Copping A Spray

The NSW Government is introduction legislation to control the sale of spray cans which could have serious ramifications for retailers…
From November 1, 2006 the NSW government plans to impose further restrictions on the sale of spray cans, with substantial penalties for non-compliance. The socio-economic costs of graffiti are a genuine concern for retailers, the governments, and community groups, as it represents an increase in crime – it lowers the quality of life and can decrease sales and services. During the past decade, graffiti vandalism alone cost communities across NSW over a billion dollars in damages, and research indicates that around 90% of spray paint cans (tools of the trade for most graffitists) are stolen. Consequently, in 2003, as part of the ongoing battle against this problem, the NSW Government passed The Summary Offences Amendment (Spray Paint Cans) Act 2002, making it an offence to sell paint spray cans to persons under the age of 18 years. Further restrictions were proposed in February 2006 – in an effort to tighten control over the sale of spray cans, it was put forward that they be displayed in locked cabinets or within/behind the counter, so customers could not gain access without staff assistance. While locking up spray cans would go a long way in reducing the incidence of graffiti, it would also have a significant impact on retail operations. On March 31, Yvonne Anderson, Executive Director, Hardware Association of NSW (a division of the ARA) facilitated a round table meeting where participants from both the NSW Government and the retail industry debated the implications of the proposed legislation. In order for retailers to accommodate this new legislation, a number of substantial issues were identified.

It was proposed that retailers ensure spray cans were securely displayed – this was significant as the cost of securing these cans was estimated to begin at around $2,500 (for a small business). Refitting the shop to accommodate for spray can display and storage would also be an issue, along with lost sales opportunities, additional time demands on staff to service customers, and the education and training of staff to ensure compliance with new legislation, particularly as penalties for non-compliance would be quite steep. Since April 2006, the ARA has been lobbying various government bodies, addressing the issues above and providing solutions to some of the problems. The ARA requested that the NSW Government provide financial assistance to retailers who will need to make purchases and modifications to their stores. The ARA also asked that the legislation accommodate a more flexible approach with regards to the storage of spray cans – for example, selling cans without the nozzle attached or securing them in Perspex, which would help regulate the purchase of spray cans without the burden of having them locked up. The ARA also requested that only authorised dealers be allowed to sell spray cans, which would also have the benefit of reducing the potential rise of black markets. Lastly, the ARA suggested that retailers are allowed a reasonable timeframe within which to fully understand their new obligations and ensure compliance. On May 10, 2006, the Summary Offences Amendment (Display of Spray Paint Cans) Bill 2006 was introduced into parliament, adopting some of the recommendations initiated by the ARA. A spray paint can is now considered properly secured if it is displayed in a locked cabinet, or in or behind a counter so that customers cannot gain access to them without the assistance of shop staff. The Minister also agreed to exclude certain types of cans based on the specific class or description of the spray can. Lastly, the operation of the bill will be reviewed within a minimum of two years after its commencement, to determine the legislation’s impact on retailers and its effectiveness in minimising spray can theft. However, despite their best efforts, not all the ARA’s recommendations were adopted – the government denied the request for financial assistance to help retailers comply. Also, despite the request for extra time for retailers to understand and adopt the new requirements, the government is insisting on November 1, 2006, as its commencement date. As this would be a major inconvenience to retailers in the peak Christmas season, they have put in another request to delay the legislation until Christmas is over. However, this may not eventuate and at this point in time, the commencement date continues to stand at November 1, 2006. The Summary Offences Amendment (Display of Spray Paint Cans) Act 2006 provides for the following: 1. The occupier of any shop from which spray paint cans are sold must not display any such can in any part of the shop to which members of the public are permitted access unless the can is properly secured. 2. A spray can is properly secured if it is displayed: a) in a locked cabinet, or b) within or behind a counter in such a manner that members of the public are not able to gain access to the can without the assistance of the occupier or an employee…, or c) in any other manner prescribed by the regulations. 3. The regulations may provide that this section does not apply to or in relation to any specified class or description of spray paint can. 4. The minister to review the operation of this section as soon as possible after the period of two years following the date of commencement of this section.

The Australian Retailers Association has facilitated round table meetings with retailers and the NSW Government to ascertain what should be proscribed into the regulations on how spray paint cans should be displayed and to exempt a specified class or description of spray paint cans from the legislation. These recommendations are currently before the NSW Government. As part of the NSW Government comprehensive strategy to drive down the incidence of graffiti in NSW and the review of the legislation in two years time, the NSW Government has established an Anti-Graffiti Action Team bringing together experts including sectors of the NSW Government, the Australian Retailers Association, the Australian Paint Manufacturing Federation and the Aerosol Association, to co-ordinate and implement new anti-graffiti initiatives.
The first meeting was held in July, 2006, and focused on reporting and gathering of data on graffiti incidents from various sectors of government, the removing and preventing of graffiti, government management plan and public education. As part of this overall strategy, the Australian Retailers Association has written to the major groups in the hardware industry and other bodies in NSW, to obtain data on the current status on sales of spray paint cans, prior to the legislation coming into operation and then follow this through again after the legislation is introduced. “We need to benchmark the sales and the incidence of theft of spray cans so that we have proven data when this legislation is reviewed in two years time,” said Yvonne Anderson from the Hardware Association of NSW. “The Association will require industry co-operation in obtaining this data, which of course will be kept confidential.”

If you want to know more on this policy issue contact Yvonne Anderson on (02) 9290 3766.

This article was first published in The Retail Trader. Reprinted with permission from the ARA.