More government waste -- and Gillard hasn't even got the brains to back down from it

LEADING retailers have rejected the Federal Government's digital set-top scheme for pensioners as grossly overpriced. The scheme, announced in the 2011 Federal Budget, sets aside $308 million to help pensioners switch over to digital TV.

The Federal Government plans to spend $350 per eligible household to provide the free service, which will include purchasing the hardware, installation, antenna adjustment, support and warranty services.

But sellers of electronic goods say they could complete the project for only one-sixth of the Government's projected costs, The Australian reports.

Kogan Technologies chief executive Ruslan Kogan said the Government could be delivering the set-top box to pensioners all over Australia "for much, much cheaper". "We estimated the $308 million scheme could be completed for only $50m," the online entrepreneur said. "We can charge as little as $39 for a set-top box (pre-GST). "I don't know where the Government is getting their price from, but we think they should shop around," he said.

The Australian surveyed several commercial outlets and found shopfront and online stores - Harvey Norman, Bing Lee and Kogan Technologies - sold, delivered and installed either a set-top box or digital television well below the estimated costs under the Government plan.

Master Electricians Australia chief executive Malcolm Richards said there was also a danger the plan could turn into the widely criticised pink batts scheme. "We don't need any further proof that the promise of easy government money will bring out all the shonks and shysters chasing a quick buck," he said in a statement.

Pensioners also gave the scheme the thumbs down this week. Pensioner Dawn Denman told The Australian the plan was a waste of money and a potential security risk. "I don't think they need a technician to do this . . . I don't want someone going through my home who I don't know," she said.

Ms Denman, who got a digital set-top box for Christmas, said her daughter took less than half an hour to install it. "It's nothing - it's just putting the cables in the back and using the remote control," she said.

Col Galway, a pensioner from Hervey Bay in Queensland, said he had installed two set-top boxes himself - a task that took "about 10 minutes each". "If they're talking about a $50 machine and $350 to come out and install it, I would like to get that job," he said.

But Mr Swan this week defended the plan, saying he would never apologise for supporting pensioners. He said more than 38,000 pensioners had already received new set-top boxes. "There are accredited people who not only provide the box but set it up and work with the household to make sure it works.

"This program is working well, it is of great benefit to our pensioners, who have worked hard over generations to make our economy strong and it's an important program and it's one that we strongly support."


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