There are calls for councils around Australia to immediately lift truck delivery curfews to help prevent the wave of panic buying and supermarket chaos that has become a defining feature of the coronavirus outbreak.
Queensland and NSW have both introduced regulatory changes that allow supermarkets and retailers to make deliveries around the clock, but the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) says claims that curfews are causing empty shelves are “simply false”.
Federal Labor’s local government spokesman Jason Clare says a lifting of restrictions will help supermarkets restock shelves and keep up with demand.
“Many councils have curfews on truck delivery times,” Mr Clare said. “These restrictions are important to minimise noise and disruption to local residents. But to respond to the current surge in demand it is important that local governments’ temporarily lift these curfews.
“This will help reduce panic buying and hoarding as people will regain confidence that all they need is available in the supermarket.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday called hoarding “un-Australian” and demanded that it must stop.
Supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles have both blamed the curfews for limiting their ability to restock in many local government areas.
A spokesman for Mr Clare told Government News that with empty shelves fuelling panic buying and hoarding, some councils had already acted swiftly to ease restrictions.
“It’s different council by council, there are some that have reacted very swiftly and very quickly to this even before we called for this,” he said.
State governments act
On Thursday night the NSW government signed a new State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) titled the “COVID Response” which overrides conditions of supermarket and retail development consent.
“We need to make sure these products can move from factories to shelves as quickly as possible,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Urban Taskforce, which represents the interests of the supermarkets, has applauded the move.
“In an era of delayed government responses to crises, this swift action is very welcome”, CEO Tom Forrest said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced new laws on Wednesday to vary planning conditions that restrict the operating hours of loading docks and distribution centres supplying supermarkets.
She said the changes, set to come into effect in days, would allow them to operate 24 hours a day when necessary.
“We’ve seen unprecedented demand for groceries like non-perishable food, toilet paper and other essentials,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“We need to make these changes to get products on the shelves as quickly as possible.”
General Manager of Queensland Woolworths Supermarkets Chris Peters welcomed the government’s response.
“The short-term exemption from delivery curfews will allow our teams more flexibility and additional delivery windows to respond to customer demand,” he said.
NSW issues directive on deliveries, footpaths
In a directive to NSW councils earlier this week Mr Stokes told councils the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting public behaviour and disrupting the way businesses and service providers ordinarily operate.
“Councils across the state are to support communities through this period by adopting a flexible and pragmatic approach to enforcement and compliance action,” he said.
“Some retailers, supermarkets and other businesses are struggling to meet the unprecedented consumer demand, and restrictions on delivery times and truck movements in development consents are exacerbating the situation by limiting retailers’ ability to respond to community needs.”
Mr Stokes has instructed councils to relax time restrictions and movement caps for deliveries in existing development consents and also to loosen footpath use restrictions for cafes and restaurants to encourage social distancing.
“I encourage Councils to continue to maintain open lines of communication with important service providers including retailers and suppliers as this situation evolves as new issues and challenges arise,” he wrote.
“It is important that we all work together pragmatically and consistently during this exceptional period to respond to this evolving situation.”
Local Government NSW president Linda Scott said NSW councils have already waived delivery times and taken a range of other proactive measures to ensure supermarket shelves can be restocked.
“We will continue to work closely with retailers to ensure any future issues can be identified and addressed, as this situation evolves,” she told Government News.
But MAV President Coral Ross says panic buying, not curfews is causing problems at supermarkets.
“We are bemused with some of the commentary about delivery curfews causing the lack of supply in supermarkets,” Cr Ross said.
She said Victorian councils are working with supermarkets and shopping centres to support delivery outside normal hours and a number of councils had appointed dedicated liaison officers.
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