The Sydney suburbs sitting on the most unused Dine and Discover vouchers

NSW residents are still sitting on $315 million in unspent Dine and Discover vouchers with less than a week before they expire,raising questions about the effectiveness of the economic stimulus scheme.

Service NSW figures show the value of vouchers already redeemed at cafes,restaurants,bars,arts and entertainment venues is at least $506 million,but uptake of the scheme varies by local government area.

About $315 million worth of Dine and Discover vouchers are unspent and will expire on June 30.

About $315 million worth of Dine and Discover vouchers are unspent and will expire on June 30.Renee Nowytarger

The $25 vouchers were part of a $750 million stimulus package from the NSW government to help the state recover from the COVID-19 lockdowns. June 30 is the last day they can be used.

Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello said the average customer spend was $42 per voucher,which meant more than $850 million had been invested in local businesses.

“The program has been an overwhelming success,with the stimulus supporting some of our hardest hit industries and providing a boost to household budgets,” Dominello said.

“My message to customers is simple – check to see if you have any unredeemed vouchers and spend them now. They’re easy to use and will save you money.”

All NSW residents over the age of 18,about 6 million people,were eligible for six vouchers worth a total of $150.

A Service NSW spokesperson said uptake was strong,with 5.5 million people registering for the vouchers via the website or app,in person or by phone at a Service NSW centre.

However,about 12.4 million unused vouchers will expire on June 30.

Opposition Leader Chris Minns told reporters on Friday the government should consider extending the program because local and suburban restaurants could do with the help.

“There’s a bit of a pattern here when it comes to some of these grant programs that have been rolled out by the NSW government. It’s a big-spending media release,but in the back of their minds they seem to know that there’ll be a huge under subscription,” Minns said.

“If people don’t download the voucher and spend it in their local communities then we don’t get the economic benefit,and it’s not doing what it was designed to do,[which is] boost the economy.”

Vouchers can be used to prepay bookings before June 30 for visits later in the year. Unused vouchers also can be donated to charity before June 30 through the Pay Discover Forward scheme started by Symbio Wildlife Park.

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Dominello earlier provided a breakdown in used and unused vouchers by LGA as of June 15 in answers to questions on notice from Labor MP Mick Veitch. The graphic shows these figures mapped to both NSW and Sydney.

Remote parts of NSW have the highest proportion of unspent vouchers – where people have registered for the vouchers but not redeemed them. For example more than 70 per cent of vouchers were unspent in the Central Darling and Balranald regions in western NSW.

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Within Sydney,wealthy LGAs have the highest proportion of unspent vouchers. In Woollahra Council area 49 per cent of issued vouchers were yet to be redeemed as of June 15,while in Mosman Council area it was 46 per cent.

People from the LGAs of Parramatta and Blacktown were statistically the most likely to spend their vouchers but,even there,37 per cent of vouchers had not been spent.

The government budgeted $750 million for the scheme – initially $500 million before an expansion – but has actually issued $820.5 million worth of vouchers.

Australia Institute chief economist Dr Richard Denniss said the fact that only 60 per cent of vouchers had been spent suggested the scheme was not well targeted.

Even if consumers rushed to spend the vouchers over the next four days,the timing was off.

“The purpose of stimulus is to get money into the economy where it’s needed,when it’s needed,” Dennis said.

“Treasury,when designing good economic stimulus,should know how much money it’s trying to pump into the economy,so if they thought that 100 per cent of those vouchers were needed,then underspending on a stimulus is a failed stimulus.”

Denniss said voucher schemes created a lot of red tape and bureaucracy and were at odds with the notion that individuals can make the best decisions on how to spend their money.

He said the Dine and Discover vouchers in particular “picked winners and losers”,favouring cafes and entertainment venues over other businesses that also lost money such as dry cleaners and domestic cleaners.

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Caitlin Fitzsimmons is the social affairs reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald.

Nigel Gladstone is an investigative journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.

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