Five Key Priorities for Retailers Ahead of Federal Election

Power Retail By Power Retail | 11 Apr 2022

In the lead up to the Federal election, which is set for 21st May 2022, the Australian Retailers Association has set five key strategic priorities that retailers should be aware of, and implement. 

On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the 2022 Federal election would be held on 22nd May. Just weeks following the announcement of the 2022 Budget, retailers need to be aware of the key issues they need to prioritise in the lead up to the event.

“From the conflict in Europe to supply chain and chronic labour and skills pressures, rising inflation and unprecedented climate events such as the local flooding – the outcome of this year’s election will set the national agenda for decades to come,” said Paul Zahra, CEO of the Australian Retailers Association (ARA). “We’ve turned a corner on COVID, but it’s left an abundance of business challenges in its wake including our biggest ever disruptor – climate change. The business community needs evidence that all parties are approaching these challenges with a long-term, strategic mindset.”

Zahra shared that despite the economic conditions looking well and unemployment being at the lowest rate since the ’70s, there are ongoing ‘deep’ concerns about the long-term social and economic resilience. “Businesses are dealing with some unprecedented challenges,” he said.

“Costs are increasing due to inflationary pressures, while staff shortages and supply chain delays are continuing to bite. Business disruption remains an ongoing concern for companies large and small with conflict abroad creating a ripple of cost pressures for retailers and their customers. We will continue to deal with these issues for months, if not years, and it is important our political leaders are focused on the long-term challenges that threaten our economic prosperity, as much as the short-term constraints,” Zahra continued.

“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. Whilst retail overall is performing well, 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. You cannot have an economic recovery without a retail recovery and the ARA’s five strategic priorities require attention from both major parties as part of their election platforms,’ he said.

“Regardless of which party forms government next month, we’ll continue to advocate for the interests of our retail members on the issues that are important to them.”

Furthermore, he shared five key strategic election priorities for retailers to follow:

1. Labour and Skills Shortages

There is an ongoing shortage of labour within the retail industry, the ARA shared. To increase the pool of candidates for retailers, the ARA recommends:

  • Retaining recent changes allowing international student visa holders to work up to 40 hours per week, and allowing working holiday visa holders to spend more of their time in Australia working for the same employer;
  • Opening our borders temporarily to bring the qualified trades into the country that we will need to get disaster-affected communities and supply chains back on their feet sooner; and
  • Providing meaningful employment opportunities for marginalised communities including older Australians, Indigenous people, people living with a disability and recently arrived migrants.

Alongside the labour shortages, border closures and ‘suspension of mutual obligations’ have curtailed further retail growth, resulting in skill shortages. The ARA explained that these issues may be addressed by:

  • Expanding programs that provide access to vocational training and career pathways to job seekers outside the current cohort of young people aged 18-24;
  • Expanding programs to include existing workers, so these employees can upskill and progress their career without having to find a new employer or move out of the sector; and
  • Expanding the Temporary Skills Shortage visa program to include hard-to-fill roles particularly in digital, strengthened by a pathway to permanent residency for roles where employers bring global talent into Australia to drive productivity and innovation.

2. Small Business Recovery

There are several challenges for at-risk categories in the retail landscape, such as CBDs, travel retail, hair and beauty, and hospitality as a result of uneven lockdowns and continued volatility in consumer spending, the ARA shared. Such challenges are facing small businesses at a much higher rate – the Association shared its tips for increased resilience:

  • Extending the SME Recovery Loan Scheme to help smaller retailers absorb higher costs, minimise cashflow impacts of higher inventory levels and amortise the repayment of debts to the Australian Tax Office and landlords over a longer time-frame;
  • Building on the collaboration between government and industry to help address short-term supply chain challenges and minimise the impact of higher supply chain costs driving inflation; and
  • Accelerating digital transformation to address the digital gap between large and small businesses, provide equal access across the digital economy and protect our sector from cyber security risks.

3. Supply Chain Resilience

Supply chain issues have plagued retailers for several months, and this is showing no signs of stopping, the ARA predicts. In fact, the challenges affecting retailers are set to prevail for a further 12-18 months. There are three key ways that resilience can be found for retailers for the time being:

  • Continuing to address land-side bottlenecks and reduce red tape at Australia’s ports;
  • Expanding support to increase local manufacturing capability where vulnerabilities exist along critical supply chains like food and healthcare; and
  • Increasing supply chain traceability and transparency to manage risks, address key societal challenges for our sector like modern slavery and incentivise innovation along the supply chain.

4. Sustainable Businesses

Retailers are facing criticism if they do not address sustainability in their strategies. Consumers are making no secret that they will abandon a retailer if they don’t approve of their ethical alignment, but the ARA believes that more must be done for a better future.

  • Accelerating the transition to net-zero emissions by incentivising investment in the adoption of proven technologies that reduce costs, consumption and emissions; and
  • Building capability of our sector by increasing awareness and providing educational resources to accelerate the transition to net-zero, particularly for small to medium-size business; and
  • Expanding the Recycling Modernisation Fund to improve the efficiency of collecting and segregating post-consumer waste; develop new markets for recycled content and circular feedstocks; and make it easier for retailers and consumers to connect with circular solutions.

5. Inclusive and Equitable Workplaces

The retail sector employs one in ten Australians, so inclusivity, diversity and equality must be at the top of businesses’ minds when hiring. The ARA highlighted that gender equality is its key focus, and is advocating for:

  • More cost-effective access to childcare for working families;
  • Meaningful and flexible return-to-work options for parents returning to the workforce; and
  • Improved financial independence of women through their working life and in retirement.

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