MOTION: Disallowing City of Marion's Shopping Trolley By-law

Today Mark outlined the Greens' opposition to the motion to disallow the City of Marion's by-law regarding shopping trolleys.  Despite the Greens' opposition, the motion passed with a majority of Members in the Legislative Council.


The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: I move:

That by-law No. 8 of the City of Marion concerning shopping trolley amenity, made under the Local Government Act 1999 on 23 June 2020 and laid on the table of this council on 21 July 2020, be disallowed.


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I am conscious that it is after 6 o'clock but I do want to put a few things on the record because we have only heard one side of this debate. What I would say at the outset is that, regardless of the outcome of this motion today, the problem is not going away. It is a problem that exists not just in Adelaide but all over Australia and in other places in the world. If honourable members do not think this is the solution, then they do need to put their minds to what is.

I want to give members a little bit of background and history. According to an ABC Radio National broadcast back in 2014, the origin of the modern supermarket shopping trolley goes back to 1937. It was the idea of an American supermarket owner, Sylvan Goldman, who dreamt it up as a way of encouraging shoppers to buy more items in his Humpty Dumpty chain of stores in Oklahoma.

The frame was inspired by a folding chair and held two wire shopping baskets, one above the other, doubling the quantity of goods that could be carried. Apparently, they were very unpopular at first; they reminded women of prams and men considered them effeminate. To counteract this, Goldman hired male and female models who spent their days pushing trolleys around his stores. That eventually led to their global acceptance.

Further developments added over the years included the telescopic cart, with the hinged rear panel that enables more compact stacking, that was patented in 1949 and which is still used today. Then in 1954 we had the fold-down toddler seat—we still have those—and more recently the coffee cup and mobile phone holder. The presenter of Radio National's very popular By Design series, Colin Bisset, said:

While the wonky-wheeled trolley has long been a visual gag in film, the abandoned trolley is more often a symbol of urban waste, and many are dumped by roadsides or in waterways. More than one million trolleys are manufactured each year, adding to the millions already in circulation. Most supermarkets now make considerable efforts to retain their property, adding coin-deposit mechanisms to ensure their return in areas of high theft as well as wheels that lock when a trolley is pushed over a magnetic strip set at a mall entrance.

So the idea of supermarkets taking measures to prevent the misuse of their trolleys is not new. According to Wikipedia, coin deposits are almost ubiquitous in continental Europe and the UK. They were very common in Australia decades ago, but my guess is that once one major chain abandoned the idea, their competitors followed suit. Now we are back to square one, with trolley dumping a major problem in certain neighbourhoods.

As fewer people carry coins, coin deposits might not be the answer, but there are plenty of other technologies available to help ensure trolleys are used only where they are supposed to be used. These include reusable tokens that are issued by supermarkets up to high-tech solutions such as geo-fencing and automatic wheel locking.

South Australia is not alone; other jurisdictions are tackling this problem as well, including through legislative interventions. I note the Hon. Frank Pangallo made an offhand comment, 'Who else would do something like this?' Well, I will tell you: the Western Australian Local Government Association has advised their councils that they should adopt and modify the Activities in Thoroughfares and Public Places Local Law. That provides that local government can have the authority to infringe retailers for failing to collect illegally dumped shopping trolleys within a defined notice period. In other words, exactly what the City of Marion is asking to be able to do. In New South Wales, Local Government NSW President Linda Scott said:

Councils are virtually powerless because they can only fine customers who are caught abandoning trolleys in public places, which is impractical and almost impossible to enforce.

The New South Wales government is now considering giving councils stronger powers. This could include the power to fine retailers that fail to collect abandoned or impounded trolleys. I will not go through every jurisdiction, other than to say that this is not a problem unique to the Marion local government area in Adelaide's southern suburbs. It is a national problem.

If people want to find out more about the range of technical and social responses to the misuse of shopping trolleys, there is an excellent article published in The Conversation on 9 January last year by Johan Barthelemy, a Research Fellow at the SMART Infrastructure Facility at the University of Wollongong. His article is entitled, 'The war on abandoned trolleys can be won. Here's how.'

I know that for a number of members there is something uncomfortable about supporting a law that, at face value, looks to be penalising retailers for the misbehaviour of their customers. Supermarkets and other big retailers have signs advising customers not remove trolleys from the car park; in fact, my local supermarket does not allow trolleys to be taken even past the checkout. Instead they employ a team of mostly junior staff to carry bags out to customers' cars using different trolleys to those used in store. This creates additional employment, less wear and tear on the trolleys, and results in zero misappropriation.

Most supermarkets rely just on signs, and clearly the signs do not work for some customers. So who are these people? It would be very easy to categorise them as lazy, antisocial and dishonest. It is always difficult to categorise a cohort of people we do not necessarily know much about, but one thing I suspect they mostly have in common is that they are poor. Not everyone has a car, and for those who travel to the shops on foot not everyone is strong enough to carry home all of their shopping.

Of course, it would be easy for us to say, 'Well, they could just buy their own shopping trolley,' or, 'They could organise home delivery,' but the reality is that for some in our community their lives are chaotic and disorganised and things that are logical and relatively easy for most of us are beyond their capacity. One social worker I spoke to said that some of her clients, who were regular trolley pinchers, would probably get taxis to and from the shops, which they clearly cannot afford to do, so it is indeed a wicked dilemma.

I do not think that blaming the customers solely is necessarily the right way or the only way to look at this problem. Under the council's by-law, big retailers are not being penalised because their customers disregarded the rules and removed a shopping trolley from the premises, they are being penalised if, having been notified of the location of the abandoned trolley, they fail to remove it or to retrieve it within three days. That is a very different matter.

The big supermarkets will emphasise that the trolleys are a convenience for their customers. That is correct to a certain extent, but the trolleys are also good for the supermarkets. They allow us to buy more than we can carry; they are good for business. That is why they were invented, which is why I went back to the origins of the shopping trolley.

Clearly, the supermarkets have already built the cost of the trolleys into their cost of doing business. They take responsibility for repair, maintenance and replacement, so why should they not take some responsibility for collection, both on and off premises. The alternative is that the community at large, through council rates, pays for the retrieval of abandoned trolleys from roadsides, parks and waterways. How is it fairer that local councils pay, rather than the businesses that benefit from the trolleys?

I know it is easy to get stuck into the big supermarkets. A former colleague of ours, the Hon. Nick Xenophon, used to make an art form of getting stuck into the duopoly—the two big supermarkets, which between them had 80 per cent of the grocery trade. His view was that they did not need any help from us to further entrench their commercial power. I note that the honourable member's successors are now championing the cause of Coles, Woolworths and the big retailers. How times change!

But the supermarkets can hardly cry poor, they are doing pretty well. They have been some of the most profitable businesses in the country during COVID. This means, I believe, that they can well afford to share in some of the costs associated with the misuse of their equipment. The by-law will apply to all big retailers with more than 30 shopping trolleys, so in terms of competition between the retailers they will be similarity affected. The big players will not be disadvantaged amongst themselves.

According to the Mayor of Marion, Kris Hanna, this by-law has been borne out of frustration with the supermarkets not taking their responsibility seriously, despite 2½ years of discussion. It is all very well and good for members here to say, 'Marion council should talk more with the supermarkets.' How much more can they do? Unless something happens, such as the passing of a by-law, the supermarkets have it all their own way. They are saying, 'Nothing to do with us, not our responsibility.'

I think the mayor has said that the aim of the by-law was to prompt more retailers to adopt containment systems: that is the object of the exercise. He notes that those retailers who have such systems have vastly lower dumping rates than other retailers.

At the end of the day the Greens will side with the local community, which is frustrated at the inaction of the big supermarkets and other retail chains in developing an appropriate containment policy for their trolleys. We would allow these by-laws to stand in order to give local councils some bargaining strength in forcing the big supermarkets and other big retailers to take this issue seriously. If these by-laws are disallowed, then it lets the retailers off the hook, but it will not be the end of the matter. What we might see is other councils trying different measures.

I know the Hon. Frank Pangallo mentioned this in passing, but if there was a substantial impoundment fee for every trolley that was abandoned in a public place and collected by the local council, then I suspect the big retailers would be racing around the suburbs picking up their trolleys before the council did to avoid the impoundment fee. Ultimately, though, I think it would make more sense for everyone if we had better containment systems and avoided the problem in the first place.

Whilst the Greens appreciate the legitimate concerns of those who are pushing this motion, we will not be supporting the disallowance of these council by-laws. We think the greater good is served by putting more pressure on the retailers rather than letting them off the hook entirely.