HASSELL’s winning re-design of Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station

Politicians love nothing more than to pat themselves on the back and we always hear about it when governments invest successfully in a public project. But what of the wasted investments, the boondoggles?

Today, Crikey takes you on a guided tour through the fiscal wastelands of government expenditure and the great white elephants of public infrastructure.

1. Flinders Street Station redevelopment

In 2013, Victoria’s Coalition government launched a competition, calling on designers from around the world to submit plans for a redesign of Flinders Street station. The competition received over 100 entries and was ultimately won by Swiss design company HASSELL.

Last year, almost $1 million of Victorian taxpayers’ money was spent refining the Flinders Street “face lift”. State contracts show the Napthine government paid $930,000 to HASSELL to develop a business case for the redesign. This business case would help the government decide whether the redevelopment could be built without reaching too far into taxpayers’ pockets.

Since coming to power late last year, however, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has scrapped the multibillion-dollar plans for the central station, facetiously referring to the plan as a “colouring-in competition at taxpayers expense”.

2. Water desalination plant 

Commissioned by the state Labor government in 2007, the Victorian desalination plant is capable of supplying up to 150 billion litres of drinking water every year. Sounds like a pretty good way to spend Victorians’ money, doesn’t it? There’s only one problem: it currently fails to deliver water. That’s right. Victorian taxpayers have paid more than half a billion dollars to the operators of the state’s desalination plant, despite the fact that, as of June 30, 2014, the plant had failed to produce any water.

3. Gawler rail line electrification

In October of last year, the South Australian Liberal Party demanded an apology from the state government for “wasting” money and labour on the Gawler rail line electrification project, one year after the Abbott government withdrew funding.

The auditor-general’s annual report showed a staggering write-down of $46 million in spending on a project that never eventuated. The report also counted $28.6 million of costs “not likely to provide any future benefit”. A further $18 million in design, scoping, project supervision, tendering and mobilisation costs for the Adelaide-to-Salisbury section of the line were deemed obsolete.

The state government now has two options: they could either re-spend that $18 million when the project (maybe) recommences in 2017-2018, or they could just burn the cash in sacrifice to the gods of public infrastructure and hope for the best. Same result for the taxpayers, really. 

4. $680 million ASIO building in Canberra remains empty, 15 months after official opening

Coming in as one of the most anti-climatic announcements in recent years is the $680 million ASIO building in Australia’s capital city. More than a year after the headquarters was officially opened, only a few members have moved in, as the building remains mostly empty. ASIO’s staff were due to move into the headquarters in September 2013, but now it appears they may have to wait until half way through this year — making their move close to two years behind schedule.

The ironic twist in this comedy of errors is that, in 2013, Four Corners reported that the building’s blueprints, including plans of its security and communications systems, were stolen in an apparent cyber attack. Did we mention the new building is supposed to house the Australian Cyber Security Centre?

5. Barnett’s WA government allegedly spends $12,000 on coffee machine

While it’s frustrating when governments spend a lot of money on plans and projects that fall by the wayside, it’s even more frustrating when they spend it on things like, well, a coffee machine.  

In August 2014, WA Labor leader Mark McGowan issued a press release alleging Premier Colin Barnett spent $12,000 of taxpayers’ money on a coffee machine. This came after the Barnett government spent $35,000 on a new cabinet table in 2012 and $27,000 was spent on a boardroom table, chairs and a couch for Speaker Michael Sutherland’s office.

One thing is for certain, accountability for billions of dollars in wastage is at zero. Where is the outrage?