“An election stunt:” ARA dismisses pre-Christmas public holiday push in Queensland

The Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association, Russell Zimmerman, has weighed into debate on making Christmas Eve a partial public holiday in Queensland, saying it is “just a pre-election stunt.”

With the ARA fully supporting Ai Group’s view on the issue, Mr Zimmerman said public holidays created before elections simply lifted business costs for political self-interest rather than showing any real regard for voters.

“With flat GDP figures revealed yesterday, weak July retail trade figures, and other markers of a slowing economy – weighed against a state election next October – this is just a pre-election stunt,” Mr Zimmerman said.

Mr Zimmerman said the state government’s own modelling showing a $137m increase in wage costs for affected businesses, and that there was a limit to what businesses could absorb under the guise of “workers’ rights.”

“This might sound just fine on a superficial level to anyone who thinks they might make a quick buck, but if shops close because they can’t afford the impost, there won’t be anything extra to argue over,” he said.

Mr Zimmerman said rhetoric from the Queensland government about reductions to Sunday penalty rates in some industries as a justification for the change only told the convenient half of the story.

“The Queensland government and unions want to run that message, but fail to mention the fact penalties after 6pm on weeknights and Saturdays actually increased, which diminishes their argument” Mr Zimmerman said.

Mr Zimmerman said any business employing staff under the General Retail Industry Award would be affected.

“One practical consequence of this change, if formalised, will be to shift the traditional last-minute Christmas Eve shopping rush to 23 December, as many businesses will simply close at 6pm,” Mr Zimmerman suggested.

“This will be especially noticeable if Christmas Eve falls on a night usually subject to late-night trading.

“Then there’s what I might term the “convenience store effect:” businesses trading throughout Christmas that already pay penalties over a 48-hour period will have that impost extended by another six hours,” he said.

“Retailers don’t operate “surcharge collection” businesses; they don’t have a mechanism to load prices to cover increased costs, and it creates the absurd situation that a multi-site retailer would pay its staff in Coolangatta one rate on Christmas Eve and its staff a few hundred metres away in Tweed Heads something else,” he said.

Mr Zimmerman said the argument advanced by the state government that a Labor administration in South Australia made a similar change seven years ago was not a sound basis upon which to base policy decisions.

“Just because one government makes a poor policy decision doesn’t mean everyone should do it,” he said.

“Any attempt to create a sense of inevitability on that basis is devoid of credibility,” he added.

Mr Zimmerman noted wage growth would help boost GDP but said this proposal wasn’t the way to achieve it.

“Rather than trying to get a quick political sugar hit, governments of all colours would be more effective at boosting jobs and wages by working to reduce business taxes, red tape, energy costs, and other imposts that stifle the ability of enterprises to hire more people and pay them more,” Mr Zimmerman concluded.

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