Release type: Transcript


Retail Leaders Forum – opening remarks


The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business

Grand Ballroom, Pullman on the Park, Melbourne
23 March 2022

**Check against delivery**

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

As the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, I am pleased to offer my support to the forum and extend my appreciation and thank all who are taking part.

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

I would like to acknowledge from the outset, that it continues to be a challenging period for businesses across Australia, including for those in the retail sector, where as we know, a significant number of large, medium and small and family businesses operate.

The Morrison Government has and remains committed to making Australia’s recovery a priority as we continue to find our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The retail sector will play a vital role in this recovery. 

Over the last two years, the COVID lockdowns had a significant impact across various industries. The retail sector was hit hard – small businesses in the retail sector were hit particularly hard. 

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

This included over $290 billion in direct economic support that was committed to households and businesses in response to the pandemic. 

The Government provided significant support for small and family business through key initiatives such as:

  • JobKeeper Payments, 
  • Boosting Cash Flow measure, 
  • Small and Medium Enterprise Guarantee Scheme, 
  • Instant Asset Write-Off, 
  • Temporary Full Expensing, 
  • help for hiring apprentices and trainees, and
  • extended and accelerated income support and early release of superannuation and tax support. 

Despite this unprecedent level of assistance, we know that more can always be done to assist business owners and employees, including for those in the retail sector.

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

While many retailers have been doing it tough during the COVID-19 pandemic, this forum provides an opportunity to consider what the retail sector can do to grow and prosper. 

There is much that can be done as we see the signs of recovery and it is evident that the retail sector is leading the recovery across a number of key economic indicators. 

As of January 2022, retail trade turnover increased 9.5 per cent from September 2021 since the end of the Delta lockdowns 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 beginning of the pandemic, with January 2022 levels 102.4 per cent higher than December 2019. 

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by Australian businesses and consumers. This comes on the back of a significant growth period for online sales over the last decade which has resulted in unprecedented growth. 

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

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

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

The title of the forum says it all – ‘Securing a Strong Economy for Australia’s Retailers’. While the essentials of retail remain, there are elements of making our future secure, 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 the 2022-23 Budget for a stronger future for small and medium businesses through the following measures:

  • We are reducing red tape by providing immediate cash flow support of $1.85 billion in 2022-23 to assist the 2.3 million Australian small businesses and sole traders that use pay as you go instalments;
  • Automating the calculation of tax instalments to 2.3 million small businesses;
  • Facilitating pre-filling of state tax returns through data sharing to make it easier for over 170,000 small businesses to fulfil their payroll tax obligations;
  • Removing duplication and enabling the smarter reporting of taxable payments which will benefit the 190,000 businesses required to complete a Taxable Payments Annual Report;
  • Digitalising trust income reporting to benefit the 30,000 trusts that still use paper returns; and 
  • Aligning reporting requirements for the 1200 small excise remitters that report each quarter. 

This package of measures will deliver huge savings for small business by slashing red tape and reducing the cost of doing business. 

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

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

Whether that be a new way to grow or expand your business, to embracing new ways of working, or to making the best use of people, systems and data. I encourage you to leave no stone unturned as you immerse yourself in the program and take the opportunity to network.

In the interests of time I will leave my opening remarks there. I wish you all the best in meeting and beating the challenges that lie ahead. And I am confident those of you in this forum will play a key role in securing a strong economy for Australia’s retailers.