The Australian government has announced a series of policies targeting resilience in the retail sector.
The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) welcomed the announcement as a move towards support for small businesses, with a particular focus on digital competency and the impact of natural disasters.
Insight and initiatives
On Monday, the Federal Government announced $7.2 million in funding for a voluntary cyber health check program, which will facilitate a free test of businesses’ cyber security systems. This follows an initiative providing small businesses with a $20,000 instant asset write-off and 20 percent bonus in tax deductions if they invest in green energy sources and energy efficient assets.
The ARA has long advocated for more support in these areas, citing the need for small businesses to establish digital proficiency if they are going to keep up with a modern market.
The NSW Government also proposed an assessment of the Emergency Services Levy, with a focus on reducing the cost of insurance for SMBs. As rising costs are one of the major challenges faced by SMBs in the current climate, this may relieve tension for business owners and allow them to focus on other important factors.
An industry cross section
According to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), as of June 2023 there are more than 2.5 million small businesses operating around the country. These businesses added $506 billion to Australia’s GDP in 2021-22, and employed more than 5 million people.
Retail alone is the largest private sector employer in the country, responsible for more than 1.4 million jobs and $420 billion in annual revenue.
Paul Zahra, CEO of ARA, says the increased focus on SMBs is a welcome change in a time of significant difficulty for small business owners.
“For small businesses, it is certainly a period of economic crisis – off the back of a brutal few years of disruption,” he explains.
“Our small retail community is feeling the crunch as shoppers scrutinise their spending and costs continue to increase across the board – wages, rent, utilities, insurances, and supply chain costs.
“Amid such pressure, it is very difficult for SMBs to find the time or money to invest in cyber security – making the recent announcement very beneficial.”
As Australia is currently functioning within a cost of living crisis, small businesses are struggling to grow financially and employ staff. In fact, according to American Express’ Working Capital Research, 49 percent of small businesses in Australia cite cash flow management as the most stressful part of maintaining their business. The ARA hopes that these new government policies may help the small business and retail sectors to recover after the impacts of Covid.
Looking forward, Paul Zahra stresses the importance of keeping SMBs at the forefront of decision making.
“We need extensive improvement around risk mitigation, undertaken between Government and industry.”
“This includes emergency planning and procedures, but also awareness building and education.
“Both State and Federal Governments have shown that SMB viability is on their radar, so we hope they’ll use this momentum to continue to provide support and relief for struggling small retailers,” he said.
The ARA states that financial pressures on small businesses are unlikely to ease. However, they remain optimistic that these recent announcements signal a broader change towards support for SMBs on a national level.
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