Look, I've got nothing against tradies.
Except perhaps for some of the driving performed in those oversized utes which seem to be compulsory these days. But hey, not all tradies, right?
This building stimulus plan announced on Thursday, however, seems like a vote-buying handout of taxpayer money straight into the pockets of tradies, hardly the sector worst hit by COVID-19. It seems this way because the funding doesn't seem genuinely capable of doing what the Prime Minister says it's for, and he would know this full well.
First, two disclosures. I'm not jealous of tradespeople, despite what the plumber likes to tell me about how much more money they earn than me. He, a nice bloke, likes to remind me about his offsider, who studied journalism, then thought better of it, which to the elder plumber's great delight seems like a victory in the game of life.
Second, I am one of many people considering a relatively significant renovation, one constrained by funds. You could say I'm on the margins of the target market for a renovation stimulation. Which probably gives me bias.
And there's the rub: the $25,000 from the gummnt is only yours if you spend between $150,000 and $750,000 on renovating. This torpedoes the purpose of the whole shebang. If you've got $150,000 for a renovation, you hardly need the $25,000. It's not going to be the difference between going ahead and not.
The HomeBuilder scheme is way underfunded, and too narrow to access.
Limiting it to homes up to $1.5 million excludes much of Sydney and other areas.
Add the timeframe: it must get through council and be ready to start this year. I can hear planners gasping from here.
Plus, is the need that acute? We know construction drives the economy, and will be a casualty of the recession as people spend less, but the pandemic has hit other sectors harder. Many tradies have kept working through the lockdown, and many say they have plenty of worked lined up well into the near future.
Compare this to university casual workers stood down but excluded from the JobKeeper scheme, or hospitality and service workers out of a job since March.
If the money doesn't seem set to stimulate work like they say, it should be put into something more worthwhile.
Schools don't have enough money for more sanitisation equipment, or playground repairs. Why not pay the same tradies to make improvements to (public) schools?
Or, if you need to spend $680 million on houses, why not use it for social housing, and ease homelessness?
When the stated aims obviously fit so poorly with the program's function, one has to wonder what it's actually for.
Ben Langford is an Illawarra Mercury journalist.
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