“We also acknowledge the strong performance of the Greens and many Independents who campaigned in the policy areas where most Australians want to see change, namely climate and gender equality. These challenges are strongly on the retail agenda and we welcome the opportunity to engage on these issues.”
Noting that the election has occurred in the tightest labour market in more than 50 years and with a backdrop of surging inflation, Zahra highlighted some of the challenges that businesses in the retail industry are facing.
“Business costs are increasing, while staff shortages and supply chain delays are continuing to bite. Disruption remains an ongoing concern for companies large and small with conflict abroad creating a ripple of cost pressures for retailers and their customers,” he said.
“Recovery remains elusive for many including CBD retailers and small businesses, who require a level of ongoing targeted government support.”
Here are some further reactions to the election results from Ben Kearney, CEO of the Australian Lottery and Newsagents Association (ALNA), Marc Reid, CEO of manufacturing and distribution company Group48 and Peta Granger, industry advisor.
Action on issues that matter
Granger was glad to see the election of a political party that is committed to taking action on climate change and gender equality, noting that businesses and consumers have been ahead of the government on these issues for years.
“It seems clear that Australians want more inclusive and progressive leaders and this election represents a new era of politics which will need to harness the value of diverse voices, deep listening and collaborative relationships,” she told Inside Retail.
“Rather than targeting trans kids or pandering to the far right, we will hopefully see action on issues that have meaning – like real climate action, an Indigenous voice being enshrined in the constitution and a strong women’s agenda.”
Focus on the rising cost of living and inflation
Reid welcomed the Labor Party’s commitment to reducing the cost of living and ensuring real wage growth, saying it would help boost consumer confidence and thereby benefit retailers. But only time will tell if the Albanese government is able to do so, he said.
“I’m very pleased that the Labor government has already stated that it will support the already announced reduction in company tax rates and the low value asset write-off schemes. This enables greater investment in business resulting in increased productivity which benefits all,” Reid told Inside Retail.
Concern about increases to the minimum wage
While real wage growth is needed to drive consumer spending, Reid is also concerned about big increases in the minimum wage under Labor.
“Many retailers are doing it very tough with cost of living expenses also impacting the cost of doing business significantly. Wage increases in the vicinity of 5 per cent, as indicated by the Labor government, would put unsustainable pressure on many businesses already struggling,” he said.
“Wage growth will occur via natural supply and demand markets and with unemployment at record lows, we are already seeing this in many industries.”
Desire for retail specific policies
Granger and Kearney called for more specific policies addressing the needs of retailers and small businesses, such as the labour shortage and sluggish foot traffic in the CBDs.
“The retail industry, and most customer facing industries, need desperate help with workforce supply,” Granger said.
“One of the clearest ways to drive workforce participation is providing universal childcare. It also creates more jobs and boosts the economy, let alone the education and life changes it provides for young people, or the wellbeing of women who have shouldered so much additional unpaid care work over the pandemic.”
She said the immediate reopening of migration, investment in TAFE and free certification in critical retail skills such as customer service, business management, financial literacy and leadership would also help support a stronger workforce in the future.
Noting that trade unions were given special mention in a speech by the Prime Minister-elect on election night, Kearney called for increased support for small businesses in the CBDs.
“The retail sector faces a confronting change in foot traffic as a by-product of the pandemic. And this is an area that our nation’s new leadership has not addressed to date and should consider as a pressing economic limitation that is being felt by retailers, especially in CBDs where high footfall was once guaranteed,” he told Inside Retail.
“Government and government departments who are in CBDs have an important role to play in supporting the sustainability of these vulnerable businesses.”
Uncertainty over parliamentary makeup
With a greater number of Green and Independent members in parliament, Kearney and Reid expressed some uncertainty about how decisions will be made going forward.
“Our completely reorganised government is one which will now mean there are a greater number of voices in the room. This both has the potential to make change slower and more complex to enact, as well as increase the opportunities for small business retailers to be heard,” said Kearney.
Reid highlighted the need for stability.
“While Australia has avoided a hung parliament and has a Labor majority, there is still some uncertainty on how the increase in independents in government will influence decision-making efficiencies,” he said.
“I hope that there is a clear path forward that retailers can work with and plan for. Stability is important to give both businesses and consumers confidence to invest.”