Council of Small Business Organisations Australia chief executive Peter Strong has accused major retail landlords of failing to accommodate shop owners who are struggling because of the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Strong said shopping centre owners such as Scentre Group, the owner of Westfield centres, needed to “sit up and pretend they are part of the community for a change”.
“They are acting as if nothing has happened. I’m hearing from members they are struggling and the big landlords like Westfield are not listening to them. There is no compassion,” Mr Strong said.
“Their whole attitude has always been ‘if one shop falls over, there is another one to take its place’. Which is just an appalling attitude.”
Mr Strong said there had been an increase in foot traffic in supermarkets in the past month because people were panic-buying.
“So I think (landlords) are in gaga land thinking everything is OK. And it is not.”
Mr Strong’s criticisms came after Premier Investments chief executive Mark McInnes warned its retail stores — which include Jay Jays, Portmans and Just Jeans — would shut unless landlords cut rents.
“Since the outbreak we have closed two stores in Hong Kong and we are prepared to close many more stores globally if landlords do not respond to the current crisis,” Mr McInnes said.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Scentre Group chief executive Peter Allen said Westfield centres would remain “open for trade during the crisis”.
“We are also working with our retail partners as they manage their business through this volatile period,” Mr Allen said.
Other major retail landlords include Vicinity Centres, AMP Capital, Lendlease, Stockland and GPT Group.
A Vicinity Centres spokeswoman said the group was “continuing to maintain an open dialogue and support our retailers as key business partners”.
Shares in Scentre crashed by 16.3 per cent on Wednesday to close at just $1.80 and Vicinity Centres was off by 10.9 per cent to $1.30.