15 March 2024

Letter from the Editor: the end of the Green Shed is not the end of the world for op-shopping

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Vinnies opened a new store in Braddon last year. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Change is hard. We all know that.

And ‘business is business’ would be the other axiom that applies to the tender lost by the Green Shed this week for recycling goods at Canberra’s tips.

I’ve been around long enough to remember when Revolve lost the same tender to the Green Shed and there were similar howls of outrage. This time, Catholic charity Vinnies won a competitive open tender process with the ACT Government.

They will keep the current tip operations open and have offered to absorb the jobs when the Green Shed owners exit the business.

The Green Shed has done a fine job over the past 13 years. The owners and team have been generous community donors, friendly faces and a reliable source of all sorts of odds and ends that delight the hearts of collectors and scavengers alike.

They’re good people and deserve the love the community gives them. They know their trash and delving into their stock turns up treasures (including some of my furniture).

But the Green Shed is not a charity; it’s a privately owned business that engaged in a competitive tender process. As happens with these things, they lost the tender because Vinnies was able to show a better return for the ACT Government.

READ ALSO Shock as Green Shed contract goes to Vinnies

Plenty of commenters have alleged this is all, somehow, the ACT Government’s fault. How would people react if the Vinnies’ tender offered demonstrably better value but lost out for no apparent reason?

There’s also anger over the perception that Vinnies will hike prices and exercise unfair control over the op shop market. Apparently, the Salvos and Vinnies are now running an anti-competitive duopoly, cornering the market like Coles and Woolies.

Vinnies op shops serve a dual purpose. If you are hard-up and need help, you’ll get it from them without question.

But Vinnies ACT also raise funds for multiple community services across the ACT and southeastern NSW, like all other Vinnies around Australia.

These services include crisis support, youth programs, residential homelessness services, disability services, support programs for young parents and families at risk of homelessness, and drug and alcohol services.

If you’re in the inner north, you’ve likely seen their van feeding some of Canberra’s most vulnerable locals at Dickson shops. The Vinnies Night Patrol operates in Canberra and Queanbeyan 364 nights of the year, handing out drinks, sandwiches, fruit, clothing items, sleeping bags, blankets and hygiene packs, and providing referral services.

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Vinnies ran a two-year Bushfire Appeal supporting disaster recovery in the Bega Valley, Eurobodalla and the Snowy Valleys, including community cohesion and well-being events, community development, assistance with grant applications and community skills development.

They support migrant children integrating into Australian education and run programs for young carers between nine and 17 years, ensuring they have support to complete their education. And there’s plenty more.

Where do people think the funding for all this comes from? The magic money tree? Or a successful retail operation with plenty of energetic fundraising?

So yes, buying cheap clothes and gently used goods from Vinnies is valuable to those on a tight budget, but Vinnies also needs to fund an extensive range of services it offers to this community as a public good, regardless of your background (and with no regard whatsoever for your religious beliefs or lack of them).

There’s sometimes an odd perception that charity is less genuine when it’s well-organised and well-run.

We love generous people who give their all. But the truth is that small organisations and sole operators often burn out or fall apart. They can work too hard, lose perspective, and risk not being able to scale up their work for lasting impact.

Vinnies does a power of good in this community. A successful business tender, like a successful retail operation, guarantees that work can continue for many years to come.

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1950sVintage4:57 pm 21 Mar 24

Will hold MrJones to “We honour and respect the values that the team out there have worked so hard to create and maintain, and its contribution to Canberra,” he said.

“We will continue to honour and support that and enhance that going forward. We invite the community to join us on the journey as we make this transition as smooth as possible for everyone concerned. We look forward to running the facilities even more for the benefit of the community in the future.”

I used to work with Vinnies covering numerous shops and people volunteering or working at Vinnies did not ‘grab all the good stuff’. Using your example we might be donated a full china set but usually a good portion would not be usable due to chips in the cups so the full donation rarely made it out in 1 set.
People grabbing all the good stuff first is a misconception and hurts all the generous people giving their time and energy to support their local community and I am incredibly proud of the work my various teams performed for others.

Basil Kendell9:40 am 18 Mar 24

The greenshed is a much needed secular resources for people who have been deeply harmed by catholic organisations. It’s a disappointing shift tbh

Lucy “Lucy Lastic” Lastic1:43 pm 18 Mar 24


I am happy that Vinnies have won the tender because I think that they will do a much better job at organising the stock than the current Green Shed people. I am appalled at the mess that is the Mugga Lane Green Shed. It is all very well to be re-cycling stuff – but if the shopper can’t find the stuff in the jumble that exists at Mugga Lane – what’s the point. I was recently looking for some cutlery for camping – and it took me about an hour to sort through a very large tub of all things cutlery and kitchen utensils – to find 4 knives, forks and spoons. I then went to Vinnies in Lonsdale St – and cutlery was all sorted!

Ebonairre Theron2:46 pm 16 Mar 24

Come on now Gen, they’ve not offered to roll the employees into their organisation. They’re offering them to reapply for their old jobs, if they exist. They also admitted that there was no guarantee that they’ll be earning the same wage or under the same award when the takeover happens. Their spokesperson admitted as much while being interviewed. Not only that but he had no idea what their wages and conditions agreement was. Fills me with confidence.

The massive disagreement you’re seeing in the community comes from the fact that a religious charity organisation that already receives funding from the government to run their organisation, undercut a tender by providing a more economical (read using volunteers instead of employing people) model.

It’s bull. Absolutely and utterly. You’re not one of the people that has directly benefited from the green shed’s free clothing bins and insanely cheap goods. Admitting to buying the odd piece of furniture and then saying “Vinnie’s will provide a better service” when there are people literally unable to clothe themselves or their kids without the green shed’s free clothes bins is farcical. Vinnie’s have not provided an inkling of reassurance that people won’t lose their jobs, that the clothes currently available won’t be free, that they’re not going to funnel their profits into their own preferred charity based organisations instead of the ones that TGS currently support and that my family has directly benefited from.

I can however positively guarantee that shopping at the green shed will now be out of range of the severely economically disadvantaged because Vinnie’s method of pricing in their currently existing stores *is* outrageous and in some cases MORE EXPENSIVE than shopping at Kmart or big W.

The reason they won the tender is because a private entity who actually pays their staff can’t afford to complete with a government funded religious charity juggernaut. Speaking from experience, anyone who says they don’t push their religious dogma on their volunteers and staff is kidding themselves.

Karen Gardner2:27 pm 16 Mar 24

My outrage is not about a business having lost a tender. We can all come up with examples of good work that charities like Vinnies have done, and we can all say that change is hard, but that’s not the point. It’s about handing a highly regarded social enterprise to a huge traditional religious welfare bureaucracy, who have not been able to articulate any innovative directions or vision for the future. Sausage sizzle fundraisers, education, putting money back into its own catholic services – really! Tool libraries and repair shops might be an addition but what a price to pay for the loss of the model that Canberrans value – inclusion and service. Something for everyone, including people who cannot pay, no questions asked. I hope TCCS reflects on this decision long and hard and starts to involve the community in shaping its procurement processes in future, so it understands what value really means to a whole lot of people, not just what it means to bureaucrats administering grants. And let’s call a spade a spade on jobs – only some Green Shed employees are likely to be offered jobs and those will be at significantly lower rates of pay because Green Shed paid above award wages.

‘They lost the tender because Vinnies was able to show a better return for the ACT Government.’ This is the point. Is it a ‘better return’ for them or the community.

It is about more than them winning a competitive tender (does that mean they pay more to the Govt for scavenger rights or do they get paid less from the Govt to provide this service?) There is also an environmental aspect of tip shops. The Green Shed accept and recycle a bigger range of goods than Vinnies do. Will this change see an increase in the volume ending up in landfill and, as a result, a bigger long-term cost? How was that aspect assessed in the tender process?

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