Wayne Swan believes that Australians will spend their stimulus money “responsibly”. Indeed. The indiscriminate nature of the money sprays, however, has meant that not a little of it has ended up being directed to ends that may be eminently responsible, but won’t do much to help Australia. We’ve already endured confected outrage from the media about foreign pensioners and convicted criminals getting stimulus cheques. What about backpackers?

There’s the case of the Fremantle backpackers’ hostel, where a number of young foreigners, all who had earned income in Australia at some point in the last year, received $900 cheques this week. They’ve all been spending up big since then, which has presumably been welcome by local businesses. Except, a number of the backpackers have since returned home — as even the most annoying backpackers eventually do — meaning those cheques need to be dispatched overseas for spending back in Germany, Sweden, or in whichever country the backpacker has since moved on to.

But still, can’t be helped, and at least the ones still here will be spending all of their stimulus money on alcohol rather than sticking it in the bank like “responsible” Australians.

Then there’s those much-maligned and allegedly irresponsible Generation Y types, who are getting their first taste of serious government largesse of the sort that they could only dream about as previous handouts were given to pensioners, mothers and wealthy superannuation contributors.

Crikey’s intern Amber Jamieson did a quick survey of student acquaintances, many of whom have received Double Stimulation (TM) from Kevin Rudd by way of both a tax handout and a Youth Allowance bonus, giving them $1850. While (methodological note) the survey is a bit on the unscientific side, the results were striking: all that money is funding international travel. Some are paying off debt, some are saving it, but many are using the funds to pay for trips overseas. Non-students who have only received the single $900 shot are also ploughing it into travel to Europe and the United States, in some cases to study, in other cases resigning their jobs here and buying one-way tickets overseas, or using the money to fund their full relocation overseas.

Not that airlines aren’t doing it tough as well, and there’s no reason why Qantas shouldn’t benefit from the spendathon as well, but the extent to which Australian stimulus dollars have ended up stimulating jobs in other countries may yet make a fascinating doctoral thesis. However, it does represent a welcome economic open-mindedness on the part of Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan.

Clearly they know better than anyone just how dependent the Australian economy now is on global demand, and what better way to our bit to stimulate global demand than to distribute Australian largesse around the world. After all, we’re all in this together.

Peter Fray

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