Posted: 4:18 pm on 17th June 2013

The federal government is providing an extra $10.5 million in taxpayer money to educate taxpayers about the merit of the government’s plan to reduce the independence of local governments, in the guise of recognising them in the constitution.

This is on top of the $11.6 million in federal money for a ‘national civics education campaign’ outlined in the budget to educate the public about the referendum.

Taking into account contributions from local governments, Australian taxpayers are coughing up north of $30 million to educate themselves about this referendum.

While the total expenditure is a problem, there is a more fundamental issue here – namely that most of this money is going towards the ‘yes’ campaign, and very little is going towards the ‘no’ campaign.

The inequity in the funding for respective campaigns is the height of absurdity: one estimate put the funding for the ‘yes’ campaign at 65 times that of the ‘no’ campaign.

Of the $10.5 million going towards ‘educating’ the public in the recent accouncement, $10 million is going towards the ‘yes’ campaign and $0.5 million is going towards the ‘no’ campaign.

Apparently the funding allocations are dubiously based on parliamentary support:

Mr Albanese has used a proportional funding model for the upcoming referendum based on what he described as strong bipartisan support for change. Last month, 134 government, opposition and crossbench MPs voted for change in parliament against two dissidents, NSW Liberal Alex Hawke and his West Australian colleague Dennis Jensen.

It is more than apparent that this referendum is a waste of money, but the public is being treated with absolute contempt by those with a vested interest in seeing this constitutional change pass.

For more information about the ‘no’ campaign check out this website.

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Posted: 11:30 am on 14th June 2013

In our previous post we uncovered details about Austrade’s $600k+ new iphone/ipad magazine ‘Australia Unlimited‘.

The cost of the app to taxpayers could be as high as $1 million once marketing costs are taken into account.

At that cost you’d hope hundreds of thousands of people are reading this spiffy new publication.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

From documents released under Freedom of Information laws, we have found that around 14,000 people have downloaded the app and there is negligible readership growth.

Australia Unlimited New Users

Source: Austrade

And the number of new users is quite different from the number of active users, or people who actually use the app.  More details to come about that in our next post.

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Posted: 4:54 pm on 13th June 2013

In 2009 the Australian Trade Commission committed $20 million dollars to a program that aimed to ‘build the brand of Australia’.

The idea was to make a concerted effort to consistently represent Australia as an attractive place for people around the globe to do business.  And thus ‘Australia Unlimited’ was born.

Part of this program was the creation of the Australia Unlimited iphone/ipad application.

The app is a bi-monthly magazine that features stories on prominent Australian entrepreneurs, innovators, environmentalists, scientists etc.

In their words, the app’s purpose is to ‘celebrate Australia’s greatest asset – not its beaches or our mines – our people.’

The app is very pretty, but we couldn’t help but wonder how much the app cost us and if anyone was actually using it.

The answers are: a) a lot; and b) not many.

WasteWatch requested under Freedom of Information laws documents about the cost and usage figures for the app.

Only now do we know that the design and  technical development of the app has cost $599,530.

When you add on money spent on publicising the app in London and elsewhere, the cost blows out to an estimated $1 million.

That’s right, Austrade has spent a million dollars making an ipad/iphone magazine. For such a large amount of money you’d hope it was being widely read.

Well…prepare to be disappointed. Find out more in our next post.

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Posted: 9:25 am on 11th June 2013

Are you an inner city hippy that wants to return to their pre-civilisation roots and start an inner city community garden?  Do you want someone else to help pay for it?

Well here’s the government program for you.  It’s the $1.5 million Community Food Grants program, which is being funded under the National Food Plan. The website states:

The program will provide small grants to support the establishment or improvement of community food initiatives, such as farmers’ markets, food cooperatives, food hubs, community gardens and city farms. It will also support initiatives that address food insecurity, such as food rescue services.

Not for profits can apply for grants of up to $10,000 to help cover the costs of community gardens, city farms or similar activities.

Grants of up to $25,000 are available for farmers’ markets and food rescue projects that achieve a number of outcomes, including:

improve people’s knowledge of food production and agriculture in urban areas

In other words, there is a government funded program to help highly educated inner city hipsters learn how to grow vegetables.  These are your tax dollars at work.

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Posted: 12:07 pm on 5th June 2013

WasteWatch launched with revelations that the taxpayers coughed up $10k to pay for yoga classes at Parliament House.

This issue was raised during Senate Estimates last week, where the extent of the taxpayer subsidy for the gym at Parliament House was discussed in more detail.  Transcript below:

Senator RYAN: That is what I wanted to check. Can I just turn to the contract numbered CN1296431. It is for yoga classes.

Ms Mills : I do not have it in front of me, but I will do the best I can.

Senator RYAN: I understand it is for a year’s worth of yoga classes.

Ms Mills : I would have to check the exact details of that contract, but I can explain what we are doing at the gym at the moment. We have a number of casual staff who run the classes. We have, as you may be aware, been trialling during this sitting period until the end of June extended hours for the gymnasium. So we have brought on some additional casual staff to do that. But I cannot speak to the specifics of each individual contract. I would have to take that on notice.

Senator RYAN: Is this the sort of contract for which there is a cost to the taxpayer or is it merely payment of costs recouped from people using the facility? We have had examples of sleeping classes for staff. I just wanted to check whether this was for staff or whether it was merely a mechanism for paying for a service to be provided?

Ms Mills : All of the services in the gymnasium are available to staff of the building, including senators and members. There is an annual gymnasium membership fee which is paid by users. There are two rates—one for people who are permanently in the building and one for people who are here part of the year. In addition, people can pay for an individual class on a cost basis. It is true that the gymnasium overall is a subsidised program at the moment. We are looking, as part of our efficiency planning, at the right way to operate the gymnasium on a cost recovery basis.

Senator RYAN: What is the gym membership fee for DPS staff?

Ms Mills : For all staff within the building, it is approximately $300 per year.

Senator RYAN: These classes, the yoga classes, are only available to members of the gym?

Ms Mills : No, they are also available to part-time users. They pay on a fee-for-service basis.

Senator RYAN: They are not like the sleep classes we had once before, which were provided for staff as part of an OH&S program?

Ms Mills : That is correct. Effectively, pass holders who work in the building and all senators, members and their staff are eligible to use the gymnasium.

Senator RYAN: When you take this on notice, could you also take on notice whether or not the cost was recovered by DPS? There may have been a cost to DPS or there may not have been—there may have been a profit to DPS.

Ms Mills : I can tell you that the operating cost of the gymnasium and swimming pool exceeds the revenue raised.

Senator RYAN: I appreciate that. But here we have a specific contract for yoga classes. I was wondering whether or not there was a cost for that or whether you might have taken in exactly that amount in revenue and were just passing it through as the contracting agent to the people providing the class.

Ms Mills : I will take that on notice.

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Posted: 9:45 am on 5th June 2013

How would you like to get paid a $100k per year from the taxpayer to do not much at all?  That’s the situation facing West Australian school psychologist Peter Weygers ($):

EACH day for the past nine years, Peter Weygers has had a job to go to but he struggles to say what it is. The 69-year-old is a school psychologist employed by the West Australian Education Department on a salary of more than $100,000 a year. But since May 2004 he has been banned from schools and banned from contact with students he once counselled.

Colleagues call him “the man paid a million dollars to do nothing”. Mr Weygers says he knows he will be a prime target when Premier Colin Barnett introduces forced redundancies into the state’s public sector, ending legislation that is peculiar to WA and specifies all redundancies must be voluntary.

Public sector efficiency will be a key focus of The Centre for Independent Studies TARGET30 campaign.   As CIS Research Fellow Simon Cowan said recently:

The NSW Intergenerational Report 2011-12 predicted that the NSW fiscal gap could be entirely closed if productivity growth in the public sector was raised just 0.5 per cent above the economy-wide average.

While some cuts to the public sector workforce are necessary, we do not advocate wholesale abolition of departments for ideological reasons. Productivity improvements will not arise simply from cutting public sector numbers or imposing blunt efficiency dividends.

Meaningful change needs to be instituted within the culture of the public service that recognises and rewards good staff and allows poor performers to be removed. Promotion based on time served must stop. Pay and conditions must be made comparable to the private sector.

Could you imagine a private sector business paying someone on their staff $100k a year to do next to nothing? If they were a small business they would be rendered bankrupt in no time at all.
But lack of revenue is less of an issue for government, so they can afford to keep unproductive public servants on their books indefinitely.  Our public sector needs to be reformed ASAP.

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Posted: 9:48 am on 3rd June 2013

The New Zealand government has agreed to spend around $32 million to help send a national team to compete in this year’s America’s Cup.

Sailing is a notoriously expensive sport and the decision to compete in hi-tech aerodynamic catamarans has seen the cost of competing in the America’s Cup skyrocket to around $100 million.

The costs of racing this year are so high that it the event has only attracted three other crews to the event.

These boats are temperamental beasts that are prone to capsizing which can put an expensive hole in your pocket – it can cost millions of dollars just to replace the sail if damaged!

We hope for our counterparts across the ditch that nothing goes awry for them;  a broken mast or sail tear would be a quick, gut wrenching reminder of public money badly spent.

While Australians can enjoy this isn’t our money being spent, we can’t be complacent. We are just as mad when it comes to taxpayer funded support for Australian sport.

The 2013-14 Commonwealth Budget had nearly $400 million in government spending on ‘sport and recreation’ for the upcoming financial year alone.

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Posted: 1:55 pm on 28th May 2013

Australia’s politicians have managed to prove the truth behind Adam Smith’s classic maxim about people of the same trade coming together in conversation but ending in a conspiracy against the public to raise prices.

News has recently emerged about a proposed deal, negotiated in secret, between the ALP and Coalition to introduce laws that will give even more public money to political parties.

The proposal is that for every vote a party or independent candidate receives they will also receive $1 to be used for party administration costs. This has come in response to a proposal to make political parties disclose all donations larger than $1,000; previously donations greater than $12,400 had to be disclosed.

It is alleged that the $1 per vote will be used by parties to comply with the tougher disclosure laws and the subsequent need to declare a far greater number of donations.  In addition to the $1 per vote, it is believed a further $300,000 will be allocated to helping parties and candidates comply with the tougher donation laws.

The scheme is estimated to cost $58.1 million over the forward estimates. On top of this, the public already kicks in millions of dollars into party coffers through public financing of election campaigns.

Given that it is estimated that Australia will have cumulative budget deficits to the tune of $50 billion over the next three years, giving $58.1 million to political parties to help them with their clerical and accounting work is ridiculous.

The prophetic nature of Adam Smith’s classic The Wealth of Nations has been proven once again today, 237 years after it was published.


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Posted: 1:47 pm on 27th May 2013

There are revelations today that prove what we already know: government subsidies for the textile, clothing and footwear industry (TCF) are a complete waste of taxpayer money.

In 2005 AusIndustry launched a six year $112.5 million program “to drive innovation and renewal in the textile and clothing industry” through grants to the TCF industry.

Corporate welfare is a bad idea at the best of times but the fact that many grant recipients have since gone belly-up like Ford Australia is salt on the wound.

Lisa Ho’s fashion brand collapsed this month despite the fact that she received a $188,731 grant midway through last year. Similarly, jean manufacturer Bettina Liano went into administration and shut down all stores in Australia despite receiving grants to the tune of $297,526.

Other labels also got in on the money giveaway: Anthea Crawford ($400,834), Scanlan Theodore ($367,210), Carla Zampatti ($265,088) and teen brand Supre ($2.3 million).

Fashion subsidies are in vogue at the moment. In 2012 DFAT gave $15,400 to an individual to start the Australian-China Fashion Alliance to connect Chinese and Australian leaders in fashion – it appears this program failed to connect Lisa Ho and Bettina Liano to any willing buyers.

Despite these failures, AusIndustry has announced that the program will happen again with another $112.5 to be given away between 2011 and 2015.

It appears disaster begets disaster… when will this unvirtuous circle ever end?

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Posted: 10:18 am on 27th May 2013

Just when you thought taxpayer art couldn’t get any worse something like this comes along:

Difficult territory is a cornerstone of the visual arts – so artist Mikala Dwyer knew it would be confronting last night when she invited Balletlab dancers to empty their bowels as part of a performance at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

The two-hour act saw the six dancers, masked but naked beneath sheer garments, move around a room in the gallery before sitting on transparent stools and performing – only if they were moved to do so – what is usually one of our most private and rarely discussed daily acts.

The blogosphere has done some good work and we now know that both the artist Mikala Dwyer and the performance artists from Balletlab are riding the taxpayer funded gravy train.
Dwyer received a $90,000 Australia Council grant in 2009, while Balletlab has received over $500,000 over the last five years from Australian taxpayers.
If you want to check out the display for yourself, it’s at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne.
Victorians might as well go, because they paid for it through the government funded white elephant builder Major Projects Victoria.

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