Posted: 9:59 am on 29th August 2014

champagneConference? Holiday? Or both?

With the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility Conference at the Gold Coast, WasteWatch can’t quite tell.

The conference will be held over three days from 30 September.

However, $21,970 is being spent on accommodation for some of the conference’s international speakers, and according to the tender that figure covers 13 days, not three.

It is entirely fair for the Bureau of Meteorology to pay for hotel rooms for its conference guests, especially when those guests are coming from overseas to attend.

However, there is no reason for taxpayers to sponsor an extra week and a half at the luxurious Bel Air Broadbeach Resort.

If the Bureau really is paying for 13 nights of accommodation, that would be rather extravagant — especially for a conference so conscious of ‘sustainability.’

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Posted: 9:23 am on 18th August 2014

LaughterWe’re in a budget crisis, a time where government must slash and save on every possible spending avenue—right? Apparently not.

Thanks to the Canberra Times, WasteWatch has been made aware of tens of thousands of your taxpayer dollars given to ‘notable guest speakers’ by the Defence Department.

This $11,556 contract with the agency Celebrity Speakers does not specify the guest speaker, but the agency represents celebrities such as comedian Wil Anderson. Not that there’s anything funny about a five-figure price tag for a single speech.

Another $11,220 was spent on a speaker from the same agency to talk to a Senior Leadership conference earlier this year.

These revelations come at a bad time for the Defence Department, which recently had details of its hard-line approach to wage bargaining leaked. The pay rise offered to civilian staff apparently fell short of the headline inflation rate by over 2 percentage points, at a mere 0.9 percent.

It can be argued that celebrity speakers are justified as a way to inspire employees. WasteWatch thinks that whatever inspiration may have resulted in this case was probably not enough to counteract those tough budget negotiations.

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Posted: 12:00 pm on 7th August 2014

money-airHiring audio-visual equipment? $10,000.

Renting stage lights? $30,000.

Buying a door knob? $800.

Having a perfectly equipped media briefing room and never using it?

Certainly not priceless. If you’re an Australian taxpayer, the price was closer to $330,000.

That’s the amount of your money that the Department of Immigration and Border Control has spent on building a media briefing room in Canberra. The room has been sitting empty since its completion in October last year.

According to FOI documents obtained by AAP media:

Construction and fitout costs for the hitech room totalled almost $235,000 while the annual cost of having it on standby is running at close to $100,000.

Instead of using the expensive room, Immigration media briefings have been conducted in government offices in Sydney, in facilities at Parliament House, even in another room just across the road. Basically, anywhere except the room with the taxpayer-funded LED monitors, the taxpayer-funded podiums, the taxpayer-funded microphones, the taxpayer-funded projector, and . . . you get the point.

Apparently the government has signed a lease for the room until June 2016. That might just push the cost to the taxpayer over the half-a-million-dollar threshold.

Your tax dollars at work!

—William Shrubb, Research Assistant

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Posted: 3:00 pm on 30th July 2014

money-airRemember when WasteWatch told you about Sydney’s Rocks district’s $280,000 make-over?

Just two and a half months after that original contract, which was to create some “style guidelines” and an “identity system” for the district, another contract worth nearly $200,000 was awarded to another company “to deliver a long term vision and ideas for refreshing The Rocks, Sydney.”

Is this supposed to be different from the first contract?

Or did the NSW government awake from its brief (taxpayer-funded) balloon fantasy with a sour taste in its mouth?

All WasteWatch knows is that NSW pollies should now have plenty of guidelines and identities and visions and ideas for the 200 square metres that is the Rocks district.

And it only cost about $473,000 of taxpayer money, or $2365 per square metre! What a steal.

Now they can get around to generating some visions and ideas for the remaining 809,443.8 square kilometres of the state.

Based on available evidence, that should only cost a touch over $1.9 quadrillion.

William Shrubb, Research Assistant

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Posted: 9:00 am on 24th July 2014

FireworksThe CLP government in the Northern Territory faces a budget deficit of over $700 million, hence the “belt-tightening” measures in its latest budget.

But some things are just too important to cut.

For example: Territory Day, the anniversary of the Territory’s self-governance celebrated on July 1, is the only day Territorians are allowed to purchase and use fireworks.

Our hard-working and hard-playing northern cousins certainly seem to make the most of the occasion.

So raucous are the celebrations, in fact, that last year 35 people were hospitalised due to fireworks-related injuries, a boat and a hay-shed were incinerated, and the clean-up cost Darwin city council ratepayers $15,000.

The Giles government apparently wants to be a part of the mayhem, since it spent over $320,000 of taxpayer money on “pyrotechnical displays” for this year’s celebrations.

To top it all off, the day isn’t even officially a public holiday.

So, to all our NT readers, Happy Territory Day! At least you don’t have to pay $7 million for your fireworks, like Sydney city council ratepayers had to do for the most recent New Year’s Eve celebrations.

William Shrubb, Research Assistant

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Posted: 9:00 am on 23rd July 2014

money-airAt a time when the Abbott government has refused pay rises and banned back-pay for new public service enterprise agreements, some lucky mandarins are laughing all the way to the bank.

The Rudd-Gillard governments began phasing out the public service bonuses brought in by the Howard government, but they didn’t completely finish the job. Some public servants still get end-of-year bonuses, like many of their private sector counterparts.

And a lucky few really cleaned up last year. According to The Sydney Morning Herald:

One executive level 2 public servant — a job usually held by a middle manager or a specialist — received a huge bonus of $482,069.

That wasn’t the biggest:

One SES band 2 officer — typically a senior executive who oversaw several hundred staff — was given a huge $633,216 bonus last year.

Bonus payments were to be phased out by the Rudd-Gillard governments over concerns that they were affecting the quality of advice provided by the public service.

WasteWatch hopes these two lucky mandarins were providing some pretty darn good advice, to walk away with about twenty times the average Australian’s yearly income in (taxpayer-funded) bonuses.

William Shrubb, Research Assistant

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Posted: 10:00 am on 22nd July 2014

car parkThe federal government’s decision to introduce paid parking for public servants around Canberra has been met with hostility since it was announced. At first, only the public service was upset. In coming months, it might be the rest of the country seeing red.

The original installation and maintenance of the parking meters cost the Australian taxpayer over $2 million. Now it turns out the real cost of the project might be much higher.

This is because it is not yet clear if the public servants are going to pay their own parking costs, or if their departments will, or if there will be some other arrangement.

If the public servants are forced to pay for their own parking (what an idea), The Canberra Times estimates they would need a $4000 pay rise from the Australian taxpayer this year just to cover those costs. And you can be sure they’ll be asking for it at a time when many public service enterprise agreements are still up for renegotiation.

The alternative would be for each department to cover the cost of their employees’ parking. However, this would count as a fringe benefit and thus would increase the amount of tax each (taxpayer-funded) department would need to pay.

Either way, the taxpayer will have to stump up.

There may yet be a magical Third Way that does not cost the Australian taxpayer a cent. But it’s not looking good.

William Shrubb, Research Assistant

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Posted: 9:00 am on 9th July 2014

ParklifeDo you know what a Pnau is?

Do you think Chet Faker is a misspelling?

Thought you learnt everything worth knowing about British Sea Power in your high school history classes?

Chances are, then, you’ve never been to the Splendour in the Grass music festival.

Chances are, you probably haven’t even heard of it.

But you’ve paid for it.

See, the festival was set up by two music companies in 2001, to take advantage of Australia’s comparatively empty winter festival schedule. Apparently the promoters walk away with around $4-5 million in profit each year.

So it’s a big deal, and a lot of people want to get on board. For example, each year, the festival attracts sponsorship from major companies such as Smirnoff, Contiki, Spotify, and Moet & Chandon.

But it turns out the festival also receives sponsorship from you, the taxpayer.

See, back in 2011, the Australian Bureau of Statistics gave $44,000 of your money to the festival.

Not wanting to be left out, the Australian Electoral Commission coughed up a further $37,000 in 2013.

Perhaps it’s time to dust off those ear plugs, gather your picnic rug, and see what all the kids are on about. After all, you’re paying for it!

William Shrubb, Research Assistant

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Posted: 9:00 am on 8th July 2014

money-airThe West Australian Auditor-General’s office has just released a report about Government Funded Advertising.

Among the fun facts to emerge was the news that our western cousins spent “at least $45 million” of taxpayer money on media places for government advertising campaigns in just two years.

However, that doesn’t cover the cost of developing the campaigns. The report estimates these development costs at about 30% of the final figure, which means the total cost to the WA taxpayer is more like $65 million.

Another fact to emerge was that calendar slip-ups can be pretty costly.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet in WA is supposed to sign off on all advertising campaigns for “core government agencies.”

Someone must have erred with their calendar, though, because two major advertising campaigns were discovered to be scheduled to air in Perth at the same time.

To avoid the problem, DPC requested scheduling changes one week before the campaigns were due to launch, incurring a cancellation fee of $133,000.

William Shrubb, Research Assistant

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Posted: 11:10 am on 7th July 2014

money-airThe CIS has long been a supporter of strengthening local government, looking forward to “this Tocquevillian vision of a free people organising its own local affairs in autonomy,” in the words of former CIS research fellow Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich.

However, there’s a difference between de Tocqueville, and making videos.

Every year since 1986 the federal government has handed out a bunch of National Awards for Local Government.

These are all very well. They recognise local achievements, and provide an important means of spreading good ideas.

However, as always, there’s a catch.

This time it’s the nearly $150,000 of taxpayer money spent over four years on making self-congratulatory videos (see here, here, here, and here; 2011 is mysteriously missing).

WasteWatch has no problems with the awards and their attendant costs, but are the videos really necessary?

William Shrubb, Research Assistant

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