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AACS: ELECTION ISSUES UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT

May 7, 2019

Senator Michaelia Cash recently said: “It is in our DNA as Liberal and Nationals to back small and family businesses.” Shadow Small Business Minister Chris Bowen claims to share the view that small business is a key election battleground as he spruiks Labor’s relevant policies.

Now, as voters prepare to head to the polls, the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) has urged the Coalition and Labor to take heed of the vote influencing significance of giving small business a fairer go when it comes to competing with the major chains.

“Small business is invariably trumpeted as the backbone of the economy every time an election comes round, as the major issues facing small business operators and their employees are predictably elevated in public conversation by politicians eager for votes,” says AACS CEO Jeff Rogut.

“Now it’s time to walk the talk. This election promises to be close and many people are undecided as to which way they’ll cast their vote. Our Association represents over 6,000 convenience stores, employing some 40,000 people, and our industry is a major contributor to the national economy.

“Further, convenience stores are pillars of the local communities they serve and as customers make a trip to our stores part of their daily routines, we are also a barometer for consumer sentiment in many ways. And our customers typically agree that the issues affecting small business deserve greater recognition,” he says.

Recent independent research commissioned by the AACS reinforces the point. SMR Global recently investigated the attitudes and opinions of consumers of voting age on a range of key issues affecting the convenience industry in Australia, including the legalisation of e-cigarettes, the illicit trade of tobacco and permitting convenience stores to sell packaged alcohol.

The findings are compelling – especially in terms of the potential for these issues to influence people’s votes:

• 48% of all Australians (smokers and non-smokers) feel strongly enough about the legalisation of e-cigarettes for it to influence their vote.
• 51% of all Australians (smokers and non-smokers) would consider changing their vote if the major parties differed in their response to tackling the illicit tobacco trade.
• 45% of consumers support convenience stores having a licence to sell packaged alcohol, while 24% of people are neutral and just 31% oppose the idea.

Mr Rogut says the findings show that average hard-working Australians want a fairer go for small businesses.

“There is a groundswell of support for real measures that promote a more level playing field so small businesses like convenience stores can more effectively compete with the larger supermarket chains,” he says.

“If small business is the key battleground on which this election will be won and lost, as both parties have acknowledged, then it’s time for actions to usurp words and for politicians to commit to working with industry to advance some of the policy areas that are holding small businesses like convenience stores back from reaching their full potential.”

Some of the key areas the AACS is pushing for reform in include:

• Progressing the development of an appropriate legal framework for the sale of e-cigarettes, to make information on the potential benefits of these products more widely available and accessible through convenience stores, following various international examples;
• Cracking down on the illicit trade of tobacco, currently estimated to cost the Australian Government over $1.9 billion in lost tax revenue each year;
• Securing the right for convenience stores to sell packaged alcohol should they so choose; and
• Securing improved support from Government and law enforcement authorities in taking a zero-tolerance approach to crimes committed against convenience stores.

While these issues cross State and Federal lines in terms of Government responsibility, the AACS believes a coordinated effort from Governments at all levels is necessary to provide the proper support small businesses need.

“Our industry has consistently called for deregulation in the packaged alcohol market to enable convenience stores to participate as stores around the world are able to do,” Mr Rogut says.

“It’s time to open up new economic opportunities to new players as the packaged alcohol market is currently dominated to an unsustainable extent by the two major grocery chains, through their various brands and outlets.

“Legalising the sale of e-cigarettes is another economic opportunity for convenience stores that comes with the added benefit of delivering significant positive health outcomes in the community. These products have been very effective as an alternative to help people quit traditional smoking.

“They can also be a profitable category for convenience stores, as the sale of legal tobacco naturally declines. It makes no sense for Australia to deny consumers access to a product that could potentially improve their health.

“Failing to legalise the sale of e-cigarettes is fuelling the black-market trade of these products. As the huge growth of the illicit tobacco trade in Australia shows, criminals are capable of filling gaps in the legal market with inferior quality, potentially dangerous products. Our research shows people are more aware and more concerned about the scourge of illegal cigarettes permeating their local communities,” he says.

On the issue of crime, the AACS believes there is considerable scope to bolster the law enforcement and judicial response to better protect the people in the convenience industry.

“It is unacceptable for anyone to face the fear of a violent crime being committed against them in the course of their work. Smarter deterrents and tougher penalties are part of the response we’re calling for to protect the people in our industry,” Mr Rogut says.

Further information:
Jeff Rogut
Chief Executive Officer
Australasian Association of Convenience Stores
Ph: +61 467 873 789

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