The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has welcomed the cost-of-living measures announced in this year’s Budget, along with support for small business to upskill staff and accelerate their digital capabilities, but called for greater investment in longer-term resilience measures as Australia faces unprecedented challenges associated with climate change.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra said businesses are navigating intense global economic uncertainty, and the Budget strikes a balance between easing short-term cost pressures, while encouraging small businesses to upskill and grow.
“Business costs are increasing, as staff shortages and supply chain delays and costs continue to bite, and we are pleased to see the government recognise the immediate inflationary pressures on vulnerable Australians which will have a flow-on benefit to retailers,” Mr Zahra said.
“However, business disruption remains an ongoing concern for Australian companies large and small with the conflict abroad creating a ripple of cost pressures for retailers and customers, and at home flooding has displaced thousands of Australians and impacted many businesses.
“Small businesses feel these impacts more given they do not have the same level of resources or cash reserves to cope with the uncertain economic environment and we are pleased to see this addressed in tonight’s Budget. Retail is Australia’s largest private sector employer, and with the sector undergoing profound labour shortages and a skills deficit, it’s important the training measures apply to retail employers both large and small.
“Whilst we recognise the merits of the government’s recycling modernisation fund, there remains enormous opportunity for growth in how we as a nation address climate change and sustainability challenges – which is Australia’s biggest disruptor. The ARA would welcome more measures to address business adaption and resilience to the impacts we are already experiencing around natural disasters such as flooding and bushfires as well as educational measures for business on sustainability adoption.
“The Government’s cost of living package, which includes a $420 tax offset for low-and middle-income earners, a temporary cut to the fuel excise, and $250 payments to pensioners, will certainly assist in the short-term, with the payments set to flow through to the retail economy. Fuel excise cuts will also help alleviate some of the skyrocketing delivery costs, which ultimately are passed onto consumers. However, challenges remain in the long-term once these temporary measures expire.
Digital and skills tax boost
“We’re pleased to see a significant investment to support small business innovation with $1.6 billion in tax relief to support SMBs to go digital and upskill their employees – an area the ARA has strongly advocated for through the pandemic.
“The pandemic has fuelled a huge acceleration in digital trends that have permanently changed the way retailers do business and where and how people shop. It’s important that small businesses are not left behind and that they’re supported to keep up with the rapid rate of innovation.
Apprentices and traineeships
“The Government has committed $2.8 billion to support Australian apprenticeships and traineeships, and we’re seeking more information as to how this may apply to the broader retail, and hair and beauty industry.
“There are 36,000 job vacancies in the retail industry, while the barbering and hairdressing industry is desperate to find qualified and skilled staff. Hairdressing has been on the skills shortage list for apprentices for 20 years, yet support is traditionally geared towards male dominated industries.
Women’s safety and security
“Women are significant component of Australia’s retail workforce, and we need to remove the barriers that are preventing them from returning to work after career breaks to have and care for children.
“We acknowledge the Government’s $482 million investment to enhance women’s economic security to support them in their return to work, along with an additional $346 million for enhanced Paid Parental Leave. This will allow working parents to share up to 20 weeks of fully flexible leave to use in ways that suit their specific circumstances.
“Domestic violence is one of our most devastating challenges as a society and we welcome the $1.3 billion investment that’s been announced to improve women’s safety.
Long term challenges remain
“While the Budget provides much needed relief in the short-term, by the way of tax offsets and cash payments, strategic challenges remain for the medium to long-term which must be urgently addressed if we are to retain our social and economic resilience.
“We cannot have an economic recovery without a retail recovery. Whilst retail overall is performing well, the business recovery remains elusive for some including CBD retailers, travel retail, hair and beauty, hospitality and small businesses who require a level of ongoing targeted support. Whilst the vast bulk of Covid restrictions have been removed, we’re yet to see much of an improvement in terms of foot traffic including the volume of CBD office workers.
“The next big global disruptor on our doorstep is climate change, and it’s playing out before our eyes with the recent floods in central Australia, NSW and Queensland. We have seen the business community take positive steps towards net-zero emissions, but this also needs to be supported by greater government action,” Mr Zahra said.