Crazy ways your tax dollars being spent
From fancy artwork and $1000 office chairs to "Minecraft support", Australia's public servants have been spending big during the pandemic.
More than one million Australians were put out of work as a result of devastating lockdowns and other government policies to "flatten the curve" of COVID-19, with the country subsequently falling into recession for the first time in nearly three decades.
But as small businesses were wiped out and livelihoods destroyed, the public sector thrived. State and federal bureaucrats, many of whom were responsible for the lockdown policies, received pay-rises.
A browse through government tender notices since July - the month the official unemployment rate peaked at 7.5 per cent - reveals some interesting spending priorities.
With October's federal budget plunging Australia headfirst, Scrooge McDuck-style, into a trillion-dollar national debt that won't be paid off until the early 2080s, it's not surprising government departments are also loosening their belts.
Here's where some your taxpayer dollars have been going.
In July, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission spent more than half a million dollars fitting out all of its offices with "desk pucks" - a hot-desking booking and management system known as Floorsense.
The financial watchdog paid $565,746.50 for the system, which is marketed as having new coronavirus-related features such as contact tracing support and social distancing enforcement.
Health-conscious government agencies have also splashed out on sit-stand desks in the past six months.
In September, the Australian Electoral Commission spent $94,361.30 buying 109 sit-stand desks, the Department of Finance bought $14,267 worth, and in July the Department of Agriculture spent $45,897.50.
For when the standing gets too much, bureaucrats can plant themselves on a metaphorical cushion stuffed with taxpayer dollars.
In October, the Office of Parliamentary Counsel spent nearly $56,000 on office chairs.
That included $21,648 for 20 chairs, which works out to around $1100 each. It spent a further $34,221 for an undisclosed number of chairs - the Office of Parliamentary Counsel has about 110 employees - from another supplier.
In NSW, Gladys Berejiklian's department was also keeping up appearances with the purchase of $162,600 worth of designer rugs for the "drawing room and ante drawing room" at Government House in Sydney.
And while the arts sector has complained that the government has dragged its heels providing federal funding to assist during the pandemic, they have been helping in their own way.
Over the past six months, federal departments spent nearly $220,000 on artwork to brighten up their offices.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spent $90,000, the Department of Parliamentary Services spent $40,700 followed by a top-up of $10,280.01, the Office of Parliamentary Counsel spent $28,105, the Attorney-General's Department spent $25,000, and the Future Fund Management Agency spent $22,220.
Manwhile Services Australia (formerly the Department of Human Services) spent $137,224 on "service recognition gifts" for its staff - those little glass plaques typically engraved with messages like "Employee of the Year", "Sales Achievement Award" or "Days Without a myGov Outage".
Then there's the National Blood Authority, which paid $60,000 to a Swiss-based foundation to produce "two high-quality animated videos" about patient blood management, a practice aimed at conserving patients' own blood to reduce the need for transfusions.
The two $30,000 videos were requested from the International Foundation for Patient Blood Management to "support the promotion and implementation of patient blood management and the PBM guidelines in Australia".
An animated video explaining the process is prominently featured at the top of the IFPMB's website already - off the shelf, as it were - so it's not clear exactly why Australian taxpayers needed to fork out for our own custom-made versions from Switzerland.
Finally over in Victoria, where Daniel Andrews' Wuhan-beating lockdown kept schoolkids in Zooming into classes for most of the year, the state government recently spent $241,106.34 on "support services" for Minecraft: Education Edition.
The contract, a little less than the average cost of building a real-life house, was for "the development of two additional Minecraft worlds, including technical and student mentoring support".
The same Education Department also spent $281,377 on a "teacher recruitment campaign PR strategy", in order to help "promote teaching as a modern profession and to attract more practitioners" - preferably ones who have at least defeated the Ender Dragon.
Simon Cowan, research director at the conservative Centre for Independent Studies think tank, said the public sector "should always be careful with taxpayers money, but this is especially true during a pandemic".
"The public sector shouldn't be indulging in luxuries when ordinary workers are taking pay cuts and losing their jobs," Mr Cowan said.
"Government debt is rapidly heading for $1 trillion, GDP fell off a cliff in June, and it seems government departments are still doing business like it's the 1980s."
Originally published as Crazy ways your tax dollars being spent