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Homeowner handouts are not the best form of stimulus spending

Now, I don’t expect the Prime Minister to completely agree with me. I know he will struggle to resist showering sparkies and chippies with wheelbarrow-loads of money to keep them charging around in crew-cabs and cranking up Fox FM on boomboxes.

But there are better ways to spend that money and keep tradies in work. Just a month ago Master Builders Australia and the CFMEU – mortal enemies since time out of mind – joined to call for a $10 billion investment in social housing.

As part of tackling coronavirus we have swept the homeless off the streets and into hotels. Where are we going to put them when the tourists come back? On the streets again?

The 30,000 social housing units the MBA and the CFMEU could build might also take some pressure off the bottom end of the housing market. A win all around.

The Coalition has slashed arts funding since it came to power, stripping money from small, innovative companies.

There are other places the government could do some good. In April the Australia Council announced its latest four-year funding round: “funding” in the arts is newspeak for “defunding”. Among the treasured organisations that lost their grants were Melbourne’s La Mamma, St Martins and Polyglot theatres, Barking Gecko in Perth and Sydney’s Australian Theatre for Young People. Nicole Kidman, Baz Luhrmann and Rebel Wilson came up through its programs. The Sydney Writers’ Festival and the Museum of Contemporary Art also took a hit.

The Coalition has slashed arts funding since it came to power, stripping money from small, innovative companies. It is time to put some of that back, or the Arts Council’s main function for the next little while will be overseeing bankruptcies, not arts.

And look over there: universities around the country are bleeding cash. How about a sly $1 billion to help them keep casual staff in jobs until things pick up? (Disclosure: I make part of my income from casual teaching at a university.)

The money doesn’t have to go to the group of eight (full disclosure: I teach at one of them), but could save jobs at regional and less prestigious institutions, where the cuts have already started. Deakin University announced 400 job cuts last week, adding to the 182 that the University of Central Queensland announced the week before. The numbers will keep piling up. (The University of Melbourne has put capital works on hold as part of its budget measures. There are more than a few tradie jobs going begging there, Prime Minister.)

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Of course, if he really wants to do some stimulus good, the Prime Minister has a very easy option come September 30: stare down the back bench and leave the JobSeeker payment where it is. Plenty of people will need it for some time to come, and they will spend every cent. With a Grattan Institute analysis showing heavy job losses in regional Coalition seats, it’s not just right, it’s good politics.

Now, excuse me while I go and call that builder.

Matt Holden is a regular contributor.

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