Sparks fly over use of fireworks funds

AS inevitably as well- intentioned resolutions unravel early in any new annum, a bunch of hand-wringing do-gooders will be out there moaning that expensive celebratory fireworks should have been cancelled and the cash instead spent on the homeless.

That the big bucks providing pyrotechnics to light up Lonnie's Royal Park for the benefit of a bunch of awestruck and lollygagging kids would be better directed towards the roofless and rootless.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of Sydney's socially aware persons (appropriately incandescent with rage) have penned angry letters claiming the $6 million used to light up the Sydney Harbour Bridge to welcome 2013 should have been used to put a roof over a domicile- challenged person's head.

On any measure of "feel goodness" it's a fair point, even if our prediction is that the huge crowds who watched amazing displays in Launceston, Sydney, even Hobart, would have been mightily aggrieved if the Catherine wheels, rockets and penny bungers were dumped in favour of a pair of fiscally responsible and po-faced nature lovers hanging precariously in the trees flashing their $2 torches and making accompanying whooshing noises.

By this stage, the dutiful reader may well consider that your correspondent's new year resolution is to be hard of heart towards the community's indigent.

Not even close - indeed, rather than deprive the majority of an escape from everyday life by observing millions of dollars of colourful fireworks go up in smoke, there are many other schemes soaking up tax dollars and public funds that could be directed towards people without a piece of corrugated iron to keep off the elements.

Witness, for instance, the terrible waste of federal government money on pink batts (for those folks who do have a roof) and the Building Education Revolution that has reportedly seen the odd brick shelter shed knocked up somewhere or another for a million bucks.

Then there's the expensive race against time to lay the wires for the National Broadband Network before the nation goes, er, wire-less.

Yet our especial favourite in this regard is the feds' $308 million project to "upgrade" pensioners' television sets with a digital-friendly set-top box what with the analogue signal being switched off soon all over Godzone.

You talk about a complete waste of money and we will show you a set- top box sitting on a wood-veneered Kriesler idiot box.

Even if Treasurer Wayne Swan wittily claimed the set-top apparatus was "to prevent pensioners from being left in the dark", this scheme is an obscenely expensive clunker.

For starters, the feds quoted the cost per pensioner at around $350, including installation, wiring, a lesson in using it plus (and here's a real bonus) "a year's access to a technical support helpline".

Based on the experience of a recipient, that fiscal guesstimate is well wide of the mark, if not just a sop to the taxpaying classes.

Our usually reliable chronologically challenged source reports that a technician took two days to install the simple equipment.

"It should have taken an hour or so but the technician said he had to get a part and that he would be back with the next day," our bemused informant said.

We don't know whether you're thinking what we're thinking but it certainly stretched out the installation time - to be charged to the feds, of course.

But wait, there's more.

"Then two more technicians turned up followed by several fellows who were there to inspect the work ... that was five men over about a week," she related.

The "back of the envelope" estimate is the installation cost more than $1000.

So why didn't the feds give pensioners a brand-new telly worth around 250 bucks?

Then split the difference between the homeless and pyrotechnics - we're sure that wouldn't cause too many fireworks.

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