Retail struggle in January 2020

Last week I talked to you about the success of our Protecting Crowded Places program, which delivered in-person training for 48,000 retail workers in responding to an armed assailant.  We were able to provide this program with financial support from the Federal Government.

Since then, we have seen news coverage of the terrible stabbing of a police officer in a Cairns Shopping Centre.  It was one of the 8,000 locations in which we provided armed assailant response training under the program.  And it served as a sharp reminder of why such training is very necessary.

We wish the police officer a speedy recovery.  Thankfully retail staff were not involved in this incident, and we hope they never need the skills they picked up from the training.  But, as I said, this was a very timely reminder of why it’s important to have a plan to deal with an armed assailant in your retail space.

In other news, the COVID-19 vaccination program is officially underway, with the first round of recipients being immunised this week.  Hopefully the rollout of the vaccine will prove to be a giant step in returning to a world that doesn’t involve lockdowns or onerous business restrictions. Sadly, the ongoing potential for snap hard-lockdowns has meant that a constant state of uncertainty has hung over the nation.

Less than two months into 2021 and we’ve already seen three states – Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria – implement strict lockdowns. Although in each of these cases the hard-line restrictions were only in place for a few days, that is still enough to inflict substantial economic pain on businesses.

The damage of hard lockdowns was underlined in last week’s preliminary retail report for January, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The only state to experience a decline in monthly turnover was Queensland, who implemented a three-day hard lockdown after a hotel quarantine worker had contracted the highly contagious UK strain of the virus. The Queensland figures demonstrate that even a short, sharp and successful (from a health perspective) period of stringent restrictions can still have a material effect on the retail sector.

Asides from the Queensland data, the ABS report contained promising news for the rest of the country. Nationwide retail sales rose by 0.6 per cent for the month, while turnover was 10.7 per cent higher than in January 2020. It’s important to remember that assistance measures such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker have kept discretionary spending at inflated levels throughout the pandemic. With these schemes due to end in just over a month (unless there is an extension) we’re likely to see a reduction in spending levels. This further reiterates the point that neither retail nor the broader economy is out of the woods yet and it will continue to be a challenging time in the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, there has been some developments on the industrial relations front. The Federal Government has amended the Omnibus Bill to remove the two-year exception to the better off overall test. Despite the change, the Opposition continues to not support the legislation and will still vote against it in the senate. As discussed previously, while not providing a remedy for all IR issues, the NRA does support the passage of the Government’s legislation and we will keep you informed on any further updates.

All the best for the week ahead.