Australia’s largest retail industry group, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has welcomed the investment in health, transport, tourism, sustainability and skills in today’s Victorian budget and says it will continue discussions on upskilling the retail sector and underpinning a long-term, sustainable retail recovery.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra said that after two years of disruption, the overall retail sector is showing strong signs of recovery but some retailers are still trying to get back on their feet, particularly in Melbourne CBD. While the Victorian economy is expected to grow by 5.5% this year (albeit off a lower base due to lockdowns) with above-trend growth to continue into the short-term, some retailers in key retail precincts are still in recovery phase and were looking for more direct support from government.
“The roadmap of major events, the investment in creative arts and regional tourism, and the relaxation of borders is good news for retail, with more consumers and tourists spending more across the Victorian retail sector. While retailers across the state will be beneficiaries of that increase and inflow of economic activity, we would like to see targeted investment to bring more people back into the Melbourne CBD, which drives 20.7% of Victoria’s Gross State Product.
“Retail is one of the state’s largest private sector employers, and so we applaud the significant investment in vocational training and reforms to the VCE and VCAL, outlined in the budget. These measurers will help create meaningful career pathways for more young Victorians – in particular those going into hair and beauty, hospitality and specialised retail roles, which are suffering from an acute skills crisis. We will continue our discussions with government to ensure that retail is integrated into these programs so we can expand the pool of retail-ready job seekers for the sector and help retailers retain key talent through their career – from the shopfloor, into specialist retail and managerial roles.
“We also welcome the strong recovery in workforce participation rates amongst women and younger Victorians, who were hardest hit by the pandemic. With unemployment and underemployment in the state at record lows, providing meaningful training and career pathways for all Victorian’s will be increasingly important and we acknowledge the positive steps that the government is taking to get more women, younger people, First Nations people and recently arrived migrants into work.
“Given unprecedented pressure on the retail supply chain over the past few years, today’s commitment to invest in Victorian’s ports, road and rail infrastructure is important to business recovery across the country, given the critical role that Melbourne and Victoria play in the national retail supply chain. With government estimating that Victorian freight volumes will ‘more than double by 2050’ the investment in the Port of Melbourne, road networks in the city and in the regions, and regional rail will help to address some of the pinch points in the supply chain that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“The investment to help industry invest in renewable energy and transition to the low-carbon economy of the future is also welcome and builds on previous commitments made by government to accelerate adoption of the circular economy. While our members won’t directly benefit from these measures, we recognise that these measures will make it easier for our members to work with their partners to achieve their own ambitious targets, as we work towards net-zero emissions as a sector. We look forward to productive discussions with the Victorian government on strengthening industry collaboration in this area.
“Women represent 65% of the retail workforce, and the ARA welcomes the investment in women’s health measures, domestic violence support and the additional investment in early childhood learning, providing working families with universal access to kindergarten. Additional commitments to the Indigenous and LGBTIQ+ communities will also be welcomed by our members, given the rich diversity of the retail sector,” said Mr Zahra.
As predicted, the key focus of the budget papers is a record investment in the Victorian public health system, including hospitals, health workers, emergency response and mental health.
“The impact of health outcomes on economic outcomes has never been clearer. We recognise the importance of investing to protect and maintain the health of the Victorian community and applaud the governments’ record commitment to strengthen the state’s health care system.
“The Victorian government is to be congratulated for navigating the Victorian community and economy through the pandemic, with strong economic growth broadly in-line with the growth in retail trade projections for 2021-22.
“We look forward to strengthening our relationship with the Andrew’s government to ensure that retail continues to recover and thrive in the coming year,” said Mr Zahra.
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