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Retail Coalition campaign revs up

Monday, 17 January 2011 | By Michelle Hammond

The Retail Coalition is to issue documents to the Australian Securities Investment Commission to incorporate its activities, enabling it to hire staff and ramp up its campaign to remove the GST tax-free threshold for goods bought online.

 

The campaign came under fire recently after it launched a $200,000 campaign in the form of full-page advertisements in major Australian newspapers, calling for the Government to remove the tax threshold.

 

Current tax laws allow consumers and wholesalers to avoid GST on imported goods under $1,000 bought from overseas online retailers.

 

Led by retail heavyweights Gerry Harvey and Solomon Lew, and major retailers Myer and David Jones, the Retail Coalition argues traditional retailers are under threat from online operators.

 

Keen to ramp up its campaign, a draft corporate document is currently being circulated between Retail Coalition members, with reports signaling the document could be signed off by all members as early as this week.

 

As a corporation, the coalition would be able to hire staff, including political lobbyists in Canberra, and commission consultants to research the impact of internet retail sales on traditional retailers.

 

The coalition believes the group’s formalisation and the appointment of a chief executive will allow a new voice to call for a more serious and unemotional debate on the issue.

 

Last week, the National Retail Association, representing 3,700 small retailers, joined the Retail Coalition, followed by domain name reseller and web hosting firm Netregistry.

 

Netregistry founder Larry Bloch says it is important to stand up for small retailers being affected by the growth of online retailing.

 

“We’ve been noting over the last six months or so a great deal of anxiety among small businesses around trading conditions,” Bloch says.

 

Bloch believes Australian consumers will eventually acknowledge the consequences for local businesses, as a result of online purchases, and will be prepared to pay “a buck or two more” to support local industry.

 

“Nobody wants people to stop shopping online – it’s simply about a fair and level playing field for small business,” he says.

 

Meanwhile, the Furnishing Industry Association of Australia, which represents Australian furniture manufacturers, is the latest industry body to support the campaign, arguing Australian jobs will be lost if the Government doesn’t remove the tax-free threshold.

 

According to Rohan Wright, FIAA general manager for Victoria and Tasmania, the furniture industry faces a constant battle against “uneven and unfair policies” which benefit international competitors.

 

“International manufacturers already have many advantages over Australian furniture manufacturers, with comparatively tiny labour costs, low regulatory overheads and the strong Australian dollar,” Wright says.

 

“With almost 70,000 Australians working in the local furniture manufacturing industry, there is too much at stake to hand such an advantage to overseas competitors.”

 

“It is only natural for consumers to shop around for the best deal, which often can be found online, but as online sales grow, offering opportunities – as well as challenges – to Australian retailers and manufacturers… is essential.”