Retail struggle in January 2020

Late last year the Federal Government released a couple of seemingly contradictory decisions that affect thousands of small Australian retailers.  The first was to allow the sale of e-cigarettes and smoke free tobacco products for the first time, but to restrict sales to pharmacies and only with a prescription from the doctor.  The second decision was to continue the existing arrangement that allows individuals to import their own nicotine liquid for vaping.

As I said, these two decisions seem to contradict each other – one says that vaping and e-cigarette products should only be sold with a prescription, and the other says that they can be purchased and imported freely over the internet.  What concerns the NRA is that it is local Australian retailers who are missing out on the opportunity to move away from tobacco sales, as many would like to do.  If the Federal Government considers that vaping material and e-cigarettes shouldn’t be sold over the counter, that is one thing. But to allow them to continue to be sold on line makes no sense at all.

Often when we are confronted with issues such as these, the NRA has to make a decision about the position we will take publicly.  Our overriding consideration in all these types of cases is whether a decision is good or bad for our members specifically, and for Australian retailers more broadly.  The NRA is the modern voice of Australian retail, and we will always speak up for the rights and benefits of retailers.  This is something we have always done across a range of issues, whether it was fighting for a level playing field for GST on imported goods or supporting sensible and fair workplace reforms.

Sometimes taking a position earns us criticism from one side of politics, or a particular Minister or Government.  But we always focus only on the issue, not the personalities or the political colours of the government involved.  And in most cases, those involved are mature enough to see that an industry association has a right and obligation to speak up on behalf of its members.  That’s what we’re here for, and I assure you we will continue to do it.

On a similar topic, we have expressed our strong support for the work of State and Federal Governments in relation to the measures that were put in place almost a year ago, in that first rapid round of responses to COVID.  Although there were some frustrations and uncertainty at the time, all of the economic data suggests that the suite of measures – from Jobkeeper to tenancy support and tax relief – have combined to keep many businesses afloat and ensure jobs have survived.  And while there is some trepidation about what will happen once the Jobkeeper and other welfare measures are wound back in March, we know that consumers are confident and that Australian retail businesses are competitive and adaptable.  Our sector can face the coming year with a degree of confidence that would have seemed impossible just months ago.