Scentre Group said the health of customers, its retail partners and the public was its “highest priority.”
“We have very high standards of cleanliness and hygiene across our centres and have adopted the necessary precautions in our operations,” it said.
Scentre followed correct Queensland Health protocols in its Westfield Carindale mall and was advised by the health department the individuals involved didn’t pose any risk to customers, retailers or employees, it said.
“As a precaution, the relevant retailers closed their stores temporarily for deep cleaning. Centre management also conducted additional cleaning. We continue to follow the advice of health authorities,” the group said.
Premier – which owns Smiggle, Peter Alexander, Jay Jays, Just Jeans and Portmans stores across the country – announced yesterday it would stand down staff and shut more than 900 stores across the country for four weeks, during which it told landlords it intended to pay no rent.
Other retailers, including Mosaic Brands, Adairs, Lovisa and Accent Group, followed suit, also saying they would also not pay rent during the shutdown.
In response, landlords said Premier’s action was “premature” and the company had a “legal obligation to pay rent”. John Gandel, who owns half of Australia’s largest mall Chadstone alongside major landlord Vicinity, told The Australian Financial Review businesses needed to “work together”.
“Most of the landlords are trying to help and to accommodate people where necessary. Everybody has their own obligations, it’s not just the tenant. It’s a circular thing,” he said.
In response, Mr McInnes today challenged landlords over their commitment to “Team Australia”, asking them why shopping centres continued to trade, and what occupational health and safety measures malls had put in place to ensure the safety of retail employees.
He also questioned what levels of financial assistance had been provided to retail tenants in order to keep jobs secure and if all cases of coronavirus-positive shoppers had been reported to tenants.
“The answers to these questions will determine whether any retail landlord has the right to talk about Team Australia,” Mr McInnes said.
The peak body for Australia’s landlords, the Shopping Centre Council of Australia (SCCA), said it had received direct feedback about some landlords who were not “engaging with the empathy” required during these times, although it didn’t specify which companies.
“This is surprising, and if correct, very disappointing and frustrating to hear,” the SCCA said. Scentre and Vicinity are both members of the industry group.
SCCA’s members have agreed to make sure there are no lease terminations for non-payment of rent for small to medium-sized businesses as a result of the pandemic.
“It is vital that our industry, as a key part of the economy and our local communities, work collaboratively with government and our SME retailers to support their cash flow and jobs across the economy,” it said.
Scentre holds 219 Premier stores in its portfolio, amounting to 0.8 per cent of the company’s gross lettable area. Vicinity has 117 stores in Premier Investment’s portfolio in our centres, equating to 0.7% of GLA.
Dominic Powell writes about the retail industry for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Simon Johanson is a business journalist at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Carolyn Cummins is Commercial Property Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald.