Local Government (Mobile Food Vendors) Amendment Bill

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) (12:15): I rise on behalf of the opposition to speak to the Local Government (Mobile Food Vendors) Amendment Bill 2016. I start by making it very clear that the Liberal Party always supports entrepreneurship and small business in South Australia and, as the shadow minister for agriculture, food, wine and tourism, it is important to recognise that food trucks are becoming part of Adelaide's food and tourism culture. However, nothing squeezes the life out of small business and entrepreneurship like red tape, and this bill is just another way of getting in the way of business.

The bill adds another level of complication and red tape, while also taking away local council's authority to cater to the community's needs. It really fails to address that these mobile food trucks are a matter for local government and not for a statewide or a citywide approach. It is a bland, if you like, beige approach. It allows councils and local communities to have input into where food trucks can go and where they can operate that does not impact in a negative way on existing businesses.

The government has failed to address the real issues here. What they have been after is some sort of headline in the 24-hour news cycle to try to get something that will distract from their appalling management of the economy, our electricity system and the general parlous state of South Australia. The bill does not solve any of the unemployment issues, nor will it help our state's economy. Our unemployment rate is one of the highest in mainland Australia, and this will not help at all. In fact, it only increases the costs across the board for the mobile food vendors. As far as I can tell, this legislation does nothing. It is just another ploy to make the government look good, while actually doing nothing but making it harder for South Australians to conduct their business.

The government thinks that a blanket rule will be suitable for every council, completely ignoring the needs for diversity. As the member for Schubert, Mr Stephan Knoll (a new member in the other place since the last election), described the bill last year, he said it was completely ill- considered. The bill states that it will lift the council's restriction on the type of food a mobile truck can provide and allegedly promote innovation. It means also to lift restrictions on the number of licences that can be issued and the hours in which the trucks can operate, yet fails to see that this type of restriction is needed in the first place to protect the pre-existing businesses.

That is where the real issue lies, that our pre-existing businesses, the ones with bricks and mortar, are the ones that are to be put at risk if we have a blanket approach to mobile food trucks, and it will impact on existing jobs. The current cost of doing business is extremely high and if it has a negative cost or damage to these bricks and mortar businesses then, of course, it will ultimately translate to a loss of jobs.

Mobile food trucks are designed to complement existing businesses when there is a very large community event or, for some reason, existing businesses are not able to cater for the public, then you have this opportunity to bring in mobile food trucks to complement the existing businesses. As I said, the current cost of doing business is extremely high and if the government really wants to move the barriers to entry, why not look at reducing the cost of doing business rather than adding red tape and preferencing one business model over another?

Look at the cost of doing business in South Australia and the small businesses that have been here, the bricks and mortars, where you have landlords who own the buildings who have been maintaining them and paying land tax on them, the small businesses that are trying to operate to make a quid during this tough time. Look at the impost that is put on them. In current terms, electricity is a good example. We now have the most unreliable and the most expensive electricity in the nation, and these people are small businesses trying to operate. Last week, when we had the rolling blackouts, how many small businesses were food operators? That 45 minutes was right in the middle of the afternoon when they were preparing to cook and have food available for their customers and they had to shut because they were not able to prepare any food.

These are the sort of burdens on small business that this government ignores. Of course, you also have things like the emergency services levy increases and the high cost of water. Council rates is another one that of course they have to bear. Recently, I received an email from a small business operator whose supply charges for electricity had trebled in the last two years. The electricity itself had gone up, obviously, but the actual supply charges had trebled again. Again, it is a small business operator that has been targeted.

We have to make sure we look after those people. They have been here for decades. They have been providing a service. They are locked into all the rules and regulations around toilets, the number of square metres and the number of people they are allowed to have in those premises. That is why the opposition believes it is much better to leave the existing rules the way they are and let local councils determine them. The existing businesses can have some interaction with their local elected officials to make sure that these mobile food vendors are there to provide a service when you have a bigger community event or when the existing bricks and mortar type businesses are unable to cope with the demand.

It is a bit rich to have mobile food vendors come in when you have a peak demand. I will use this current Mad March period as an example. We have invested in the Fringe, the Clipsal and the Festival of Arts. All those things are designed to bring people to the city and to help some of the bricks and mortar people get through the tough times. In August, we have football, but that is about all. Of course, we often see hotel occupancy is chock-a-block at this time of year; you cannot get a room through to late March or early April, but August has the lowest occupancy.

These peak times, during these events that we have invested in over decades now, that governments of all persuasions have supported because it is good for the economy, are actually good for the businesses that are here during the tough times. We do not think that having this blanket one-size-fits-all approach to food trucks is the right way to go. The local community should still have input and the local council should be able to do it.

It makes it so difficult when you have a difficult economic climate to do business in and then you have no input into whether somebody can pull up their mobile food van in front of your premises, not have to provide toilets and not have any requirement on how many people they can serve other than how many can line up in the queue. The poor business has been there paying its bills, paying its wages, paying its emergency services levy, the high electricity charges, its council rates and all the costs. If they are a biggish small business, they have payroll tax as well if they go over the threshold. Suddenly, somebody can pull up in front of them and take business away from them when they have been there for years.

With those few words, I indicate the opposition will not be supporting the bill and we hope the government does not progress this any further; it does not make sense.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.T. Ngo.

Sitting suspended from 12:24 to 14:18.

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