The Westfield Shopping Centre in Moorabbin is known to locals as Southland. It has been a feature of the local landscape for more than two decades, situated prominently on Nepean Highway, which it now literally crosses to another large complex of retail stores from a more recent expansion.

The massive carparks that surround this and other similar shopping centres provide free parking for customers — but this may be about to change.

These shopping complexes are massive with dozens of smaller and larger retail stores under the same three or more storey complex that includes dentists, optometrists, doctors and accountants. The various floors are connected by escalators and a couple of lifts. The northside of Southland is also connected to the surrounding suburbs by buses near the entrances.

Pensioners have long enjoyed these shopping centres and up until recently management catered for them. At Southland there was a waiting room near the bus terminal and taxi rank and staff to call taxis for the elderly. There was also a trolley minding service with refrigeration so that shopping could be down in a “couple of bites” to save pushing heavy trolleys. Frozen goods could also be stored to leaving time for a “cuppa” with friends — friends made from the routine of shopping among fellow shoppers and staff.

Three years ago the trolley service was wound up and the waiting room closed. The economic benefits to Westfield of this approach are likely to be non existent at best. Pensioners and others have since ended their shopping trips earlier and a far less likely to hang around and spend more having cuppa’s with friends. For some that had been loyal customers for a decade or more it simply meant they could not shop there at all.

Toilets were closed too. One became a shop and another has been closed “temporarily” for the last six weeks. For female pensioners shopping in the old Southland this has made finding a toilet — over near the eateries and cinemas, an epic or worse — a nightmare.

This shopping complex has also evolved into an entertainment precinct encouraging people to spend some hours eating out and going to the movies with free parking a major bonus. Three months ago pensioners who drove over found notices under their windscreen wipers telling them that they had “parked for more than two hours”. They were furious. It takes three to four hours for most to do their shopping. Those who were eating out after shopping or had taken their family to the movies and “hung around” spending money were equally incensed at this warning of parking restrictions to come.

Now Kingston council has announced a deal with Westfield to “manage” its carparks — a cute legal arrangement to allow those who park too long to be fined by a council wanting more parking fine revenue.

The uncontrolled greed of local council and multi national shopping centre magnates has merged to screw the very customers — and ratepayers — that have funded their empires.

It is likely that it is this very corporate behaviour that has driven the current global economic crisis so called. It is also likely that Australia has not seen the worst of it, while such opportunities for the corporate and local government sectors to commit economic suicide by greed still exist.