Terry Laidler: And talking of the Chadstone shopping centre, one of the policy planks of the Independent candidate for the seat of Burwood, Stephen Mayne, is to try and curb the growth of the retailing giants. Stephen, welcome to the program.
Stephen Mayne: Hi Terry.
Terry Laidler: That struck me as a very, very odd policy plank for you, who are basically despite all the appellations of being an independent, Stephen, you'd have to say you're a Liberal in sentiment.
Stephen Mayne: Oh, absolutely. I've been a lifelong Liberal voter. But that particular issue with the retailers is, if you look at Coles, Myer, Woolworths and Franlkins, their market share has been creeping up at about one pcrcentage point a year. Now together they're over 80%. It's a heck of a lot of market power. And similarly you've got the big shopping centres, particularly Westfield and Lend Lease have now got 50 shopping centres between them.
Terry Laidler: The way to handle anti-competitive pressures in a marketplace is surely not on a spot-fire basis, not on an 'I don't like what's happening in retailing at the moment' or 'I don't like what's happening in this area'. We need a structural mechanism that makes competition work generally, don't we?
Stephen Mayne: Well, no. I think you do get situations where you unbundle. In Britain, for instance, they're forcing power companies to offload their power stations because there's only two big players; there's not enough of them. So I actually believe that the Labor party regrets, in hindsight, having allowed Coles and Myer to merge back in 1985, and if they continue to gain at one pcrcentage point a year there will come a point where the regulator should say: 'look, three big players is just not enough and we think that each of you should be required to sell off, say 10 percent of your portfolio to create more competition'. You really are seeing the shopping centre power combined with the big retailers just squeezing the strips. Particularly it's a big issue in Burwood where there's no major shopping centre and Chadstone's just reopened with a $150 million refurbishment. There's more than 20 strip shopping centres in the seat of Burwood and they're going to be severely affected.
Terry Laidler: But if I live in that area I choose to go to the shopping centre because I can get undercover parking, I have ease of access to shops because I don't have to fight amongst cars to get from one shop to another - why can't I chose to do that. Aren't the retailers simply responding to what I as a consumer want?
Stephen Mayne: I guess so, but my argument is that it's all happened too fast. That the big guys have been encouraged to much with the laissez faire planning regulations they've been allowed to get all their huge expansions up. And then when you introduce 24 hour trading that's further hurt the strips and the small guys. So just before the election Jeff Kennett gave $20,000 to the Toorak Road strip shopping centre (in Burwood) as part of the StreetLife program, basically admitting that these guys are really hurting and he had to provide them with some Government assistance.
So, I just think that it really has gone just a little bit too far too fast and that the market power of both the shopping centres and the big players is too great and there should be further scrutiny of them.
Terry Laidler: Stephen I've just checked your press release for spelling mistakes and it seems to me perfect. I know that you're now entitled to stand for election in the electorate, why are these crazy issues about spelling and where people live coming to the fore in this campaign?
Stephen Mayne: Well I guess there aren't particularly sexy local issues out there - I think there are some interesting issues; but they just haven't been focused on. And so I guess it's come down to the credibility of candidates. Obviously Labor's been pushing issues with the Liberal candidate; her issue with the Commonwealth Bank and some planning issues that she had and I guess if you go to one people in Flemington and you tell them you live there and you go to the people of Burwood and you tell them you live there, there is a credibility issue and Labor just trotted that out.
And today you had the Liberals immediately on the back foot and said 'well, let's trot out Labor's spelling mistakes to make them look silly'.
Terry Laidler: But do you think the electorate is interested in matters like that?
Stephen Mayne: Well, no. I think everyone's looking pretty silly and the electorate's already down enough on politicians as it is, and this certainly is not going to help it.
Terry Laidler: So what are the issues the election should be fought on in your view?
Stephen Mayne: There are statewide issues and there are Burwood-specific issues. Statewide, my argument is there's now three distinct groups in the Parliament. And the people of Burwood have got to decide whether they want to keep Labor in there with a knife-edge one seat majority, or they'd prefer a three seat majority which would mean more stability for the state. If you prefer a three seat majority, then you've either got to vote Labor or for someone else. So I'm arguing that I don't think the Liberal candidate is particularly good, and therefore they should vote for a Liberal-leaning independent, who will also balance up the pro-bush priority of the existing independents. I think there's a big chance of an overreaction and too much money going to the bush and not enough going into the city and into the suburbs, particularly. So, if there's an independent who's sharing the balance of power and who's from the city I think that's an important balancing mechanism in the Parliament, the way it stands.
Terry Laider: Stephen your involvement originally was very directly as a protest against what you saw as the lack of accountability of the previous Premier and his Government. The previous Premier is gone; the newly consitituted Liberal party at least in its commitment to the independents charter showed that some of those accountability issues had been taken on board. What are you standing for now?
Stephen Mayne: There's a couple of points. There's an element of poetic justice, in that I was the only one of 400 nominators or candidates who was rejected and ruled ineligible. So I thought well, I tried the first time, I accepted it, but I though I was a bit unlucky to be the only one of 400. So there's an element of poetic justice. Another point is I'm a bit disappointed Labor hasn't gone a bit further on the ethics issue - I think there's a very good case for setting up an ICAC in Victoria - an Independent Commission Against Corruption - which they have in New South Wales. But they haven't gone for that. They seem to have considered it and then discarded it. I think there should be an ICAC in Victoria. Similarly, they seem to be already getting a bit close to the Packers and umming and arring about an inquiry into Crown. Well I think it's an absolute lay down misere that there should be a far-reaching inquiry into Crown. Not just the tender process, but, more importantly, all the things that happened afterwards and all the changes and how we finished up with the biggest casino in the world in the middle of the city and generating great profits for the shareholders (especially Lloyd and Ron in Hudson Conway and the Packers).
Terry Laider: One of the - dare I say it - more zany proposals that you've got in your policy platform is to buy back City Link.
Stephen Mayne: Yes. I'm actually a CityLink shareholder. I bought the shares more so I could go to the annual meeting and ask questions, rather than trying to make money.
Terry Laider: You mean you've got more than one of them? You're well off!
Stephen Mayne: Two, yes! It's about $3500 worth. But, basically what's happened is they should never have built the world's biggest toll road in the middle of a public road system. And particularly for places like Burwood and Camberwell and those sort of suburbs. They've already got very high accident rates, and the leafy streets of Camberwell are going to have a whole lot of toll dodgers crowding their streets and causing problems. That's one of the downsides of having a private toll road in the middle of a public road system.
Terry Laider: Is it a private toll road that's the problem, or a toll road?
Stephen Mayne: I think both. Because I think if the government bought it, I think the shares now are as cheap as they're going to be for the next five years, basically there's political risk for Transurban, there's engineering risk and there's technological risk.
Terry Laider: There's still a good profit in them even if they're as cheap as they're going to be?
Stephen Mayne: It is. My view is they have a contract basically to take about up to $10 billion in toll revenue over the next 33 years. So if you could buy it now for $3 billion, it's actually going to be a bargain. And the Government's in a position to exert the political pressure to negotiate a good price. Now the Treasury Corporation of Victoria is sitting on $7 billion in cash which has still not been repatriated on the debt from all the electricity privatisations. I think City Link would be more than happy to hand over all of their problems.
Terry Laider: And then no-one would then have the tolling problem.
Stephen Mayne: That's right, and you'd have a free toll road. You don't have all the issues of toll dodging causing problems in other suburbs. The State can well afford to buy the project because Alan Stockdale did such a good job in fixing the balance sheet. And it's just good public policy.
Terry Laider: Say, Stephen, if we go back to your Liberal credentials, it flies right in the face of the theory that's very prevalent in those circles at the moment that infrastructure is best developed in the private sector.
Stephen Mayne: Some infrastructure; power stations for instance. But I think there's serious issues about things like a toll road. I strongly believe that public should fund roads, because if you're going to privatise, you should privatise it all. You can't be half pregnant. The world's biggest toll road going right through the heart of Australia's second biggest city in a network where there aren't other toll roads. It just doesn't fit.
Thanks for your time this afternoon.
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