Sydney's newspaper, the Sun-Herald has just reported that annual catholic youth recruitment drive otherwise known as World Youth Day World, hosted by Sydney in 2008 cost taxpayers of $86 million. The original total cost estimate was $20 million, so it blew out by $66 million.
The Evangelistic Spin
Held between 15th to 20th July 2008, the forecast attendance of 'pilgrims' for WYD08 was supposed to be some 500,000. It was promoted to NSW taxpayers as promising a 'massive injection' into the Sydney economy...'the single largest gathering of people since the Sydney 2000 Olympics will generate tourism earnings, business opportunities, global brand positioning and cultural exchanges.'[Source: Sydney Chamber of Commerce].
In the lead up planning in 2006, the NSW Department of State and Regional Development (DSRD) had undertaken an Economic Impact Analysis (EIA) in considering NSW hosting the World Youth Day event. DSRD estimated ‘the gross total direct and flow-on value added’ to New South Wales from hosting the event to be $152 million. But it excluded potential benefits from additional tourism, business generated, international media coverage and intangible costs such as business disruption.
NSW Minister for Finance at the time, John Watkins MP, claimed that the event would generate $190m in tourism revenue, and the Sydney Chamber of Commerce projected an even more optimistic estimate of $230m! [Crikey - 'NSW spending too much on World Youth Day? Pope a Catholic?']
Wonderful stuff one we were meant to believe!
Well WYD08 officially attracted 223,000 registered pilgrims. [WYD08 website], even though the unofficial wiki website somehow claims "300,000 young people from 200 countries attended during the week, and more than 1,000,000 came for the weekend." Evangelism or facts?
An independent audit report by the NSW Audit Office into the World Youth Day Co-ordination Authority confirmed that the combined NSW and Commonwealth Government contributions came to $68.8M, while the Catholic Church contributed just $10M. Direct revenue totalled $10.5M.
The catholic event involved taking over Randwick Racecourse not just for the event but for four months preventing racing anytime between 6 September 2008 and 31 December 2008. The racing industry was compensated $41.1 million out of taxpayers money, even though the horse trainers at Royal Randwick had estimated the compensation should have been $50M. Additional costs of turf replacement totalled $2.3M
The Undisclosed Costs?
Other costs of services provided by other government agencies noted by the NSW Audit Office involved seconded staffing, dedicated policing including considerable overtime, yet according to its audit report "the cost of these services does not appear in the Authority’s financial report as the value could not be reliably determined."
So what were these costs? Why have they not been made public? The whole event may well have cost in excess of $150 million for all we know. Ad despite all promised hype, what was the confirmed value of the so-called "international profile and economic benefits of Sydney's World Youth Day"?
This event imposed a massive impost on Sydney and involved massive public resources for the direct benefit of a church group, yet the full costs and benefits even in economic terms have been covered up by the NSW Government.
Could the $86M+ have been more equitably spent?
What tangible benefit did that $86M+ contribute to NSW society?
What were the opportunity costs of those millions?
According to a NSW Government Briefing paper on Homelessness in NSW:
"Data from the last Census in 2006 published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in its “Counting the Homeless Report”, indicated that at the time of the last Census, there were approximately 104,676 people who were counted as homelessness, with approximately 27,374 people counted as homeless in NSW. There were also approximately 16,375 people who were “sleeping rough” in Australia on the night of the Census and approximately 3,715 people “sleeping rough” in NSW. The City of Sydney also recently conducted a street count of people “sleeping rough” on 17 February 2009. It found that there were 340 people “sleeping rough” in the CBD and surrounding suburbs, including Woolloomooloo, Kings Cross, Paddington, Glebe, Surry Hills, Ultimo and Redfern."
Compare the self-serving benefits to the catholic church of WYD08 of the $86M+ to what the social benefits could have been dividing the money equally between Mission Australia, The Salvation Army and the Red Cross - each charities providing direct tangible benefits to society's most needy.
New data from The Salvation Army reveals that in the past 12 months, 1 in 5 people (20%) coming to them have never asked for help from the Salvos before.
The Salvos estimate that in the past 12 months they have seen approximately 80,000 Australians in need come to their door for the first time ever.*
The Salvos need to raise $75 million nationally from this year’s Red Shield Appeal including $9.7 million from the big doorknock on 29 and 30 May.
Major Brad Halse, spokesperson for The Salvation Army, said, “Our services are stretched greatly. The demand on our frontline personnel is still huge. Without doubt many, many Australians in the cities and the bush are doing it tough. It doesn’t take a lot to tip struggling families into a situation where they desperately need help." [Source: Salvation Army website]
It ain't as if the catholic church is 'needy'
BRW magazine's investigative research has shown that churches generated almost $23 billion in 2004, with the Catholic Church turning over almost two-thirds of that.
The Catholic Church is almost five times larger than any other church and dominates the top 20 charities, the magazine says. It estimated the Catholic Church's gross revenue at $15 billion in 2004. The next largest was the Uniting Church with $3.1 billion.
The Catholic Education offices in NSW, Victoria and Queensland made up three of the top four charities. Several Catholic hospitals were in the top 20. BRW estimates the Catholic Church owns property and other assets worth more than $100 billion. [Source: 'Catholics lead rise in charity revenue', 23rd March 2005]
All the while, the catholic church, like all religious groups, do not pay tax. So the $8M+ of taxpayers dollars spent on WYD08 was effectively an annual religious recruitment drive by the catholic church.
'In 2005, BRW research found that the Catholic Church earned the bulk of the more than $23b in revenue earned by the ten largest religious groups - $16.25b. At the same growth rate identified by Adele Ferguson, this would be $20.47b in 2008. If even just 5% of that revenue was profit, that’s more than $300m that the Catholic Church will avoid this year in company tax alone. Ferguson estimated that the Church had more than $100b in assets, the bulk of which would be property – which would mean several hundred million dollars more in land tax that state governments are missing out on.
So, courtesy of our exempting religions from taxation, the Catholic Church alone keeps the best part of a billion dollars a year minimum. Throw in everyone else – the Uniting Church, the Anglicans, the happy clappers and their coffee chains, the Salvos – and we’re talking a billions of dollars a year in tax revenue forgone. The $160m being poured into the Youth Day is small beer indeed."[Source: NSW spending too much on World Youth Day? Pope a Catholic?'Bernard Keane on Crikey, 28th April 2008].
Conclusions and Questions
Not only has this event demonstrated the absolute ineptitude of the NSW Government to even come close to cost estimates for such major events (a four fold blowout), it has failed to publicly disclose the full public economic costs (such as policing and that of seconded agency staff), so the NSW Government has been less than honest with the people of NSW of whom it squandered their taxes.
What were the benefits from additional tourism, business generated, international media coverage and intangible costs such as business disruption?
The NSW Government has close ties with the catholic church and many of its cabinet ministers are catholic. At the time of the staging of World Youth Day, Premier Morris Iemma was catholic, Deputy Premier (and the minister responsible for World Youth Day) John Watkins was catholic, the Minister for Juvenile Justice, Barbara Perry was catholic, Minister for Ports and Waterways, Joe Tripodi, was catholic and the then Minister for Ageing, Kristina Keneally, who met her husband at a previous World Youth Day, was also catholic.
This $86M+ of taxpayers money going to a catholic church recruitment drive and appropriating Randwick Racecourse for a church group was not only a gross misuse of public monies and an inappropriate favouritism by government on a massive scale; it has compromised the democratic principles of separation of church and state. Clearly in NSW the two are not so separate. Imaging the outcry if Iemma and Watkins were members of the church of scientology and they arranged all this the same way!
The catholic church mislead the NSW government and the people of NSW with its inflated estimates of attendees and should be held financial responsible to reinburse the NSW Government for the shortfall. WYD08 only registered 223,000 pilgrims not the promised 500,000.
What 'massive injection' went into the Sydney economy? The NSW Government and the Sydney Chamber of Commerce need to clarify the actual revenues.
What contribution did the catholic church in NSW contribute to NSW society in 2008 by way of charity and humanitarian support in verifiable dollars? How does this compare with the likes of The Salvation Army, Mission Australia and the Red Cross? How much does the NSW Government contribute to these social charities on an annual basis?
How can the catholic church ethically request the NSW and Commonwealth Governments fund its WYD08 recruitment drive to the tune of $86M+, when many citizens of NSW were not asked and many are not catholic, do not want to be and object to their taxes being undemocratically used to fund a church festival?
How can the catholic church ethically request the NSW and Commonwealth Governments fund its WYD08 recruitment drive to the tune of $86M+, when the catholic church has been found to generate $15 billion in 2004 alone?
The catholic church has robbed taxpayers in self-serving recruitment drive , that it could have easily finance out of its bank account.
The catholic church has an ethical obligation to refund the $86 million less its own contributed $10m (so the balance of $76M) to the NSW and Australian taxpayers. The $76M should then ethically go directly to our society's most needy in provide tangible long term life-improving support and the full $76M be independently and publicly accounted for.
Now that would be an ethical use of taxpayers money.