Keynote speech at the Retail Leaders Forum, Melbourne

I would like to thank the organizers for hosting this important and timely annual Retail Leaders Forum and I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome everyone and thank you for being here today.

As Minister for Jobs, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Businesses, I am pleased to offer my support to the forum and to express my gratitude and thanks to all those who participate in it.

I understand that there is a full program to work on over the next two days, in which case I intend to keep my opening remarks brief to allow for as much discussion as possible.

I want to acknowledge up front that this continues to be a difficult time for businesses across Australia, including those in the retail sector, where, as we know, a significant number of large , medium and small family businesses operate.

The Morrison Government is committed and remains committed to making Australia’s recovery a priority as we continue to find our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Retail will play a key role in this recovery.

Over the past two years, COVID-related lockdowns have had a significant impact on various industries. The retail sector has been hit hard – small businesses in the retail sector have been particularly hard hit.

In response, the government introduced a number of economic support programs to help small businesses recover as we began to take our first steps to opening up the economy while protecting the health of Australians.

This included more than $290 billion in direct economic support that has been committed for households and businesses in response to the pandemic.

The government has provided significant support to small businesses and family businesses through key initiatives such as:

  • JobKeeper Payments,
  • Boost Cash Flow measurement,
  • Guarantee scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises,
  • Instant write-off of assets,
  • Full Temporary Expense,
  • assistance in hiring apprentices and interns, and
  • Extended and Accelerated Income Support and Early Release of Superannuation and Tax Assistance.

Despite this unprecedented level of support, we know that more can always be done to help business owners and employees, including those in the retail sector.

This forum provides a unique opportunity to hear the views of key stakeholders as we examine current issues impacting the sector as Australia’s economic recovery gathers pace.

While many retailers have been hard at work during the COVID-19 pandemic, this forum provides an opportunity to examine what the retail sector can do to grow and thrive.

There is a lot to do as we see signs of recovery and it is clear that the retail sector is leading the recovery across a number of key economic indicators.

In January 2022, retail sales were up 9.5% from September 2021 since the end of the Delta shutdowns and throughout the Omicron outbreak.

We also know that consumer preferences for online shopping have been heavily impacted by the pandemic. Online retail turnover has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic, with January 2022 levels 102.4% higher than December 2019.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by Australian businesses and consumers. This follows a period of significant growth in online sales over the past decade, which has resulted in unprecedented growth.

According to the ABS, in July 2013, online retail sales accounted for only 2.1% of all sales in the retail sector. Compare that to January 2022, where online sales accounted for 11.1% of all retail sector sales.

This not only shows how resilient the economy is, but it also demonstrates a paradigm shift in how Australian consumers are engaging with the retail sector and how the retail sector is seizing the opportunities to engage with consumers in Australia and globally.

But we are not out of the woods yet. Consumer confidence was heavily impacted by the Omicron outbreak and has struggled to recover since the start of the year.

The title of the forum says it all: “Securing a Strong Economy for Australian Retailers”. While the essentials of commerce remain, there are elements of securing our future, of a new way of seeing and doing things, that need to be explored.

Today, I am pleased to announce the Morrison government’s plan in Budget 2022-2023 for a brighter future for small and medium-sized businesses through the following measures:

  • We’re cutting red tape by providing $1.85 billion in immediate cash flow support in 2022-23 to help Australia’s 2.3 million small businesses and sole traders using pay-as-you-go;
  • Automated installment calculations for 2.3 million small businesses;
  • Facilitate the pre-filling of state tax returns through data sharing to make it easier for more than 170,000 small businesses to meet their payroll tax obligations;
  • Eliminate duplication and enable smarter reporting of taxable payments, which will benefit the 190,000 businesses required to complete an annual report on taxable payments;
  • Digitization of trust tax returns for the benefit of the 30,000 trusts that still use paper returns; and
  • Align reporting requirements for the 1,200 small excise remitters who report quarterly.

This set of measures will allow small businesses to realize huge savings by cutting red tape and reducing the cost of doing business.

The retail sector is helping pull Australia out of the COVID-19 crisis. As we know, with crisis comes opportunity. It is encouraging to see that the bright minds of the retail industry are coming together in this forum to consider options and show leadership.

I encourage you to use this forum to think about how the retail businesses you represent could benefit from the issues raised and discussed over the next two days.

Whether it’s a new way to grow or expand your business, embrace new ways of working, or get the most out of people, systems and data. I encourage you to make every effort to immerse yourself in the program and take advantage of the opportunity to network.

To save time, I will leave my opening remarks here. I wish you all the best as you face and meet the challenges ahead of you. And I am confident that those of you in this forum will play a key role in securing a strong economy for Australian retailers.

/Public release. This material from the original organization/authors may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author or authors. See in full here.

Melvin B. Baillie