Trevor Queen Street

Today’s official retail trade figures for December have confirmed the NRA’s predictions of steady and “sensible” spending by Australian consumers in the lead up to Christmas. The figures showed spending during the pre-Christmas period (the final six weeks of the year) reached $44.63bn – only just above our prediction of $44.5bn.

Sales in December grew by 4.0 per cent in trend terms, compared with December 2014, with almost all states experiencing even growth. Again, this is very much in line with the forecasts produced by the National Retail Association’s data analysts in early November.

These figures suggest the growth we were seeing in November was carried through to December and the core Christmas trading period. The strongest areas of retail were household goods – particularly electrical and electronic goods – as well as hardware and clothing.

Earlier this week, the NRA launched our quarterly industry research publication, Retail Connect, which we believe will prove to become a very valuable information tool for both retailers and policy makers. The first edition of Retail Connect showed that the sector is poised to break the $300 billion dollar mark for the first time, during this financial year. Based on a modest 4.6 per cent growth projection, the industry will generate sales of $299.2 billion dollars in 2015/16. If the 4.8 per cent growth achieved last year is repeated, sales will easily exceed $300 billion.

Retail Connect also shows that the number of individuals employed in the sector reached 1.312 million in December – a record high. The demand for labour is expected to continue growing throughout 2016, with job vacancies on track to reach a record high by June. All of this underlines the growing importance of the retail sector as a driver of growth and employment in the Australian economy. The NRA will continue to produce our Retail Connect report each quarter, in order to create a time series snapshot of the performance of the sector.

Last week I foreshadowed the NRA delegation’s visit to Canberra, which has taken place in recent days. The association had a very favourable reception from the Prime Minister, as well as other Ministers and senior Government personnel. I’m pleased to report that the Prime Minister is well attuned to the importance of the retail sector to the national economy, and was very keen to hear our views on issues affecting retailers. The Government has also advised that the long-awaited legislation to close the GST loophole has been drafted and will be debated in the Parliament in coming weeks.

As a result of the Canberra delegation, the NRA has been invited to participate in discussions next week with the Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash, as she works to finalise the Government’s industrial relations policy ahead of the election. This discussion will be based on the recent report by the Productivity Commission, and the NRA will use the opportunity to argue very strongly for the adoption of the Commission’s recommendations relating to weekend penalty rates.