Food trucks are not the enemy

I am very disappointed in the Adelaide City Council's decision to reduce the number of food trucks that can operate in our CBD. Read my speech to Parliament on why we should support new businesses. 

Food Trucks Speech

SA Parliament - Chris Picton MP - 28 October 2015

Let's talk about food trucks. These are not some new invention, they are not part of some digital disruption or the internet age. Arguably they go back to the 1870s in Rhode Island in the United States when Walter Scott sold sandwiches from a truck to hungry journalists right outside the newspaper offices. Some 145 years later, the most important local government authority in our state is tying itself in knots about these trucks. First they did not allow them, then they did allow them, then they thought that maybe they had allowed them too much, then as of yesterday afternoon they decided they had allowed them about the right amount, then last night they decided to allow them less. These conservative councillors are making a mockery of themselves.

Credit must go to the Lord Mayor Martin Haese for he has changed his position on food trucks. He said he originally saw them as a significant threat to local food businesses but after looking into the issue and meeting with food truck vendors, he later realised that there were not that many food trucks compared to the number of other food businesses, and the food trucks that are in Adelaide were not really making that much money at all.

Unfortunately last night he was rolled. Last night his councillors, led by Liberal member Houssam Abiad and the want-to-be candidate for federal Adelaide, changed his policy to only allow 10 trucks during the day. Where did the impetus for this last minute change to the policy come from? The Advertiser reports that:

Commercial lawyer Greg Griffin spoke at the meeting representing prominent city land owners including the Polites Group, the Karidis Corporation, the Makris Group and others   and raised the idea of limiting the number of food trucks allowed to operate during lunch hours.

So, this was not some groundswell of small businesses but the owners of buildings throughout Adelaide who charge those local small businesses sometimes exorbitant rents for often substandard properties. The big property owners in our city hiring expensive corporate lawyers to go into the council and argue to limit these businesses that should dare to start up in the city without hiring space from one of those companies' properties.

When Barry Humphries addressed the SA Press Club earlier this year, he started his address by 'acknowledging the traditional owners of this land... the Polites family'. Clearly, he was not far off.

The Liberal Party holds itself out as a champion of small businesses but what this episode has shown is that Liberals like on the Adelaide City Council are really just champions of those existing property empires, defending intergenerational wealth and privilege, whereas we in the Labor Party actually support new businesses.

We want to break down the barriers for entry for small businesses to make them as low as possible, whether they are tech start-ups, food businesses, food trucks, retail shops, online or through pop-ups, whether they need property or whether they do not. A low barrier to entry means more people can participate and help grow our state's economy.

We have many innovative property owners and developers in this state. They are investing real money in upgrading historical building properties and building new apartments and commercial buildings. They are competing with the traditional Adelaide property owners and winning over residents, offices, retailers, hotels and restaurants, looking for five-star rather than two-star rental space to base their businesses in. These people are not worried about a couple of pesky food trucks and I would argue that these property developments are bigger threats to those who choose not to invest in our city than any food truck.

 When things go bad, it is easy to blame others. Earlier this year, the closure of The Stag had people screaming that food trucks and pop-ups were to blame, not that it was somehow a bad business. Of course, as predicted, The Stag has now reopened with new entrepreneurial investors in place.

It has been argued on radio this morning by Mr Abiad, that business people have said to him, 'We have an oversupply problem. Why are you supplying more to the market?' Well I say to that, 'Where does the Adelaide City Council get off thinking that they have any role to play in business supply at all? What is their role in deciding how many businesses or what form they should take?' Far from supporting the free market to determine the right outcome, these conservatives view their role to turn on or off the tap to business activity in the city.

The truth is that these conservatives hold themselves out as capitalists but really they are protectionists who do not support the benefits of competition in this state. They are interested in the current vested interest of keeping their share of the pie rather than growing the pie.

Like the Premier, I am concerned about what this means for entrepreneurship in Adelaide and our reputation as a vibrant city. I am committed to working with the Premier and the government to explore all possible actions that the government could take to overturn this decision. I am taking advice on whether to introduce a private members bill into this house to overturn the decision. I hope that the Adelaide City Council, though, reverses this decision before that is necessary.


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