ACT News

Canberra's retail turn around encouraging but scepticism still abounds

Figures show Canberra's retail market is climbing out of a dark hole and into the light. 

Commonwealth Bank statistics show the ACT's business sales increasing in each of the seven months leading to December.

The territory in December recorded a strong increase in sales of 1.8 per cent when compared with November - the figures were adjusted to smooth out seasonal variations such as Christmas trade -  while West Australia rose 0.5 per cent and 0.3 per cent in Tasmania.

Commsec chief economist Craig James said while the numbers were based on the bank's figures and captured just a fifth of the market they were an early indicator of what the Australian Bureau of Statistics results would say about the territory's December performance when the ABS released its results next month.

"We've seen a turnaround in retail spending in the ACT in the middle of last year but it's coming off a low base - spending was quite weak in the ACT in the first part of the year," Mr James said.

As late as October the ACT was the second worst performing economy in Australia, second only to Tasmania, according to a larger Commsec report released at the time, with growing uncertainty about job opportunities shaking investors' confidence and the reduced willingness of locals to spend.

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The latest upbeat figures could surprise some observers who were expecting 2015 to be another year in which Canberra languished in an economic funk because of 7000 federal public service job cuts in the territory as part of 16,500 job losses in the bureaucracy nationally. 

Gungahlin Community Council president Ewan Brown said retailers in his area had been complaining weekday daytime trade was slow.

To combat this Mr Brown said the community council wanted to encourage the broadening of shop types in Gungahlin.

"We have to travel out of the district to get things," Mr Brown said.

"We don't have health funds here, for example."

Mr Brown said this conflicted with the original intent of Canberra's design which set out several satellite townships. 

He said Gungahlin now had more than 50,000 residents across 12 suburbs and another three suburbs were being planned.

The Gungahlin Community Council was surveying residents to find what shops they wanted. 

Tuggeranong Community Council president Eric Traise said businesses in his town's Hyperdome shopping centre and surrounds were still struggling and there seemed to be no obvious signs of a turnaround.

"Any time you walk into the Hyperdome there seems to be yet another shop closed," Mr Traise said. 

He said outlet stores selling cheaper items and coffee shops seemed to be able to survive because more were opening. 

Canberra businesses were encouraged to throw open their doors and welcome visitors in January with the Canberra Business Chamber highlighting the fact the territory had a package of events which could kickstart the ACT economy in 2015.

These included sporting events such as AFC Asian Cup games, the Prime Minister's XI versus England and the KFC T20 Big Bash League Final.