By Aimee Chanthadavong

Council of Small Business Australia has called on for a shopping centre code of conduct to be introduced to protect small businesses from bullying and unfairness.

COSBOA CEO Peter Strong believes a code of conduct will protect retail tenants from being bullied by corporate landlords such as Westfields, Federation Centres, Stocklands and QIC.

"The large shopping centres in Australia have become gulags where the landlord acts more like politburos who command and punish rather than team members who work with others to do the best for the customer, the tenants and the community,” he said.

Strong suggests the code would be based around landlords having proven open dialogue with tenants, a consideration of health of the people who are tenants and consultation with tenants on the running of the shopping centre. He also said there should be transparency about the distribution of costs.

"Initially we propose that this code be developed by landlords and retailers as a voluntary code, facilitated by an organisation such as the ACCC. This then sends a message to potential tenants of a large mall, that if the landlord is not a signatory to the voluntary code then that must mean they intend to be a bully and potentially destroy the finances and health of the small business and the person who owns that business,” he said.

“It means they do not wish to be brought to account and are afraid of fairness and transparency. Those who sign the code will be proven as fair minded and professional businesses."

However, Shopping Centre Council of Australia executive director Milton Cockburn has told RetailBiz a code of conduct is not necessary as retailers are already protected by a number of state regulations.

“The shopping centre industry is one of the most highly regulated industries in Australia. In every state and territory we have substantial pieces of legislation which governs just about every aspect of the shopping centre transaction starting from before a lease is signed,” he said.

“Just to give one example, the Queensland Retail Shop Leases Act is 102 pages long and contains 135 sections. The relevant retail leases acts in other states are of similar lengths.

“For Peter Strong to call for a code of conduct for shopping centres displays abysmal ignorance about this particular industry. I would also point out that in New Zealand and in most other countries in the world there’s no such thing as retail tenancy industry. Retailers in these countries just got on with the job of retailing instead of continually asking for the many state protections that COSBOA continually requests.”