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She also slammed “erroneous” media reports claiming many businesses had withdrawn from the scheme.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
Ruth Kelly Ruth Kelly 6:33 pm 22 Jun 21

I think that every adult should have been allocated paper vouchers, and have to hand over a voucher in order to make a claim.

I did not get a chance to participate, because the opportunity was too brief.

Sher Bee Sher Bee 6:44 pm 22 Jun 21

I know of a person in nsw who was able to access them. Totally agree that the vouchers should have been allocated in a fairer manner.

    Kerry Apted Kerry Apted 9:21 pm 22 Jun 21

    Sherbie Leo there was no restriction on who could access them.

Shane Jasprizza Shane Jasprizza 6:55 pm 22 Jun 21

Yes:

How many people registered?

How many of those got to use any vouchers?

How many businesses registered?

How many of those redeemed vouchers?

    Tara Cheyne MLA Tara Cheyne MLA 10:15 am 23 Jun 21

    Shane Jasprizza I released this information on Monday.

    1. Over 77,000

    2. Around 30,000

    3. Over 800

    4. 797 businesses redeemed at least one.

    Ben Johnston Ben Johnston 12:31 am 24 Jun 21

    "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." $5355 out of $2,000,000 This article is focussing on 0.26% of the government stimulus that may be in question. Shame on you The RiotACT

    Redland Ian Redland Ian 11:48 am 02 Jul 21

    Would you consider sending out vouchers with rate notices. It would make them more welcome and provide fairer distribution.

Ruth Lee Martin Ruth Lee Martin 7:15 pm 22 Jun 21

I registered and had trouble accessing, so got nothing.

Mal Briggs Mal Briggs 8:11 pm 22 Jun 21

Upwards of 15 hours work to register?

What?

Where did this number come from?

Shayne Borger Shayne Borger 8:22 pm 22 Jun 21

Shouldve been rolled out like the NSW model. Another ACT Govt epic fail

Cody Savage Cody Savage 9:22 pm 22 Jun 21

It's stupid. System was down for two weeks to fix and then was active for just over 24hrs. Not sure what the point was

    Tara Cheyne MLA Tara Cheyne MLA 10:16 am 23 Jun 21

    Cody Savage it was down for 7 days to fix. As a $2 million scheme it injected $5.1 million into the economy, created greater awareness of local businesses and encouraged new relationships between businesses and customers.

Yelin Hung Yelin Hung 10:10 pm 22 Jun 21

As a taxpayer, I request an audit to answer how the money went in 24 hours???

    Tara Cheyne MLA Tara Cheyne MLA 10:21 am 23 Jun 21

    Yelin Hung Canberrans had access to three vouchers a day. 30,000 Canberrans used 59,000 vouchers. The average voucher amount was $34. There were about 1800 transactions an hour on the final day or about 30 a minute across 800 businesses.

    Jenny Graves Jenny Graves 2:12 pm 23 Jun 21

    Tara Cheyne MLA the FINAL day? But it was exhausted in just one day. We didn't get a sniff at using our vouchers. I really think it was a disaster and I suspect that the 30,000 redemptions were from many of the same people, as there were no checks to make sure that people were entitled to them or that they weren't claiming twice.

    Tara Cheyne MLA Tara Cheyne MLA 2:19 pm 23 Jun 21

    Jenny Graves no, it was not exhausted in just one day. It ran on Wednesday 9- Thursday 10 June and Friday 18-Saturday 19 June. People could not claim from the same account twice. A voucher code could not be redeemed twice. I'm not sure you mean about checks to ensure someone was entitled to a voucher? Anyone over 18 could sign up so long as they used their voucher (and thus had to use their own money, given they had to spend at least the same value of the voucher to use the voucher). It was a scheme designed to stimulate spending in businesses.

    Jenny Graves Jenny Graves 2:23 pm 23 Jun 21

    Tara Cheyne MLA I understand what it was intended for. It was my understanding that when it first started it was overwhelmed within hours, so I don't think it was available for 2 days. And the second time it opened, I heard that it was exhausted the same day. There are stories that people from NSW got vouchers. I presume it was intended just for ACT residents? But there were no checks on residency or to ensure that someone didn't sign up for multiple vouchers. I'd respectfully suggest that the scheme wasn't very well thought out.

    Tara Cheyne MLA Tara Cheyne MLA 2:37 pm 23 Jun 21

    Jenny Graves It was available to anyone over 18, including NSW residents. We are a region, not an island. There are many people who live in NSW who work and spend money in the ACT. There were no checks on residency because there did not need to be. There was a check to ensure someone didn't sign up to multiple vouchers: they had to have a unique email address and a unique mobile phone number. They were sent a one-time passcode to the mobile via text message to verify the e-mail address. As a business stimulus scheme, I'd respectfully suggest it was well thought out. There was high demand, and the money was spent in ACT businesses, and injection of $ was about 2.6x the funding amount assigned to the scheme.

    It was not overwhelmed within hours. It had intermittent issues. Vouchers were able to be claimed throughout Wednesday 9 and Thursday 10 June, and they were. The scheme went offline in late afternoon on Thursday 10 June, and then we made a decision to take it offline for a week which we communicated on Friday 11 June. We advised everyone that the vouchers would be available again on Friday 18 June, doing so via email the day before, and then via text message on the day of. We did so so that everyone did have the same information at the same time to make informed decisions about their purchases. The vouchers were redeemed quickly and we had a ticker available which showed how much had been redeemed and it was easy to see that the rate was quick. We were transparency and gave as much information as we could so that people could make that informed decision to spend.

    Jenny Graves Jenny Graves 2:43 pm 23 Jun 21

    Tara Cheyne MLA so you spent ACT rates on NSW residents?? I realise that it was to support Canberra businesses but surely ACT ratepayers should have been your target for the vouchers. It's very easy to have multiple email addresses and multiple phones, so it's hardly ensuring that one person doesn't get multiple vouchers. No, I just don't buy it.

    Tara Cheyne MLA Tara Cheyne MLA 2:51 pm 23 Jun 21

    Jenny Graves no, we didn't spend rates on NSW residents. The voucher (together with someone's own money) had to be spent in an ACT business. *That meant the voucher money flowed to ACT businesses.* ACT voucher money was spent in ACT businesses, and another $3.1 million was spent in ACT businesses thanks to the design of the scheme.

    It was ACT businesses who benefited. And, potentially, NSW money was spent in the ACT. 👍

    Have a good rest of your day.

    Jenny Graves Jenny Graves 3:08 pm 23 Jun 21

    Tara Cheyne MLA just so you know for another time, from the point of view of ACT residents, NSW residents were getting the benefit of the vouchers even if the plan was designed to help businesses in the ACT. I get what you're saying but please remember that as ratepayers we expect our money to be given to us, not to NSW residents.

    Tara Cheyne MLA Tara Cheyne MLA 3:49 pm 23 Jun 21

    Jenny Graves NSW residents who signed up then spent their money and our voucher in ACT businesses, supporting our residents.

    The scheme was a one-off. There is no future scheme.

Erc Shmirk Erc Shmirk 10:12 pm 22 Jun 21

Woeful exercise.

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.

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.

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.

Daniel Duncan Daniel Duncan 1:02 am 23 Jun 21

We have vouchers?

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

    Acton,
    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.

Patricia Russell Patricia Russell 8:35 am 23 Jun 21

Could have been done so much better.

Elaine Srejic Elaine Srejic 11:23 am 23 Jun 21

I thought it was great

I used my vouchers in one hour 😊

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.

Julie Marshall Julie Marshall 12:22 pm 23 Jun 21

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

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.

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.

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