Media Release

Australian Retailers Association Executive Director Russell Zimmerman said that while “abject” January data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, with annual retail sales growth of 1.96%, reflected the impact of bushfires, it was a siren call to government to desist from anti-business policies and get serious about reform.

Mr Zimmerman said bushfires were always going to affect today’s numbers – with Coronavirus yet to impact ABS data – but said weak demand for over a year meant the federal government had to get serious about reform.

“We expected these numbers from the ABS, showing year-on-year retail sales growth in January of 1.96%, to be bad, but this is worse than we thought: it is fair to describe them as abject,” Mr Zimmerman said.

“Taken with a view over the past 18 months – in which tough retail conditions were widely observed and reported on – we think the government has a role in remedying structural issues affecting the sector,” he added.

Mr Zimmerman said there was little to cheer in the January numbers, with Takeaway (4.33%) and Liquor (3.64%) the only categories to record significant improvement. All other categories either stagnated or went backwards.

“Similar trends are evident on a state-by-state basis in January, with Tasmania (5.70%) and Queensland (4.88%) the only standouts when these results are broken down on a regional basis,” he said.

Mr Zimmerman said the ARA was frustrated with state and federal governments, with the federal government refusing to engage on issues posing risks to the viability of retailers, and state issues such as public holidays.

“Retail has copped a lot of flak over the past year or so in the face of issues nobody wants to address,” he said.

“We sought to engage on complex Awards but were all but labelled wage thieves. We argued against a banking Royal Commission recommendation that threatens jobs and businesses, but appear to have been ignored. While it’s a December issue, we said a Christmas Eve public holiday in Queensland would cut trade and staff hours, and it did, but were told we didn’t know what we were talking about,” Mr Zimmerman said.

Mr Zimmerman said abject January retail figures were a clarion call to the federal government to end its obsession with anti-business policy adventures and take reform seriously, saying issues faced by retailers reflected the economy more broadly, and that dodging meaningful reform due to political timidity was no option.

“With unemployment back up to where it was 18 months ago, GDP and wage growth moribund, and consumer confidence clearly shot to pieces, it’s obvious the tough conditions retailers are facing are not unique,” he said.

The RBA this week cut interest rates to record lows, which does not suggest a robust economy either,” he added.

Mr Zimmerman said the government needed to undertake industrial relations and taxation reform, saying it was clear that fiddling around the edges and adding to the regulatory burden faced by business was compounding the effects of natural disasters and other external factors that were choking the life out of the economy.

“When the Minister would rather run with a union-led crusade on “wage theft” while refusing to speak to business, instead of simplifying and making more flexible the framework in which it operates, it speaks volumes,” he said.

“We call on the Minister – not his advisers, but Christian Porter himself – to meet with business to discuss his “wage theft” activities and IR issues generally, which he has flatly refused to date to do,” Mr Zimmerman said.

“We call on the government to end its fixation with anti-business legislation and get on with reform,” he added.

Mr Zimmerman said low consumer confidence – shown by January retail figures, rising unemployment, falling interest rates and low GDP growth – meant the Commonwealth needed to urgently consider stimulus measures.

“Whether that’s pulling legislated tax cuts forward, or some kind of monetary incentive to consumers directly or something else, I don’t know; but obviously there’s a real economic problem the government is going to have to confront if it doesn’t want to preside over a possible first recession in 30 years,” Mr Zimmerman concluded.


Monthly Retail Growth (December 2019 – January 2020, seasonally adjusted)

Food retailing (0.38%), Other retailing (-0.07%), Cafés, restaurants and takeaway food services (-0.25%), Household goods retailing (-1.06%), Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (-1.10%), and Department stores (-2.24%).

South Australia (0.08%), Queensland (-0.05%), New South Wales (-0.14%), Victoria (-0.21%), Tasmania (-0.47%), Northern Territory (-0.53%), Western Australia (-1.12%), and Australian Capital Territory (-2.29%).

Overall month-on-month sales growth: -0.28%.


Year-on-Year Retail Growth (January 2019 – January 2020, seasonally adjusted)

Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (2.84%), Food retailing (2.71%), Other retailing (1.68%), Cafés, restaurants and takeaway food services (1.29%), Household goods retailing (0.93%), and Department stores (0.65%).

Tasmania (5.70%), Queensland (4.88%), Australian Capital Territory (1.48%), Western Australia (1.67%), Northern Territory (3.08%), New South Wales (-0.27%), Victoria (2.54%), and South Australia (0.98%).

Overall year-on-year sales growth: 1.96%.


ENDS: to interview Mr Zimmerman, or for more details: Tim Janczuk (m) 0431 045 373 (e) media@retail.org.au

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