Stimulus (N): A Huge Sum Of Money Spent On Any Old Crap

What doesn’t count as economic stimulus? Or, if we are to use the more formal term, is there any spending Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wouldn’t consider to be Nation Building for Recovery?

The Commonwealth Government is planning to spend $1.4 million helping a recreation hall in the ACT install iPod docking stations, among other things. Children these days apparently won’t go anywhere if they can’t plug in their MP3 players. And the global economy needs – really, really desperately needs – a couple more iPod docks.

Just like it really, really needs the renovation of the Guildford community hall’s interior linings, the upgrade of the Harry Trott reserve car park in Kennington, and the new BMX track in Gardiner Reserve, Gisborne. And the credit crunch really needs the old tourist welcome sign in Tenterfield, NSW, to be replaced. (That one will cost us $30,000, but I’m sure Tenterfield deserves only the best in welcome sign technology.)

All of these recession-busters are contained in the Federal Government’s community infrastructure program as part of the stimulus package. There’s a quarter of a billion dollars being spent on these sorts of “community” projects, which apparently differ from normal infrastructure because of the occurrence of group hugs or Kumbaya singalongs.

Don’t get me wrong. Community is lovely and heart-warming and sharing-tastic. But reading the list of community projects makes it seem as though the Rudd Government is giving the whole country a full body massage, except the ending will only be happy if you’re into eucalyptus distillery museums and really big budget deficits.

It would be interesting to find out what proposals the Government thought were bad value for money, if any. If the iPod docking stations got through, what wouldn’t have?

Admittedly, if you are going to try to flood the economy with borrowed cash, you have to buy something – you might as well build a shed for Warrnambool’s Holiday Actors theatre group or give a Glenroy toilet block a once-over.

The purpose behind the stimulus plan seems to be just getting people to do stuff. But why this particular stuff? Why not build a super-fast underground railway from Perth to Hobart? At least that’d be exciting. Or what about investing in a giant computer to figure out the meaning of life? We’ve always wanted to be a knowledge nation; that would finally clinch it.

It’s hard to believe the future of the Australian economy depends on the mass upgrade of toilet facilities. In fact, it’s hard to believe that the Government can do anything about the world economic downturn that got us into this mess.

The old rule about government is that everything it builds costs at least twice as much. In the past few days, a Queensland school has received $250,000 for a shed that is only worth $29,000. So when we see the Commonwealth paying $38,000 for chain-wire fencing around a junior oval in Carisbrook, it seems a bit steep – unless the fence is made out of titanium and hand-chained by vestal virgins with PhDs.

I’m no expert, obviously, but Tumby Bay on the Eyre Peninsula is managing to fence a full-sized oval, and rehydrate some drought-stricken trees, for just $25,000.

If the Government called you and insisted it pay for you to build an extra wing on your modest home, you’d be an idiot not to budget generously.

At the 2007 election, the Liberal Party handed out maps of its electorates pointing out all the cool stuff it was able to scrounge from the Government: a traffic light upgrade, a new carpet for the local school, a microwave for a CFA station in Kooweerup. These maps helped inculcate the belief that the sole task of federal politicians is to snatch as much money out of the common pool of taxation as they can. Every electorate for itself until the next budget.

The community infrastructure program reproduces this principle on an industrial scale. Government MPs will dine out for years on the photographs of them wearing safety hats while observing the construction of sheds and toilets in every corner of their electorate. And that may be the whole point.