Monday, May 30, 2011

Poll finds Queenslanders fed up with state and federal governments wasting money

WASTED: The legacy of government programs for taxpayers is $20m for Fuel Watch; $2.45b with $190m in safety checks for the ceiling insulation scheme; $13m for Grocery Watch; $308m for the set-top box program; $275m with $45m help for operators with the Green Loans program; $500m blowout on the old solar panels program and $1b for its successor; and $40m on the solar hot water program. Source: The Courier-Mail

QUEENSLANDERS have lost faith in the ability of the state and federal governments to spend money wisely. A Galaxy Poll conducted exclusively for The Courier-Mail shows 70 per cent of Queenslanders believe governments are wasting money. But the politicians say they have got it wrong.

The Courier-Mail's Waste Watchers campaign will keep an eye on how governments are spending taxpayer money.

It comes after both federal and state governments have been dogged by a series of botched or complaint-riddled programs, ranging from the deadly $2.45 billion home insulation scheme at the federal level and the health payroll fiasco at the state level.

Others include the dumped $275 million Green Loans program and two school initiatives the multibillion-dollar Building the Education Revolution which was overwhelmed by complaints of cost blow-outs and shoddy workmanship and the $1.8 billion computers in schools program, which was stalled by cost blow-outs. Both relied on the state and federal governments to deliver.

Now, the Federal Government has turned its hand to yet another big service delivery program that's already shrouded in controversy: the commitment to install TV set-top boxes for pensioners at a cost almost 10 times the price for which the cheapest devices can be bought.

Treasurer Wayne Swan insists it is the Federal Government's economic record that has kept Australia out of recession. "(There have been) 700,000 jobs created since we came to office and another 500,000 in the recent budget," he told The Courier-Mail.

He said the Government had been "full and frank" about the home insulation problems but stood by the new set-top box scheme for pensioners.

Mr Swan backed the Government's spending record, saying it was returning the Budget to surplus "more rapidly than this country has ever seen before".

But the Galaxy Poll revealed even ALP supporters were unsure when asked whether federal and state governments spent money wisely, with 52 per cent of Labor voters disagreeing.

The Courier-Mail asked the Queensland Federal Labor MPs the same question but was met with silence, with only two backbenchers Member for Blair Shayne Neumann and Member for Moreton Graham Perrett and Treasurer Wayne Swan responding.

The same question was asked of 51 state Labor MPs, with 30 responding with examples of good government spending. Another 21 did not reply, including state Treasurer Andrew Fraser.

Better off with cash

EVERY Australian household could have been handed a cheque for about $560 but instead, they got a series of botched or complaint-riddled "assistance" programs from the Federal Government that were designed to help ease household pressure.

An analysis by The Courier-Mail of a selection of major Government household schemes reveals most Queensland homes would have been better off with a simple cash boost to combat soaring living costs.

The Rudd and Gillard Labor governments have been rocked by a series of costly high-profile service delivery program failures, resulting in billions spent on dumped plans.

But myriad smaller household assistance schemes have also been dogged by complaints, delays and allegations of shonky operators.

The Courier-Mail analysis totals the household programs to about $4.8 billion the equivalent of about $567 per Australian household.

Queensland Council of Social Services president Karyn Walsh said low-income families had struggled to make ends meet over the past five years and needed all the genuine assistance they could get.

"There's been a 63 per cent increase in the cost of electricity, gas and water over the past five years and families need a lot of help to get through that," she said.

Ms Walsh said the money would be better spent on initiatives to reduce household costs on a weekly basis, and noted that many of the programs like home insulation and solar power weren't accessible by low-income families.

The big blunders are headlined by the deadly $2.45 billion home insulation scheme which was dumped after dodgy work and major safety problems, with the Government then having to budget another $190 million for safety checks.

The $275 million Green Loan program designed to assist households use energy-saving technology was also scrapped, with another $45 million budgeted to help operators left in the lurch when the program was ditched.

Two other programs designed to ease hip pocket pain, GroceryWatch and FuelWatch, were dumped before they even got off the ground at a cost of at least $13 million.

Solar panel rebates saw taxpayers first hit with a $500 million blow-out when the Rudd Government cancelled the original program with less than 24 hours notice, before later launching a new scheme. The scheme that followed has cost $1 billion but is now being rolled back ahead of schedule amid concerns it is hiking up electricity prices.

At $40 million, the Government's solar hot water program has been criticised for massive delays.

Coalition MP Jamie Briggs, who runs the Opposition's "waste watch" committee, said the Labor Government was "unable to implement a government spending program without wasting billions of dollars in the process".

"Labor's latest spending initiative overpriced set-top boxes highlights Labor's addiction to spending and proves they haven't learnt from their first-term stuff ups."


Children's play equipment too safe for their own good, expert warns

PLAY equipment designed by "safety Nazis" shouldn't prevent children from taking risks and enjoying themselves, a child expert has warned. More kids aged two to seven were getting injured in playgrounds because they didn't know how to take calculated risks.

A speaker at the Early Childhood Education Conference in Melbourne this week, early childhood specialist Prue Walsh said modern "plastic fantastic" playgrounds were too safe.

"Often playgrounds are designed by engineers who have no knowledge of children," she said. "Children need to actively explore and discover the world around them and to do that they need to learn to take calculated risks," she said.

Playground injuries were often a result of children being poorly co-ordinated because they did not know how to negotiate risks, Ms Walsh said. "I worry about children who don't run up slippery slides," she said.

Ms Walsh said commercial pressures, such as insurance premiums, had influenced the design of today's playgrounds. "Parents are scared of their precious children getting injured and teachers are scared of getting sued," she said.

To improve playgrounds, Ms Walsh suggested longer and bigger slides built into embankments to eliminate falls. Also, smooth boulders for balancing, shallow ponds for exploring and plenty of vegetation to provide nooks and crannies for children to crawl around.

Triple P Parenting Program founder Professor Matt Sanders said children should be in a place safe where they can have accidents and falls. "You want equipment that are in parks and children using toys that we buy to be basically safe so that kids can't be easily injured on them or accidents that easily occur," he said.

"But at the same time we should be encouraged kids to be kids and to enjoy themselves. "Exploring, climbing and experimenting is part of childhood but when it's done when adequate supervision the risks are minimal."


Western Australian Premier holds whip hand in tax debate

Western Australia is grabbing the gravy (Royalties) from the mining boom, thus frustrating the Feds, who need it to prop up their profligate spending

WA Premier Colin Barnett is politically in a seemingly win-win position as he challenges the federal government to get back to work and forget the tax fight.

He can afford to take the moral high ground because in the west anyone who takes the fight to Canberra is a champion and, sadly, on tax matters federal Treasurer Wayne Swan's credibility is in tatters.

Barnett is also in the fortunate position of having guaranteed income flow even if Swan cuts federal funding.

Even local ALP politicians despair about Canberra's mishandling of the debate. They openly say it is hurting their chances of re-election and stress that the mishandling of the mining tax, carbon tax, and the latest row with Barnett over royalties, means Swan has lost forever the chance for any real tax reform.

At The Australian Deutsche Bank Business Leaders Forum yesterday in Perth, outgoing Woodside boss Don Voelte echoed the views of many in the industry when he praised Resources Minister Martin Ferguson but treated Swan with contempt, saying he had been taught only to say nice things about people, so would say nothing about Swan.

Voelte may be leaving the country, and a business leader has only one vote, but a treasurer needs some credibility to do his or her job and the reality is that Swan has little respect from the business community.

The level of business distrust of Canberra is damaging at a time when the reality is the economy is not nearly as strong as the official figures may indicate. This message was driven home loudly and clearly at yesterday's forum.

Barnett also has the luxury of a steady flow of royalty income from iron ore and liquefied natural gas exports, but he, like Canberra, has no real answers on just how to spread the benefits of the boom.

The economy is a lot weaker than most people think and certainly anyone in discretionary retail would quickly agree.

The issue is how to use the proceeds to develop other industries and revive manufacturing, which Barnett can happily offload to Canberra.

He has the likes of Shell's Ann Pickard able to spend money building a research capability in Perth for her new floating LNG plant, which will be designed partly in France and built in South Korea.

Yesterday's panel was united in calling for more immigration, even targeted project-specific immigration, to help mitigate cost pressures.

Woodside has US welders on the job already at its Pluto plant who will be headed home once their work is finished. While Perth and east coast workers happily fly in and out of the big projects, that is only a short-term solution and ironically some cite the fact that Australians are too comfortable to make a big call in moving their base up to the Pilbara. Some argue a special locational tax break could be used to encourage workers to move to the west.

Barnett wants a return to a workable Council of Australian Governments format, but of course he holds the economic whip hand if he loses faith in commonwealth-state relations. That is, until he needs some help on infrastructure funding, which didn't get a mention yesterday but is a key concern.


Global cooling hits Sydney

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) predicts up to 20mm of rain will fall in Sydney today, with warnings of dangerous surf conditions. The State Emergency Service has warned of storms and flash flooding on the northern beaches today.

There is also a strong wind warning for waters between Port Macquarie and Port Hacking, in Sydney's south, with a swell of up to three metres predicted. Since 9am yesterday, 30.6mm fell at Observatory Hill and 15.4mm at Sydney Airport.....

Weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke said it could be the coldest May in Sydney in more than 40 years. "A cloudy and wet end to the month will ensure this will be Sydney's coldest May since 1970," Mr Dutschke said.

According to Weatherzone, minimum overnight temperatures averaged less than 10.8 degrees, nearly 1 degree below the long-term average. The temperature dropped below 10 degrees on 11 nights, when usually there are only eight nights so cold in May.

A cold front dropped snow in Orange on May 12, a rare event so early in the year, Mr Dutschke said.


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