Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 11 Hansard (21 October) . . Page.. 3452 ..
MR OSBORNE: I can understand why the Government is struggling to find directors for that company, Mr Speaker. I would not want to put my hand up. My question is to the Minister for fair trading, Mr Humphries. Minister, from time to time complaints come forward to my office and I would imagine to other members' offices from both members of the public and local traders regarding interstate traders who come to Canberra for a short time and undercut local business. These interstate traders usually specialise in a certain type of product, such as carpets, clothing or office equipment. Many will rent an empty shop for a few days and trade or, as in the case with computers, simply visit the city for a day and participate in a semi-organised fair. Some of these traders visit Canberra a couple of times a year, others monthly, and still others on a weekly basis. It has recently been demonstrated to me how easy and prevalent it is to obtain goods in bulk, especially computer equipment, using fraudulent documentation in order to avoid paying sales tax. While few of us here would begrudge the Canberra community access to these cheap goods providing fair trading practices are followed, it appears that many times the principles of fair trading are being flouted at the expense of our local businesses. Minister, are you aware of such claims of sales tax avoidance? If so, will you make a commitment to investigate these claims in order to place greater emphasis on the bona fides of interstate traders and their goods, especially computers, in order to give our local small business outlets a fair go?
MR HUMPHRIES: Mr Speaker, I thank Mr Osborne for that question. Concerns about interstate traders have been raised with me over a number of years, and I confess to having some concern about the impact they have on the ACT economy. They do come here from outside the ACT. They advertise heavily. They trade. They advertise themselves as being cheaper than ACT retailers. In many cases you would imagine that they would be because they come here and only hire premises, such as the Albert Hall, for a few days. They do not have as many overheads, presumably, as permanent operators, and they leave and take their profits with them. So I do not pretend for one instant to be in favour of interstate traders.
I also do not believe that there are many more restrictions we can place on these people within the context of competition guidelines than we have already placed. For example, I have asked on a number of occasions for signage which those operators have used illegally on places like Canberra Avenue to be removed. That is one of the ways in which I feel we can give ACT traders a little bit of a level playing field.
Mr Speaker, I am concerned about references to interstate traders avoiding sales tax. I have not personally heard of any of those complaints, but it may be that the Consumer Affairs Bureau has. If they have, I will certainly ask them to pursue them aggressively. We would insist that anybody who comes into the ACT to trade temporarily obey all of the laws, State and Federal, which apply to them and pay all of their appropriate taxes. Any avoidance of taxes, particularly any evasion of taxes - there is a difference, of course - will be dealt with very harshly.