The City of Yarra bleats a lot about championing community values and protecting the community from unethical businesses, but in reality it is spineless, risk averse and incapable of achieving its goals in forcing businesses to meet their legal and ethical obligations. Take the selling of cigarettes to minors. It’s an ongoing problem that the City of Yarra could radically alter if it published the names of the offending businesses.
Many people feel strongly about businesses breaking the law by selling cigarettes to minors, including me. If I knew a petrol station or convenience store had been found to do this, I would boycott it, inform everyone of the boycott and encourage other people to also take direct action against the offending business. That is far more likely to result in a change of behaviour than a pathetic fine. Naming and shaming should be standard procedure in situations like this where community standards are violated.
On 22 April 2009, the City of Yarra published the press release Young people benefit in Yarra Council crackdown on local tobacco retailers:
Yarra City Council’s crackdown on local tobacco retailers selling cigarettes to minors is working, according to testing conducted in the municipality last week.
Mayor Cr Amanda Stone said the percentage of Yarra tobacco retailers who sold cigarettes to a person aged younger than 18 during testing conducted last week was 24%, compared with 62% in September 2008 and 31% in January 2009.
On 15 December 2009, the City of Yarra published Yarra retailers fined for selling cigarettes to teenager:
Fourteen tobacco retailers were caught selling cigarettes to a minor last week in a test purchase program undertaken by Yarra City Council.
Mayor Cr Jane Garrett said it was horrifying that nearly one in two of the retailers tested had sold cigarettes to the young tester.
Under a statewide test purchase program which is coordinated by the Department of Health in partnership with local councils, teenagers are employed to attempt to purchase cigarettes from local tobacco retailers.
“Of the 30 tobacco retailers visited by our 15-year-old test purchaser, 14 sold cigarettes to her,” Cr Garrett said.
“We are appalled that 47% of the retailers tested showed such disregard for the law,” she said.
So compliance with the law is falling. Enforcement is failing. The number of unscrupulous businesses breaking the law in the City of Yarra is increasing. What is the City of Yarra doing about it? Nothing. It’s a quiet news period, so the Melbourne Leader ran a story about it on 4 January 2010.
The problem is no one cares if they cannot relate the story to their own lives. Forcing these businesses to change could be achieved by the community as a whole if we only had the information that enabled us to act. Many consumers boycotting a business would be far more effective in forcing it to change than paying a fine. If the City of Yarra was serious about this issue, it would publish the names of the offending businesses. Anything less than complete transparency is effectively condoning their criminal behaviour.