The National Retail Association (NRA) has been representing the interests of the retail, fast food and broader services sector in Australia for nearly 100 years. As the largest and most representative retail industry organisation, the NRA delivers specialised knowledge and industry specific expertise to their members – who range in size from the smallest corner store to the majority of Australia’s major chains and franchising groups.
The NRA acts as a “lifeline” to their members, providing easy and affordable access to industry specific advice and guidance. NRA staff members – the people on the other end of that lifeline – are highly trained and well qualified. They are people who have accumulated decades of industry specific knowledge and experience, and can guide NRA members on issues around employment law, enterprise bargaining, anti-discrimination, regulator concerns, tenancy and leasing, and more.
`Gary Black, Executive Director, is one of those qualified people. He has been with the NRA for roughly 10 years, before which he worked in industrial relations, as well as the hospitality industry in various roles.
“Our core business model hinges on the delivery of professional services,” Black says, explaining what he feels is the NRA’s most important function. “The core service is the employment law service. Unlike any other retail association, we have a substantial in house legal team who specialises in the delivery of advice to retailers on their rights and obligations under the regulatory regimes across the states.”
Acting in an advisory and educational role is the NRA’s core business, but they also have “extensive programs of engagement with government at all levels,” Black adds.
“We have fairly regular interaction with the compliance bodies or the regulatory bodies, as well as government, on issues of importance to the retail sector,” he explains. “We try to maintain constructive relationships at all levels of government, with both government and opposition. There are differences from time to time, and there is some tension in these relationships from time to time, but at all times we are honouring our obligation to advance and protect the interest of the retail sector.”
In recent years, the NRA has been very active in making their voice heard regarding the development of the new consumer law, as well as reform for industrial relations law. They also regularly present submissions to governments centred on the review of leasing legislation or the adequacy of retail shop trading hours. NRA has also delivered a range of educational programs related to the introduction of the national workplace health and safety law.
NRA spends a significant amount of resources in the area of retail loss prevention. In New South Wales in particular, the NRA has developed a very collaborative approach with the police and Attorney General’s department to try and secure a more effective response and a better resourced response to retail crime in that state. A number of new initiatives have been implemented which the NRA expects will lead to a reduction in retail crime and a reduction in wastage for retailers.
As part of their core mission, the NRA also hosts events – all of which are centred around or complement the provision of professional services. Examples include occupational health and safety master classes, briefings on new consumer law, and – most notably – they host a Young Retailer of the Year award.
That prestigious event, which they been running for 38 years, helps profile retail as a career of choice for young people, and helps promote the achievements of young retailers in the field. For the last couple of years, the prize for winning that title has been a free ticket to the Westfield Study Tour, valued at $16,000.
The NRA is also very green-focused, and is dedicated to educating retailers on the environmental and economic benefits of improved environmental performance. “We are committed to encouraging retailers to implement environmentally sustainable practices and reduce their use of energy, water and waste. The idea is to increase profitability whilst caring for our environment,” Black says.
“In particular, NRA promotes initiatives dealing with reductions in energy, reductions in waste, and more efficient methods of disposing waste,” he explains. “Environmental projects have been the catalyst for us to liaise directly with retailers about sustainability and environmental reform. It’s apparent to us that this is an area that the retail sector does have a significant interest in.”
“NRA is very keen to promote practices that help retailers reduce their operating cost – particularly in the context where retail will incur significant additional cost with the introduction of the carbon tax,” he continues. “There is an imperative that retailers commence work early in this area to find ways of diminishing what will be a significant cost increase.”
Preparing for that impending tax is just one of the challenges posed to the NRA and its members. According to Black, the policy issue most worth considering is the exemption from GST and duty tax for low value imports.
“When consumers as individuals purchase goods via the internet, as long as the goods they purchase fall under $1000 there is no requirement on the seller – in this case being the foreign entity – neither to collect GFC nor to pay duty,” Black explains. In clothing, for example, duty is 10 per cent and in footwear it is five per cent, so the current arrangements create an uneven playing field for domestic retailers in the global marketplace.
“Domestic retailers are competing with one hand tied behind their back against foreign retailers who don’t need to charge these costs back to the consumer,” says Black. “The domestic retailers have to.” This matter was subject to a Productivity Commission review, which the NRA made numerous submissions to. Subsequently, they commissioned a report by Ernst & Young that established if the playing field is not levelled up to 33,000 jobs will be lost in the Australian domestic retail sector.
The NRA is currently making representations to political parties at both the state and government level, asking them to take action against “an arrangement that makes it very hard, if not impossible, for Australian online retailers to compete with foreign online retailers.”
“It’s just not a sustainable position for the Australian online retailing sector and it’s a reform urgently needed,” Black says.
Right now, Black explains, the industry is undergoing a transformation attributable to weak demand, a reduction in retail’s share of the total consumer spend, and to the rapid growth of internet shopping. “Whereas retail generally might have accounted for 36 per cent of the total consumer spend 10 years ago, it’s now 31 per cent,” he says.
“That sort of decline is really emphasised by the high Australian dollar, which has seen a large scale diversion to fund overseas travel,” he continues. “There’s been an exponential growth in the number of Australians travelling overseas for leisure.”
This makes for an active time for the NRA, as governments are constantly releasing regulatory proposals that the Association has to work hard to make the necessary representations on. Black says it is challenging, but they are managing it through hard work and dedication.
“What we’re seeing is this major transformation of the sector, and it will take some years for the Australian retail sector to emerge from this period of change,” he concludes. “But it will emerge from it far more efficient, effective and competitive.”