Libs renew calls for ChooseCBR probe following “questionable transactions” from scheme’s trial

Dominic Giannini 23 June 2021 46
Tara Cheyne addressing the Legislative Assembly

Business Minister Tara Cheyne delivered a 50-minute statement about the ChooseCBR scheme to the Legislative Assembly this morning. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The Canberra Liberals have called for an audit of the ChooseCBR voucher scheme after the fund was exhausted within a day of its relaunch and revelations of “questionable transactions” from the scheme’s trial.

In a 50-minute ministerial statement this morning (22 June), Business Minister Tara Cheyne told the Legislative Assembly that an analysis of the scheme’s trial found a questionable pattern of inexplicable transactions across three businesses worth $5355.

The government did not seek to recover the money as it would have cost more than the transactions were worth, Ms Cheyne said, although the three businesses were banned from participating in the scheme’s full rollout.

The government will conduct a full and independent review of the program, and it will include an analysis of spending patterns. The report will be released by December.

READ ALSO: Opinion – ChooseCBR vouchers a waste in ACT’s boom economy

But Shadow Minister for Business Leanne Castley wants the ACT Auditor-General to conduct an audit, querying if the money went to the right places and if the scheme might have been rorted after reports that a large amount of money was spent between midnight and 6:00 am.

Concerns were also raised about people using multiple email addresses to access more than their allocated amount each day, she said.

Ms Cheyne said she had heard anecdotal evidence that businesses were manually redeeming vouchers late into the night, including vouchers submitted online, which explains some of the otherwise unusual hours of some business transactions.

She also slammed “erroneous” media reports claiming many businesses had withdrawn from the scheme. She said only six businesses pulled out and three of these returned when the scheme restarted.

This number does not include businesses like Deakin IGA which stopped accepting vouchers during the first days of the scheme due to technical issues but did not officially cancel its involvement.

READ ALSO: Onboard bus CCTV not being destroyed properly: Auditor-General

Government figures revealed that 19 businesses redeemed more than 500 vouchers and 133 businesses redeemed more than 100 vouchers before the $2 million scheme ended.

Ms Cheyne said it had achieved its aim as a business stimulus measure as more than $5.1 million was spent by Canberrans.

Around 30,000 customers redeemed 59,000 vouchers. On average, $34 was claimed per voucher.

But almost 180 of the 797 participating businesses received less than $50 from the scheme. Food retailers made the most from the vouchers. Almost 40 per cent of the vouchers were claimed at stores like grocers, while more than one in four were redeemed at cafes, restaurants and takeaway shops.

One in five Canberra businesses that were eligible under the guidelines participated in the scheme.

Leanne Castley

Leanne Castley said the scheme was a kick in the guts for small business. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

But Ms Castley said the government needs to be more transparent about where the money was spent and what safeguards were in place to ensure the money went where it was needed.

“Concerns have been raised with me about the misuse of vouchers and the inequitable distribution of funds,” Ms Castley said.

“It’s a real kick in the guts for small businesses who put in upwards of 15 hours’ work to be eligible for each of the iterations of ChooseCBR, only to receive $20 or $50 in total benefit.”

READ ALSO: See the Canberra suburbs in the million-dollar club

A visibly frustrated Ms Cheyne faced a barrage of questions from the opposition during question time and debate on a motion moved by Ms Castley regarding the scheme when the Assembly sat today.

Ms Cheyne challenged the Liberals to provide evidence that the scheme had been misused, saying there had been no reports of spurious conduct, but conceded that it might not be possible for the review to determine whether some customers had exploited the scheme by signing up twice.

Ms Castley’s motion, which categorised the scheme as a failure, called on the Assembly to write to the Auditor-General requesting an investigation, but it was amended by Ms Cheyne to note that a comprehensive review is already being conducted.

Ms Cheyne has written to the Auditor-General advising the office about the scheme’s review, that the findings of the review would be presented to the Auditor-General and that any engagement from the Auditor-General, including an investigation, will be welcomed.

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46 Responses to Libs renew calls for ChooseCBR probe following “questionable transactions” from scheme’s trial
Fran Corby-Moore Fran Corby-Moore 10:50 am 25 Jun 21

I'd like to know how many people registered lots of family members (like young children or relatives/friends outside Canberra) or used duplicate emails and different phone numbers to access more than one voucher. Given the limited details of individuals that were required I'm unsure of how that could ever be determined though.

Kitty Tsui Kitty Tsui 2:44 pm 24 Jun 21

I missed out, which is sad because I really wanted to get one of these shirts locally to celebrate my transition from partly vaccinated to fully vaccinated against COVID-19!

summs summs 10:06 pm 23 Jun 21

At least 15% of the budget went to 19 (2%) businesses whilst 23% of the businesses received less than $50? Was the scheme intended to mirror the nation’s wealth distribution?

Lewis P Owlay Lewis P Owlay 9:56 pm 23 Jun 21

Worked a treat

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:06 pm 23 Jun 21

Unless there’s a strong likelihood that the scheme will be re-run, with a somewhat larger budget next time, it might be better to just rule a line under it and move on, particularly as the ACT has thus far (fingers crossed) shown admirable restraint, compared to some other parts of the country, in resorting to renewed restrictions on businesses.

If it’s not worth chasing after money which went on a “questionable pattern of inexplicable transactions”, then it’s probably not worth having a bunch of highly paid people examining the chicken’s entrails of a scheme which, even in the ACT context, is fairly tinpot – unless there might be broader lessons to be learned about the handling of the scheme, particularly the scope for drawing to the maximum extent possible on the experience of other jurisdictions when implementing initiatives such as this.

chewy14 chewy14 5:49 pm 23 Jun 21

There’s definitely a lot of spin going on from the government here but precious little transparency.

The data is clearly now available from the ministers statements yet they won’t release it in detail and have arbitrarily selected specific talking points to attempt to so I an argument that it was successful.

Why not just release the full data with the individual business names removed if it was a success? They could just be categorised by type.

Not to mention the clear risk of fraud that only needed an email address and phone number to sign up.

Tom Worthington Tom Worthington 4:30 pm 23 Jun 21

Clearly the ACT Auditor-General needs to look into what went wrong with ChooseCBR.

Mark Newman Mark Newman 3:36 pm 23 Jun 21

Tara Cheyne telling Canberra she should have more data and stats then saids she can’t present it due to privacy concerns. Tara your words mean nothing, where is your integrity?

Bernard Bernard 3:19 pm 23 Jun 21

It may be more beneficial, efficient and cost effective to have an independent audit carried out than to have the Auditor General do it, on the basis that the government is prepared to release it publicly of course.

Much as it may offend the public and the liberal party, $2 million is hardly a material amount. The Audit office, while appearing to be reasonably funded, could be better utilised in reviewing larger “ticket” items and programs to make best use of the budget that they have.

BrambleForge Kindred BrambleForge Kindred 1:39 pm 23 Jun 21

So I wonder if the Liberals are asking for every business that signed up to turn over their records? Perhaps they would like to make the financial transactions of every small business public because that won't prejudice their privacy or their business affairs...much. It smacks of grubby fishing for cheap political points. I look forward to seeing a Liberal MLA explaining to the ACT public, in detail, how they would have done it differently. I'm not saying Labor are shining examples of integrity but let's remember that the Canberra Liberals went to the last election with a bag of promises, no details and a "Trust us, you don't need to know" attitude. A fully independent audit would be welcome.

Julie Marshall Julie Marshall 12:22 pm 23 Jun 21

Didn’t have a chance. Or things wouldn’t load.

Nilena Falvey Nilena Falvey 12:16 pm 23 Jun 21

Why wasn’t it like NSW? You had to have your license attached to NSW Services app. No way for people to claim more than they should

    Tara Cheyne MLA Tara Cheyne MLA 2:52 pm 23 Jun 21

    Nilena Falvey the ACT doesn't have an app like NSW (which is very broad based and has a range of services attached to it).

    Tara Cheyne MLA Tara Cheyne MLA 3:51 pm 23 Jun 21

    You don't have to engage with me if you don't want to Adam, but engaging with people is actually part of my job - and doing it across a range of platforms and ways is important.

Elaine Srejic Elaine Srejic 11:23 am 23 Jun 21

I thought it was great

I used my vouchers in one hour 😊

Patricia Russell Patricia Russell 8:35 am 23 Jun 21

Could have been done so much better.

Acton Acton 7:23 am 23 Jun 21

A review will find some minor fraud but the main rort was the whole scheme itself. It fails on equity and efficiency grounds. It was first in first served so not delivered or available fairly to all eligible residents. Nor was it an efficient way to achieve its purpose of assisting business because of confusion and technical problems and because more effective assistance could have been given by cutting business rates and taxes.

    chewy14 chewy14 8:01 am 23 Jun 21

    I don’t agree that an audit might only find minor fraud, but it’s debatable. It will definitely find that the scheme was exploited by both individuals and some businesses.

    But regardless, we are talking about $2million here, cutting business taxes or rates would cost many, many times that amount and would similarly lead to problems that don’t necessarily achieve a beneficial policy outcome.

Daniel Duncan Daniel Duncan 1:02 am 23 Jun 21

We have vouchers?

Tracey Murray Tracey Murray 10:42 pm 22 Jun 21

It took me seconds to register once the website was back online. I spent all 3 of my vouchers at local small businesses. Worked like a charm. Vendors had no issues with the system either. It was a great initiative, and I hope it goes ahead for another round.

Tom Adam Tom Adam 10:23 pm 22 Jun 21

The fact that grocery stores were on the list and franchised nationally business is the only issue this campaign really had.

It was designed to be spent, and it was, it was just spent at the wrong businesses - not all that actually needed it.

    Mark Newman Mark Newman 3:32 pm 23 Jun 21

    Tom Adam agreed also could have been aimed at struggling Canberrans. 2 million is a drop in the ocean compared to ACT’s GDP but could have had a meaningful impact for both struggling businesses and Canberrans.

Barry Finch Barry Finch 10:17 pm 22 Jun 21

A full open and transparent enquiry needs to be held to investigate/explain why the whole system crashed the day it went on line and how it was apparently all sold out in less than 24hrs when it came back on line a week later. What was the point on giving people vouchers which they then could not use. An absolute train wreck.

Erc Shmirk Erc Shmirk 10:12 pm 22 Jun 21

Woeful exercise.

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