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The shopping hours conundrum

by Visiting Research Fellow Darryl Gobbett in Conversation with SACES

Episode #4

2025

[The Doctor comes out of the Tardis with some 2035-dated beer.]

The Doctor: “Bruce, about this debate your government is having over shopping hours. Is this another of those South Australian things, like the vacant site in North Adelaide and the questions about which school you went to, what is a proper ice coffee and what size is a small bar, that are never meant to end?”

Bruce: “I think so. It has now become like the discussions about whether the local sporting teams have 8 or 10 captains and they have to be drawn on a gender equality basis.

The reasons as to why not take off the current shopping restrictions keep changing, as do the rules themselves. And as would be expected, the people who benefit from the restrictions seem to keep bending them to suit themselves.

From those times you took me back to the 60s and early 70s, no shopping or sporting events on Sundays were meant to give people time to go to church. Then, as less people went to Sunday church or church at all, the argument seemed to be about protecting the small grocery shop keeper from the supermarkets that were just coming and spreading in the suburbs.

Some argued it was about making sure housewives, who often didn’t drive then, would have a small grocery shop nearby. And then there was the argument shop staff could spend Sundays together. And then that it was immoral and even unethical that people could spend all their weekends shopping in a shop.

But it’s not illegal to buy online on the weekend and have it delivered. Just illegal to sell certain things in a shop over a certain size. “

[The Doctor impaled another pasty. He preferred this North Devon type that was now only available in Adelaide. In Devon and Cornwall the flood of colonials post the hard Brexit with the exit of the central European workers and various free trade agreements meant the traditional pasties had been replaced by Hangi pits and deconstructed brioche burgers with beetroot.]

The Doctor: “Yes, but I notice there are very few left of what I assume was the corner grocery shop. The small shops that are open on Sunday aren’t small grocery stores. They seem to be all ageing retro beatnik eateries with a mortgage broker out the back now smashed avocadoes had been banned.

Bruce: “Then the legislation was changed every now and then to allow shops of a certain type and up to a maximum size to be open on what were otherwise prohibited days. The simpler shopping of the 60s meant the legislation had everything shut after midday Saturday until Monday apart from small shops, hairdressers, garden centres and hotels. And with whole lot of rules around what could be sold incidentally in the hairdressers or garden centres.

So, you could buy the plants and the potting mix but not the timber for the garden edging. That was in the same part of the store but with a sheet over it.

But as more goods and services, like electronics and hardware became available they were banned from being sold on the weekends in shops of over 400 square metres unless they were actually listed as allowed.

[The Doctor nodded and grabbed another Coopers as the Esky drone passed.]

Paul: “So just as the Spanish Inquisition had the Index Librorum Prohibitorum with all the banned books listed, South Australia developed a growing list of what could be sold on the weekends in the large shops and in which suburbs and at what times they could be open.

And just as the Inquisition had its Inquisitors, so SA had its Inspectors working out what could be added to the list, which side of the street the shops could be open on and then checking out the shops with their tape measures.”

The Doctor: “Sounds like a business opportunity here with the Tardis’ volume shifting capabilities”.

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