Premier Investments chief executive Mark McInnes has slammed the federal government's refusal to lower the GST-free threshold on imported goods.
He said Australia was almost a laughing stock to overseas retailers who are shipping container loads of goods into the country and bypassing GST and other tax duties.
At a Trans-Tasman Business Circle lunch on Friday, Mr McInnes said the current GST-free threshold on imported products must be lowered to $20 from the current $1000 to ensure investment and competition in the retail sector, as well secure the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people who work in the industry.
Mr McInnes, who at Premier looks after a portfolio of fashion retail brands such as Dotti, Portmans, Just Jeans and Smiggle, said retailers in Australia could not compete with overseas players who were avoiding the GST that local retailers were forced to pay. "It's almost impossible to compete internationally when the government doesn't allow for a level playing field."
He said recent estimates showed the government was missing out on $1 billion in GST revenue because of the loophole on imports.
He also raised the issue of security as packages came into Australia and were not being checked: "These packages are not checked; there are no safety checks on the goods coming in, particularly in kids' wear, and you can understand the strict standards that we have to keep to. And there are no threat checks on any parcels coming in under $1000 - no other country allows this."
Mr McInnes said he was in Britain last week to talk to people about Premier Investments' growth prospects and they "almost laughed" at the fact individuals could bring up to $1000 in goods into Australia without paying GST.
"They are almost laughing at us as a country to say that our government will allow this to go on when the GST threshold in Britain is £15 ($22)."