Posted: 9:08 am on 1st May 2015

champagneAh, we love the smell of corporate welfare in the morning!

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill lost no time setting up the Regional Development Fund after his election victory last year, pledging $15 million worth of grants each year, in a bid to improve the quality of booze at government parties… ah, “increase economic growth and productivity for regional South Australia,” we mean. Our apologies.

It’s easy to get the two confused sometimes, though.

See, Pernod Ricard Winemakers have just become the lucky recipients of $1.1 million of taxpayer money through the RDF, “to assist with the construction of a cellar door complex.”

Now, WasteWatch is sure that Pernod Ricard is just a little family-owned business that’s in a tight spot, and this teenie tiny, incy wincy, little bit of help from the South Australian taxpayer will just help them out of a jam, and that’ll be the end of it.

After all, it’s not like it’s the same Pernod Ricard as the multinational drinks company that owns, amongst other things, Absolut vodka, Chivas Regal scotch, Glenlivet scotch, Jacob’s Creek wine, Wyndham Estate wine, Havana Club rum, Jameson Irish whiskey, Beefeater gin, Kahlua liquer, Mumm champagne, had a turnover of more than €7.5 billion in 2011, and is certainly more than capable of paying for its own ‘cellar door complex.’

Oh wait.

Yes, actually it is the same Pernod Ricard. Our apologies again.

Enjoy the ‘cellar door complex’, South Australia! We’re absolutely, positively sure it’s the last corporate welfare you’ll have to pay for, for a long time.

Just joking.

William Shrubb

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Posted: 3:54 pm on 28th April 2015

David sculptureNational security is a pivotal area of concern for today’s pollies, and defence spending seems to go by largely unscrutinised.

You’d think the Government would have little money left to spend, with $40 billion possibly being spent on submarines and $13.5 billion on Joint Strike Fighter Jets. However it seems that appearances are also high on the defence agenda.

Apparently, the Federal Government is about to fork out an estimated $500 000- $600 000 for the refurbishment of the Italian Carrara marble panels which frame the entry to Canberra’s Russell Building- home to the Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force.

Michelangelo’s favourite Carrara marble- the very stone he used to create the iconic Statue of David seems to have made it on the ‘bling’ scene with rapper Kanye West reportedly ordering a table made from it for his wedding to reality TV star, Kim Kardashian. Australia is literally ‘keeping up with the Kardashians’.

It’s good to hear the Australian Government is supporting the Italian economy, but why not source cheaper, alternate materials that require less maintenance and aren’t going to “bow over time due to both differential movements between stone and structural substrate, and to thermal exposure”.

It’s been less than twenty years since remedial works were last carried out. How often is our taxpayer money going to be wasted on expensive Italian marble?

Thanks for serving your country, comrade. Don’t forget to admire the half a million dollar marble façade on your way out!

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Posted: 4:00 pm on 26th April 2015

money-airRemember when it cost the Australian taxpayer $195,000 to change the name of the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection?

Well, after the 2013 federal election, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry decided to get in on the action, shortening its name to just the Department of Agriculture.

The change was part of an admirable – in WasteWatch’s opinion – move by the incoming government to simplify ministerial titles, and, according to the Prime Minister:

Get away from this idea that unless you have a minister with your specific interest in his or her specific title that there is going to be any lack of concern.

However, it can be a costly shift, and its ramifications are still being felt two years on.

See, Agriculture recently spent $30,000 of your money editing all their existing DVDs just to update their name, amongst other things.

Given that the name change occurred almost twenty months ago now, WasteWatch wonders how often these DVDs are actually being used.

A sensible use of your tax dollars?

William Shrubb

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Posted: 3:59 pm on 24th April 2015

coach“The world is a book,” St. Augustine once said, “and those who do not travel, read only one page.”

The new grads at the Department of Human Services must be pretty busy reading then.

See, DHS recently spent $13,200 of your money on “coach hire for graduate events in Canberra.”

The DHS website proudly trumpets that, as part of the graduate employment program, grads will have access to many professional development opportunities, a mentoring arrangement and special events.

Special events? So not only is taxpayer money being spent on excursions for public servants, but now we have to pay for their transport too?

These young, university-educated employees, selected after a rigorous interview process, couldn’t make their own way around the overwhelming metropolis that is Canberra?

It was only a matter of time though. After all, we’ve been paying for public servants’ taxis and politicans’ flights for a while now, so luxury coaches is the obvious next step.

WasteWatch hopes the newbie mandarins enjoyed their big day out!

William Shrubb

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Posted: 7:14 am on 16th April 2015

The_Lobby“Parts of the [earth’s] cultural or national heritage are of outstanding interest,” the drafters of the  1972 World Heritage Convention wrote, “and therefore need to be preserved as part of the world heritage of mankind as a whole.”

Of course, what they had in mind was Canberra’s venerable old Lobby restaurant.

For those of you not familiar with the building, it dates from 1970, an age before iPhones and Justin Bieber, so ancient it seems barely conceivable that restaurants had even been invented.

John Gorton was Prime Minister, Paul Keating had only been a pollie for about a year, and Johnny Farnham – as he was then – had just released an ill-advised cover of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.”

It was a different world, and the restaurant’s “small central spire [which] provides a feature similar to the Late Twentieth-Century Ecclesiastical style,” and its “clearly expressed horizontal planes of the external building platform, eaves, and a clerestory window” make us yearn for those simpler days.

(Incidentally, it was also where Julia Gillard famously lost her blue suede shoe in 2012.)

Who could place this magnificent building anywhere other than in the same category as the ancient walled city of Baku, or the palace at Schönbrunn?

Well, as it turns out, the people who have to look at it every day.

A 2013 survey by the National Capital Authority found that the broader Canberra community thought the restaurant had “little to no significance” in terms of aesthetic value.

Nor did the experts think any differently.

The same survey noted that the Australian Institute of Architect’s ACT Chapter “had not yet identified any significant individual architectural work in Parkes Place” – the site of the Lobby restaurant – for inclusion on its Register of Significant Twentieth Century Architecture.

So why did the National Capital Authority recently spend nearly $50,000 of your money on the “preparation of [a] heritage assessment and masterplan” for the restaurant?

Since Parkes Place and the National Rose Gardens surrounding the restaurant are listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List, it seems, slowly but surely, the tendrils of heritage law are growing around the restaurant too.

Perhaps the NCA were channeling that great hit that topped the Australian singles chart for two weeks in June 1970: Ray Stevens’ “Everything is Beautiful.”

WasteWatch suggests that the Beatles’ “Let It Be” might be a more appropriate guide.

William Shrubb

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Posted: 10:00 am on 14th April 2015

220px-Kirribilli_house_2It’s a wonderful life, as Frank Capra told us so many years ago. Particularly if you’re a pollie.

The taxpayer pays for your office redecorating.

They pay for your retail therapy visits to furniture stores.

And, it turns out, they also pay (through the nose) for your gardening. At least, that is if you’re lucky enough to live at Kirribilli House.

See, the “grounds maintenance” bill for the Prime Minister’s swanky waterfront residence comes in at over $200,000 per year, for the next few years.

Yes, that’s right, about 3.5 times the average Australian’s income, on lawn mowing and weeding.

WasteWatch certainly hopes the PM is getting our money’s worth.

Perhaps, instead of spending another $200,000 on upgrades to a Gold Coast lawn bowls club, everybody could just come play in Kirribilli House’s backyard!

After all, we do own the place.

William Shrubb

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Posted: 7:11 am on 14th April 2015

canberra-light-rail

Canberra, we’re in trouble! Warnings from the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) have urged Canberrans to ‘save their pennies’ in the wake of an ‘income recession’.

While everyday tax payers are expected to shoulder the burdens of financial discipline, it seems that the  ACT government’s Infrastructure Program isn’t too worried after spending over $60, 000 on promotional material in an attempt to ‘sell’ Capital Metro’s already unfavourable $826.7 million light rail project to the public.

Lucky Canberrans got a $11,320 on a cardboard tram, $5,684 on 2000 foam models, $8,300 on 2000 drink bottles with the Capital Metro Agency logo, a $29,000 pop up store and $10,000 on brochures.

Why is it, in a period of economic recession elected officials are spending lavishly on new projects? By duplicating rather than improving on existing infrastructure, the light rail simply limits that effectiveness of government spending on public transport.

So Canberrans, ask yourselves, if the light rail is such a viable public transport option, then why on earth do large amounts of money need to be invested in trying to ‘sell’ it to the public?  We will have to wait and see if the cardboard tram sold it to the politicians.  We can just see them tossing away their government cars.

Katie Wilson

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Posted: 9:32 am on 9th April 2015

220px-Catherine-de-mediciRemember when WasteWatch brought you news of the Australian Research Council’s interest in Machiavelli’s mates? Well don’t let yourself think that their interest in Italy is simply limited to that. Not at all.

See, in reviewing the ARC’s Future Fellowships grants, WasteWatch has come across another inquiry into Italy.

$850,784.00 has been granted in pursuit of finding out more about Catherine de Medici through her correspondence, and “promises an exciting new analysis of a leading individual at the heart of early modern history”.

The House of de Medici is an interesting topic for sure, but WasteWatch isn’t convinced it’s an “area of national priority”, as Future Fellowships claims to promote.

 

Alex Russell 

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Posted: 9:21 am on 8th April 2015

champagne Know your notaphily from your scripophily?

Comfortable around exonumists?

You would have been a hit at a recent dinner party, then.

See, the Royal Australian Mint threw a dinner back at the end of February to celebrate… itself.  More specifically, to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

The hoi polloi of the numismatic community rubbed shoulders in a shindig so fancy that it was covered by the social pages.

Here’s the bad news though: it cost you a touch over $80,000. (See here, here, and here.)

Considering the cost of past taxpayer-funded parties – see here, and here – the Mint gala dinner represents an alarming new chapter in the taxpayer’s catering career.

WasteWatch will raise a glass of something privately-funded to the quick demise of this enforced career.

William Shrubb

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Posted: 1:58 pm on 31st March 2015

Renovation Anyone who’s ever done renovations knows the feeling.

“Why is it not finished yet? You said it would be done two months ago.”

The possible reasons are endless: bad weather, the plumber hasn’t finished his bit yet, the  supplier ran out of material, my mate’s girlfriend’s babysitter is getting married, the moon is in  Aries, and so on and so forth.

Our Prime Minister’s experience is no different, it seems.

Renovations to the Lodge are now running at least a year behind schedule, and when somebody asked the Finance Department to explain this little slip-up, which has almost doubled the estimated cost of the renovations, the Department printed off 980 pages of explanation.

It could have been much worse though.

The Department’s original planned response to the Freedom of Information request about the renovation delays was set to cost the inquirer nearly $68,000 in administration fees.

Amending the FOI request  to get documents just from the last year brought the cost down to under $4,000, and led to the whopping 980-page-explanation.

Finance Department officials estimated that 190 hours would be spent on the request.

We can only imagine the number of hours and pages that would have come out of the original $68,000 inquiry.

Good to see so much time and effort being spent on the important things in life!

William Shrubb

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