Chris Peters, chief executive officer of the ACT and Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Chris Peters, chief executive officer of the ACT and Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Many Canberra retailers are expecting several lean months as nervous public servants save instead of spend in the lead-up to the federal election.

The ACT Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Chris Peters said he expected local retail sectors to continue to do it tough until after the result of the election was known.

"It's tough everywhere in Australia but I think it will remain particularly tough in Canberra until after the federal election. So many consumers are waiting to see what's going on, particularly the 45 per cent of our workforce who are public servants,'' he said.

Dr Peters said some local banks were reporting increased deposits as Canberra residents spent less of their disposable income.

"They're either paying down debt or saving,'' he said.

Dr Peters said many local retailers had anticipated a difficult Christmas period but had actually achieved similar sales to last Christmas.

"This year they were heavily discounting more, so their margins are hurting more. I suspect we're going to see some problems in retailing over the next couple of months as payments for Christmas stock become due,'' he said.

The ACT's two federal Labor MPs, Andrew Leigh and Gai Brodtmann, said on Tuesday that Canberra's retailers were already benefiting from the payment of $5 million worth of "school kids bonuses'' to local families.

Ms Brodtmann, the MP for the southern seat of Canberra, said: "It's got everyone out - from what I can gather -buying uniforms. Uniforms and school shoes appear to be the top purchases at the moment.''

The bonus is paid in two instalments of $205 each year for each child in primary school - a total of $410 each year.

Families with children in secondary school receive two instalments of $410 for each child - a total of $820 each year.

Ms Brodtmann said that before Christmas local retailers had told her that business was steady or softening slightly. She said many people were concerned about the financial impacts of mass job losses in the public service sector if the Coalition won the election.

"Hospitality seems to be going very well. In terms of retail, I hear it's steady or softened a bit. But everyone is terrified of what could be if Tony Abbott wins government,'' she said.

The National Retailers Association chief executive, Margy Osmond, said many of her members across the country had reported good sales results after Christmas.

"Boxing Day sales started off well, with high numbers in-store and record numbers of online sales, which kicked off for the first time on Christmas Day,'' Ms Osmond said.

"The biggest sales week is that first week after Boxing Day and retailers reported good sales, though this may have been supported by hot temperatures around the country encouraging household items purchases. November retail trade figures out earlier this month were negative, suggesting Christmas spending was flat. We won't have the December figures until early next month.''