By Aimee Chanthadavong

The inaugural meeting of the Retail Council of Australia, which was held in Sydney on Wednesday, saw the gathering of a number of retail associations discussing, exchanging and raising ideas to benefit the future of the retail industry.

Chaired by Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury, the meeting will be one of many to come. The Council was established in response to the number of issues that were raised as a result of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the Economic Structure and Performance of the Australian Industry. 

The meeting saw the Presiding Commissioner of the Productivity Commission's 2011 inquiry, Phillip Weickhardt, provide a presentation on the key findings from the inquiry at the meeting. 

Speaking to RetailBiz, Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said the meeting was worthwhile as several key topics were raised.

“The overview of the PC report that was given to us gave us a human touch to how they had arrived to some of the decisions.

“We talked about the need for a broader planning for the sector with fewer restrictions. 

“We also discussed workplace relations and the fact that productivity is behind the dissension and complexity of it. We all agreed with [Bradbury’s] belief that productivity is driven by three things: flexibility, incentives and capabilities, such as education and training. We agree that retailers need to work within these parameters to achieve the level of productivity they want.

“We also talked about other issues the committee needs to look at some point and some of those we talked about were state-based such as workers compensation, payroll tax, OH&S, trading hours and how all of that inhibits on productivity.

“Another point we spoke about was employment relations and the affect it has on the industry and how best we can work around the current structure to ensure productivity gains are ensured. We’re a 24/7 business and there some people in the industry who are happy to work on the weekends not because of the penalty rates but because it suits their lifestyle and we need to address issues like this,” Zimmerman said.

There was also a discussion on the role the Council can play as an important advisory body to Government, as well as a discussion on the implications of new technology in stores and in the hands of consumers, and in particular the opportunities and challenges presented by online trading.

“But it seems the most important issue where we sat and talked about for quite a while – and we said we’ll look at it in more detail our next meeting – is the changes to technology and the way it has enabled and inhibited retailers for the future. The reason for it being an inhibitor is that we think the way we shop is going to change again…So we want to look at how this will affect the retail industry and see how it can work within those parameters and the cost for retailers and second suppliers,” Zimmerman said.

Additionally, it was noted that the Low Value Parcel Processing Taskforce is due to report to Government by the end of the month and that the Council will be consulted to assist in informing the Government's response to its recommendations.

No date has been confirmed for the next meeting but there are expectations that another meeting will be held in the lead up to Christmas. 

“It was really great to see the government engagement with the industry. And it really showed us that the Minister really wants to work with us. It shows the government’s acknowledgement of industry is an integral sector in the economy. And going forward the future,” Zimmerman said.