I didn’t bother going to the Richard Snape lecture, sponsored by the Productivity Commission, delivered this week by Nobel-prize winning economist, Joe Stiglitz.
What a choice of speaker. What was the PC thinking inviting Stiglitz to give this named lecture, in honour of a fine economist who died too young?
Snape was a small government, free trade, economic freedom man and Stiglitz – well, I had better not say what I think.
Anyway, the theme of the lecture – and that is being kind, it was evidently a rambling discourse covering all manner of topics – was that government is the answer and the key to more innovation is government action. Sure, I thought.
I was reminded of this morning by this piece in The Australian about the Building Better Regional Cities program instituted by the previous government. Read it and weep. A source of innovation? More like corrupt pork-barrelling using taxpayers’ monies that are extracted with high deadweight losses.
THE Coalition has slammed a $115 million Labor-era scheme to increase the supply of affordable homes in regional cities as a “pork-barrelling exercise’’, after it emerged just 247 of 8000 promised dwellings had been delivered at more than triple their estimated cost.
It also has been revealed two of five infrastructure projects to receive ministerial approval in May 2012 against departmental advice were in then independent Tony Windsor’s electorate of New England and Dobell, held at the time by former Labor MP Craig Thomson. Both MPs were crucial to propping up the minority Gillard government.
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews said yesterday the Building Better Regional Cities program was “the essence of incompetence and partisan pork-barrelling’’.
He said former housing minister Brendan O’Connor “cherry-picked programs that fitted in with his political agenda, with complete disregard for the advice of his department, which said that most applications were lacking in merit or did not provide value for money’’.
An opposition spokesman said last night Labor was proud of its record in improving regional housing. (LAUGH EVERYONE HERE) Julia Gillard launched the scheme on the first day of the 2010 election campaign. It was designed to provide infrastructure grants to councils to help support the delivery of up to 8000 homes and reduce housing stress in capital cities.
Grants of up to $15m were approved for 16 projects in 15 cities for the upfront developer costs of infrastructure such as connecting roads, bridges and upgrades to drains to support new housing developments.
In April, a damning Australian National Audit Office report found most applications failed to provide value for money and that just 2969 “affordable homes’’ in regional cities including Wollongong, Ballina, Port Macquarie and Hervey Bay were expected to be delivered when the program was completed in mid-2016, with many projects running behind schedule. It has now been revealed that just 247 dwellings have been delivered.
Department officials said yesterday many projects were still at the first stage of infrastructure development. The April audit report found each subsidised lot or dwelling could end up costing taxpayers about $38,100 in grant funding — more than three times the $12,500 per home originally envisaged. It also said “most of the applications had been assessed by the department to lack sufficient merit and/or as not providing value for money’’.
The program joins the ranks of other flawed Rudd and Gillard government taxpayer-funded rollouts including the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution program, the home-insulation program and the green-loans scheme. “This program was nothing more than a pork-barrelling exercise as 80 per cent of the non-recommended projects were (in) Labor or Labor-aligned electorates approved by the then minister, Brendan O’Connor,” Mr Andrews said.
“Two of the electorates concerned were New England and Dobell, held by former independent Tony Windsor and (former) Labor MP Craig Thomson.’’
The April audit report found five of the projects to win approval were not recommended by the department because they were assessed as offering “marginal’’ value for money and did not meet at least two of five criteria.
The locations of the five “not recommended but approved’’ projects were identified yesterday in a hearing of parliament’s Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit. They were in Tamworth in New England, Lake Macquarie in the Labor electorate of Charlton, Maitland in the Labor electorate of Hunter, Wyong in Dobell, and La Trobe in the Nationals electorate of Gippsland.
The Wyong water and sewer infrastructure project was later withdrawn by the department, and the La Trobe project, which did not meet any of the merit criteria, did not proceed to the funding agreement stage.
Committee chairman Andrew Southcott said two of the projects “were in seats held by members who were essential for the survival of the Gillard government: New England and Dobell’’.
He said the audit office had been “damning in the administration of this program in both their performance audit and in evidence before the public accounts committee”.
“The stated goal was 8000 houses for $100m; it seems we have already spent $109m and only have 247 houses,’’ he said.
An opposition spokesman said: “Labor is proud of our record in improving regional housing, after being ignored by the Howard government, and as expected Tony Abbott’s budget exposed a callous disregard for affordable housing for families doing it tough.”
The BBRC program was one of three schemes Labor undertook to improve the supply of affordable housing along with the National Rental Affordability Scheme and the Housing Affordability Fund.
NRAS has been exploited by universities and developers, which have tapped it for millions of dollars of subsidies to build towers for wealthy foreign students.