Ahead of the Australian Federal election, which has been scheduled for 21May, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has outlined the fivestrategic priorities it would like to see addressed.

The election is occurring amidst intense global, social, and economicuncertainty, requiring resilience measures to be a focus from all parties,says ARA CEO, Paul Zahra.

“From the conflict in Europe to supply chain and chronic labour and skillspressures, rising inflation and unprecedented climate events such as the localflooding – the outcome of this year’s election will set the national agendafor decades to come.

“We’ve turned a corner on Covid, but it’s left an abundance of businesschallenges in its wake including our biggest ever disruptor – climate change.The business community needs evidence that all parties are approaching thesechallenges with a long-term, strategic mindset.”

The five strategic priorities that the ARA would like to see addressed bywhichever party forms the government next month, include labour and skillsshortages, small business recovery, supply chain resilience, sustainablebusinesses, and inclusive and equitable workplaces.

  1. Labour and skills shortages

The retail sector remains acutely impacted by a shortage of frontline workersthat pre-dated the pandemic. Increasing the pool of candidates for retailerscould be achieved by:

• Retaining recent changes allowing international student visa holders to workup to 40 hours per week, and allowing working holiday visa holders to spendmore of their time in Australia working for the same employer.

• Opening our borders temporarily to bring the qualified trades into thecountry that we will need to get disaster-affected communities and supplychains back on their feet sooner.

• Providing meaningful employment opportunities for marginalised communitiesincluding older Australians, Indigenous people, people living with adisability, and recently arrived migrants.

In addition to these labour shortages, retail growth is also being curtailedby a skills shortage exacerbated by border closures and the suspension ofmutual obligations over the past two years. This shortage of skilled labourcan be addressed by:

• Expanding programs that provide access to vocational training and careerpathways to job seekers outside the current cohort of young people aged 18-24.

• Expanding programs to include existing workers, so these employees canupskill and progress their career without having to find a new employer ormove out of the sector.

• Expanding the Temporary Skills Shortage visa program to include hard-to-fillroles particularly in digital, strengthened by a pathway to permanentresidency for roles where employers bring global talent into Australia todrive productivity and innovation.

  • Small business recovery

The uneven impact of lockdowns and continued volatility in consumer spendinghas created significant challenges for several at-risk categories such asCBDs, travel retail, hair and beauty, and hospitality. The ARA is concernedabout the viability of small businesses that have been disproportionatelyaffected by the pandemic and natural disasters. Retail resilience could besupported by:

• Extending the SME Recovery Loan Scheme to help smaller retailers absorbhigher costs, minimise cashflow impacts of higher inventory levels andamortise the repayment of debts to the Australian Tax Office and landlordsover a longer timeframe.

• Building on the collaboration between government and industry to helpaddress short-term supply chain challenges and minimise the impact of highersupply chain costs driving inflation.

• Accelerating digital transformation to address the digital gap between largeand small businesses, provide equal access across the digital economy andprotect our sector from cyber security risks.

  • Supply chain resilience

The challenges impacting the retail supply chain are predicted to prevail foranother 12-18 months. The ARA welcomes collaboration between government andindustry in addressing some of these challenges, however we believe supplychain resilience can be enhanced by:

• Continuing to address land-side bottlenecks and reduce red tape atAustralia’s ports.

• Expanding support to increase local manufacturing capability wherevulnerabilities exist along critical supply chains like food and healthcare.

• Increasing supply chain traceability and transparency to manage risks,address key societal challenges for our sector like modern slavery andincentivise innovation along the supply chain.

  • Sustainable businesses

Stepping up efforts to establish a more sustainable sector is critical toretail success. The ARA has launched its Net-zero Roadmap for the Australianretail sector and sees a number of opportunities to accelerate the transitionto the low-carbon, circular economy of the future by:

• Accelerating the transition to net-zero emissions by incentivisinginvestment in the adoption of proven technologies that reduce costs,consumption, and emissions.

• Building capability of our sector by increasing awareness and providingeducational resources to accelerate the transition to net-zero, particularlyfor small to medium size business.

• Expanding the Recycling Modernisation Fund to improve the efficiency ofcollecting and segregating post-consumer waste; develop new markets forrecycled content and circular feedstocks; and make it easier for retailers andconsumers to connect with circular solutions.

  • Inclusive and equitable workplaces

Diversity, equality and inclusion is a core priority for retailers, a sectorthat employs one in 10 Australians.

The ARA’s key focus is on gender equality, where it is advocating for:

• More cost-effective access to childcare for working families.

• Meaningful and flexible return-to-work options for parents returning to theworkforce.

• Improved financial independence of women through their working life and inretirement.

Representing many of the largest employers in the country, the ARA and itsretail members has outlined the sectors’ priorities in its Position Statementfor Gender Equality, in-line with the United Nations Sustainable DevelopmentGoals.

Zahra said while Australia’s economy is tracking well with low unemploymentand strengthening retail sales, deep concerns remain around our longer-termsocial and economic resilience.

“Businesses are dealing with some unprecedented challenges. Costs areincreasing due to inflationary pressures, while staff shortages and supplychain delays are continuing to bite. Business disruption remains an ongoingconcern for companies large and small with conflict abroad creating a rippleof cost pressures for retailers and their customers,” Zahra said.

“We will continue to deal with these issues for months, if not years, and itis important our political leaders are focused on the long-term challengesthat threaten our economic prosperity, as much as the short-term constraints.

“Small businesses feel these impacts more given they do not have the samelevel of resources or cash reserves to cope with the uncertain economicenvironment. Whilst retail overall is performing well, recovery remainselusive for some including CBD retailers, travel retail, hair and beauty,hospitality and small businesses who require a level of ongoing targetedsupport.

“You cannot have an economic recovery without a retail recovery and the ARA’sfive strategic priorities require attention from both major parties as part oftheir election platforms.

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

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