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The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) retail trade figures for February released today show negligible change from the previous month, indicating that the retail sector is still operating in a challenging environment.

According to the ABS, the seasonally adjusted trend estimate fell 0.1 per cent in February. In trend terms, each state experienced a narrow rise, except for Queensland which recorded a -0.1 per cent fall.

The ABS reported declines in clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (-2.5 per cent) and household goods retailing (-0.4 per cent), in seasonally adjusted terms.

Department stores (0.8 per cent) and food retailing (0.3 per cent) experienced growth, while other retailing, and cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services were unchanged.

NRA Chief Executive Dominique Lamb said the figures released today demonstrate the sluggish state of the Australian retail sector, and underlined the urgent need for the recent penalty rate changes to be introduced.

“The retail sector should be the engine room for job creation in the economy, however the lack of consumer confidence has attributed to the ongoing struggle for retailers.

“Once the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) decision to cut penalty rates begins to take force from July 1, retailers should have a little more breathing space,” she said.

Ms Lamb said the penalty rate changes would help businesses overcomes sluggish consumer spending, with benefits ranging from increased operating hours to spreading the wages budget further, allowing more staff can be hired.