RETAIL mogul Solomon Lew and the chief executive of his billion-dollar fashion group, Mark McInnes, have launched a scorching attack on the federal government's reluctance to dump the $1000 GST-free threshold on items bought from foreign websites.
In a feisty double-team assault, Mr Lew and Mr McInnes used Premier Investments' annual meeting on Tuesday to argue for elimination of the tax advantage enjoyed by foreign online retailers, which they argued had cost thousands of jobs and contributed to the collapse of businesses such as Borders, Colorado and Fletcher Jones.
Citing several reports, Mr Lew said 22,000 jobs had been lost in retail in the past year, with another 30,000 expected to disappear in the next three years.
''My message to the government is that we have all run out of time,'' Mr Lew told shareholders in Premier Investments, his majority-controlled investment vehicle that owns Just Jeans, Portmans, Smiggle, Peter Alexander and other fashion brands.
''Change needs to be made right now, and if the government needs any further proof of what's at stake I have one word for them - jobs!'' Mr Lew said.
Last week a GST review by former New South Wales premier Nick Greiner and former Victorian premier John Brumby recommended consumers pay GST on overseas purchases made on the web.
Mr Lew and Mr McInnes took particular aim at the government for its failure to adopt the recommendations of a string of inquiries to drop or scrap the $1000 GST-free threshold, saying they were fed up with the excuses and delays.
''In every other comparable country, governments have recognised the need to deal with this issue as a serious matter of public policy and have already acted while our government plays process games,'' Mr Lew said.
''It is very hard to compete when your own government is on the side of foreign competitors.''
Mr Lew, a former Reserve Bank board member, said he had discussed the matter with high-ranking government ministers.
''The ministers' response was 'We will look into it', the famous mirror trick, 'we will look into it','' Mr Lew said.
''I went to see Wayne Swan in 2010 and, of course, I explained to him what was going on and he used delaying tactics - formed an inquiry, then a second inquiry and a third inquiry and nothing has happened.''
''It's like an episode of Yes Minister,'' Mr McInnes said. ''We will form a taskforce to form an inquiry to form a panel. So we've had the Productivity Commission in favour of it, the low-value parcel processing taskforce report in favour of it, independent Labor and Liberal [former] premiers, Nick Greiner and John Brumby, report in favour of it and the fact is we are still left with it.''
He also raised the question of national security as tens of thousands of parcels came into Australia unchecked by Customs.
''No security, no checks no safety checks, consumers, people with different motives, could be bringing anything into this country under $1000, and no other Western government in the world has allowed it.''
He called it an ''appalling policy''.
Of trading conditions, Mr Lew said the macro environment remained challenging but the season heading into Christmas had started well for Premier Investments' retail chains. But, he said, it was too early to make predictions about the first half as the company's entire result rested on the next six weeks of trade.