Bill Eclairs is sad that another shopping centre he has yet to visit
might close thanks to the Westfield Greater Co-Prosperity sphere or how
competition is bad for you, the consumer.
Westfield might have a new board, but its attitude to competition won’t
change. The same hard-nosed bunch is on the new board and nothing will
change, judging by past behaviour and a case in Sydney’s southwestern
suburbs, actually right slap-bang in the middle of Mark Latham country.

If anything Westfield’s attitude has been shown at its most intense,
and some would say, worst, in the Liverpool area of Sydney over the
last few days, where 450 people, mostly young shop assistants, stand to
lose their jobs when a factory outlet centre closes.

Reports in Sydney today say the NSW Government has surprised by suddenly declaring the outlet, in Liverpool, to be illegal.

A company called Gazcorp, owns the Orange Grove Centre, which has been
trading since last November when it was officially opened by Craig
Knowles, State Planning Minister, local member and local ALP
powerbroker.

Despite that his assistant minister, Diane Beamer has refused to allow
an amendment to the LEP (Local Environment Plan) of the Liverpool
Council to allow the centre to continue trading.

(Westfield obviously doesn’t worry about embarrassing powerful NSW
ministers in its quest to crush what it sees is unfair competition).

The Government had agreed with a NSW Court of Appeals decision that the centre was trading in breach of planning laws.

The Centre is in an industrial area zoned for bulky goods, but in
January of this year the NSW Land and Environment Court said it was
operating illegally after action was launched by Westfield.

The Liverpool Council had changed the zoning of the area in November
2003 to allow a change in land use to permit the site to operate as a
warehouse clearance outlet.

Westfield, which has a large regional shopping centre in Liverpool,
launched the action to protect itself, a tactic it has either used, or
threatened on a number of occasions around the country in recent years.

Assistant Minister Beamer justified her refusal to change the Liverpool
LEP by claiming it would provide, “retrospective justification of an
unlawful land use”. But according to today’s Sydney Daily
Telegraph, the owners of the centre claim political interference.

“The Daily Telegraph last night was told that a western Sydney MP had
informed them that Mr Carr (the NSW Premier) had rung Ms Beamer
regarding the zoning- an allegation vehemently denied by the Premier”,
the paper reported in its Tuesday morning edition.

“The owner, Nabil Gazal, says the centre will close on Thursday,
throwing 450 people out of work, and he stands to lose $40
million. David Jones, Oroton and Fletcher Jones are among the
tenants.

“The closure will be challenged in the NSW Court of Appeal tomorrow.”

But seeing Westfield contributes heavily to the Labor Party, state and
federally, and this is an election year and the tin needs to be filled
to fight John Howard, you’d have to say the Labor Government of Bob
Carr would listen attentively to the Westfield side of the dispute.

Westfield is also closely monitoring the operations of a similar centre
at Homebush, in Sydney’s inner west. The DFO (Direct Factory Outlet)
complex is owned by a Melbourne company and Westfield has been checking
to make sure it sells goods at discounted prices and not normal retail
levels.

Westfield operates a big centre at nearby Burwood which it recently
doubled in size at cost of more than $100 million, a price driven
higher by delays in planning approvals and construction.

Westfield has been very sensitive to competition in the Burwood area of
Sydney. Subscribers may remember that fake group of local residents,
led by Westfield consultant, Ken Hooper, a former spin-doctor for NSW
Premier Nick Greiner.

We reported three weeks ago that the claim for $40 million from the
developers of the old Arnotts factor in Burwood (several kilometres to
the north of the Westfield centre) was not mentioned in the documents
for the recent merger of the three Westfield property groups.

Well, now its been settled, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday: Westfield settles Hooper affair with $3.5m cheque

There was a similar operation run around the same time against a move
by Woolworths in the late 90s to set up a supermarket and small Big W
store at South Granville, a few kilometres to the south of the massive
Westfield shopping centre in Parramatta.

That was exposed at the same time as the Burwood scam as being another
variation of the Westfield-backed fake local residents protest group.

Privately Woolworths was very upset, but did nothing or said nothing publicly to criticise Westfield.
Crikey has covered some of these stories before with this story on Westfield’s grubby tactics in the UK.

And of course it is done in the US, and Westfield plays very hard with
the retailers in its many centres. Hence its chagrin when ACCC chairman
Graeme Samuel claimed victory recently in a case involving a retailer
at the Indooroopilly centre in Brisbane.

Chairman and co-founder Frank Lowy got very cross with Samuel about the latter’s comments.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW