ChooseCBR vouchers a waste in ACT’s boom economy

Ian Bushnell 21 May 2021 34
Tara Cheyne

Business Minister Tara Cheyne said the voucher model has been improved. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 or at least the restrictions that have kept the virus at bay in the ACT hit some businesses hard, particularly hospitality.

Discount voucher programs have been one way for governments to support businesses and boost traffic through stores and venues. Business Minister Tara Cheyne has pressed on with the ChooseCBR scheme, announcing this week $2 million worth of vouchers along with improvements to the original model trialled in December that was plagued with problems and copped its fair share of criticism.

One can understand the intent, but does a COVID-free Canberra more or less back to normal really need such a scheme?

Most of the businesses involved so far are cafes and restaurants, with a few other retailers, including Adam and Eve at Fyshwick, listed under personal care along with some day spas and some other service providers.


READ ALSO: ChooseCBR vouchers announced for June with bigger discounts, more businesses


The idea is to bolster businesses during the bleaker winter months of the year, but since the curve was well and truly flattened, Canberra’s economy has powered back to its usual efficient self.

Unemployment is again the lowest in the nation at 3.4 per cent, the housing market is on fire and people have been spending up big in the shops since Christmas.

Last month’s retails numbers showed turnover in the ACT above pre-pandemic levels as shoppers poured back into shopping centres with plenty of spare cash after not being able to travel.

Plenty of them have been having the odd coffee while doing so, and paying surcharges so businesses can cover the penalty rates they don’t really want to fork out to their staff.

So in the most stable economy in the nation, with the highest average salaries and a secure public sector employment base, should government, which is already spending a motza at all levels to keep things going, hand out another couple of million to mostly well-off Canberrans to put through businesses that should really be doing OK by now?

Everybody acknowledges the importance of small business, but they have already been the beneficiary of massive government support, including JobKeeper and extended tax write-offs.

And if a business really needs a boost, will a few vouchers do the trick?

COVID-19 can’t keep being blamed for everything that is not quite right. Perhaps the answers to a failing business lie elsewhere.

It will also be interesting to see how many people actually bother to access the digital vouchers and get their discounted meal, haircut or sex toy.

I hope I’m wrong and the take-up is whole-hearted and it does make a difference for a business or two.

But this is $2 million that could be spent elsewhere, say on a few more affordable houses, or women’s shelters or school maintenance or a sports facility.

What we don’t know is how much the program has cost to model, set up and run.

That will add considerably to the overall cost.

This is more a gesture than a genuine stimulus measure, and after the trial flopped, the government should have shelved the idea and moved on.


What's Your Opinion?


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34 Responses to ChooseCBR vouchers a waste in ACT’s boom economy
Joe Smith Joe Smith 1:00 pm 19 Jun 21

Simple, Tara needs to go!

Caleb Macdonald Caleb Macdonald 9:12 am 19 Jun 21

2mil spent in a day wow great job ACT GOV

ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 11:50 am 23 May 21

Keep in mind it is only Ian Bushnell’s opinion.

    Joe Smith Joe Smith 1:00 pm 19 Jun 21

    And most of the tax paying people of Canberra.

    Joe Smith Joe Smith 1:40 pm 19 Jun 21

    Sorry should clarify, that the money should have been better spent. Although not denying real small business still needs help, I have noticed quite a few struggling and some disappeared over Covid. Chemist Warehouse McDonalds etc.. are not small business.

Feli Cia Feli Cia 11:13 am 22 May 21

Not everyone in Canberra is wealthy

Many Canberran's live pay-to-pay and still can't afford the rising cost of living with the sky-rocketing cost of housing.

Not all employment salaries are commensurate to the current living and housing costs of this time and of this growth; and many people's income is welfare.

Not all Canberran's are wealthy. Not all Canberran's can afford to live well.

Acton Acton 7:28 am 22 May 21

Tara, as you are on this forum, I object to your government raising our rates every year and then giving away our taxes as coffee vouchers to businesses who neither sought or needed them. That is not stimulus, it is wasteful extravgence and self indulgence. Ratepayers will respect a local politicial more for prudent and sensible financial mangement and not at all for self promoting antics. Cancel it.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:56 pm 21 May 21

“It’s not intended to be a subsidy scheme. It is a stimulus scheme.” says Tara.

Stimulus good, subsidy bad.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:38 pm 21 May 21

“Last month’s retails numbers showed turnover in the ACT above pre-pandemic levels as shoppers poured back into shopping centres with plenty of spare cash after not being able to travel.”

Unless there’s more granular data which shows that the increased spending is across the board – i.e. all aspects of retail, and businesses of all sizes (not just big names in the shopping malls and that powerhouse hardware retailer), the aggregate figures might be masking an uneven recovery. Smaller retailers are looking a bit less glum than they were last year, but many of those businesses still seem to be dealing with trade which is relatively light and patchy.

Tom Adam Tom Adam 6:34 pm 21 May 21

I’m really curious why the Business Chamber or even myself weren’t contacted for comment. (President of the Phillip Business Community)

I feel the article really lacks balance and doesn’t seem to serve anything but to take a stab at the Government (they are fair game) without hearing the other side.

There are lots of businesses who have great models but are saddled with a debt burden they wouldn’t have had without Covid-19, so the comment about businesses booming isn’t a fair assessment.

As one of the comments on the website says, perhaps some proper journalism on this one would have been prudent.

Still keen to chat.

Linda Stapleton Linda Stapleton 5:15 pm 21 May 21

I would have loved to see the money spent in our hospital system or welfare areas, but I am just one voter with no voice...

Jim Reid Jim Reid 3:44 pm 21 May 21

ahh yes the Business Minister Tara Cheyne MLA with no actual business experience. Please tell me more

    Tara Cheyne MLA Tara Cheyne MLA 4:23 pm 21 May 21

    Jim Reid hi Jim 👋 what would you like to know?

Steven Lloyd Steven Lloyd 1:54 pm 21 May 21

Canberra is not all wealthy a lot is struggling maybe they need to wake up and get out there and see what the real Canberra is

Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 1:12 pm 21 May 21

In other areas where a similar scheme has been in place, the most popular places to spend couchers ahs been KFC and Hungry Jacks. Sigh.

    Tara Cheyne Tara Cheyne 2:39 pm 21 May 21

    Daniel Oyston One of our eligibility criteria is that businesses need to have a turnover of $10m or less.

    Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 2:54 pm 21 May 21

    Tara Cheyne Awesome. I literally shook my head when I heard about it happening elsewhere. Although, I have no idea how much a fast food joint would turnover, am guessing it would be more than $10m

    Renee Mae Renee Mae 5:18 pm 21 May 21

    Daniel Oyston franchises are owned by individuals so your local Maccas isn't likely to turn over that much annually.

Tom Dale Tom Dale 12:34 pm 21 May 21

Does Adam & Eve really need (ahem) stimulation from the government?

    Jacinta Davis Jacinta Davis 12:59 pm 21 May 21

    Absolutely, they have staff and costs that were impacted by Covid just like the other businesses!

Jackie Fuller Jackie Fuller 10:51 am 21 May 21

Wealthy Canberra lol....

Sam Oak Sam Oak 10:37 am 21 May 21

Mark my words, uptake will be very strong simply because I can spend $20 for lunch, have enough leftovers for dinner all at the cost of $10. If I shop at a local green grocer I could get my weekly groceries for $50. This will put an absolute rocket under house prices in the ACT. The budgeted $2mil is a severe understatement, think $200mil + is more realistic. And it will all go into the property market.

annekcoll annekcoll 10:03 am 21 May 21

An idea might be to use the vouchers to stimulate the economy and if you can afford or would like to give back the amount saved as a donation to your chosen charity or a food bank in ACT? Then everyone gets something.

Julia Felton Julia Felton 10:00 am 21 May 21

Ian Bushnell I don't know where in Canberra you live but I can tell you many of us are struggling. There are so many two income families barely able to keep it together. Rents in the ACT are astronomical so is the cost of food. So if you don't need the vouchers don't get them but don't speak for all of Canberra. This stupid generalisation is as bad as people saying "Canberra" when they are actually referring to the Government or Parliament. Newsflash the bulk of politicians don't live in Canberra and they certainly don't do those that do any favours

    Cary Elliot Johnson Cary Elliot Johnson 10:12 pm 21 May 21

    Julia Felton exactly, especially the Canberra equals Parliament House. Simplesness

Ol L Ol L 9:59 am 21 May 21

Would have been better to give discounts on rates or other government charges

James Daniels James Daniels 9:01 am 21 May 21

It's the wrong support scheme delivered too late. The vouchers will mainly benefit people with strong incomes who would have spent the money anyway, meaning its more a subsidy for them rather than small businesses. It also still locks out many ACT small businesses that were struggling through the limited range of eligible industries. The trial's decision to limit to small businesses that received JobKeeper unfairly penalised some businesses that were eligible for it but decided against registering (or never realised they were eligible) . Now the expanded rollout is enabling some businesses that never needed any support to access it. A more helpful scheme would have been say $5,000 cash grants to small businesses that either received or could have qualified for JobKeeper and not limited by industry sector, paid mid to late last year when it was needed most. Many small business owners in receipt of JobKeeper for themselves would have been putting that money back into their business to pay costs other than wages and living off savings or increasing debt. Such a grant would have helped where it was most needed.

    Tara Cheyne Tara Cheyne 9:32 am 21 May 21

    James Daniels There's never been a limited range of eligible industries - not during the trial and not during the roll out now. Take a look for yourself: https://choosecbr.act.gov.au/file/download/72

    James Daniels James Daniels 12:11 pm 21 May 21

    Tara Cheyne that's an extremely limited list if you know anything about ANZSIC codes.

Bryce Jarvis Bryce Jarvis 8:42 am 21 May 21

Ian Bushnell with another out of touch opinion piece🤐

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