I once highlighted a common situation to a supporter of these biggest landlords and asked for comment. The situation I highlighted is that a small business person will negotiate a lease with some landlord like Westfields. The Westfields representatives will know that this particular small business will not survive the term of the lease and will close down within 3 years. They do not inform the new lessee of that fact, he or she signs the lease and their fate is assured.

I asked for comment on this scenario, the landlords’ supporter saw nothing wrong with this, he replied “well they signed it, what can you do?” The ruling class always see problems as other peoples, ethics as something they find on the day they need it and if a person is trusting and optimistic well more fool them. That first time business person is doing many things besides negotiating a lease; they are selecting staff, contacting suppliers, preparing for a fit out, negotiating a loan, maybe finalising a franchise agreement. The Westfields representative has one task: to get the lease signed on what will be the best terms for Westfields even if that means the person will lose their house and their health.

The fact is that you do not go into business unless you are basically trusting and optimistic, Westfields and the others abuse that trust and that optimism.

Most big businesses do not behave like the big landlords – thankfully.




About the author

Peter Strong

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