When the government’s dud poll figures hit on Tuesday (here)
with blame being sheeted home to the planned reforms of industrial
laws, ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries called on workplace relations
minister Kevin Andrews to bring on the IR advertising campaign – tipped by some sources to be worth as much as $20 million.

ABC Radio’s Media Report
looked at the issue of government advertising – the blurry lines
between legitimate public education campaigns and partisan material –
yesterday (here).
And with a weekend print campaign for the IR changes in the offing, the
Democrats accountability spokesman Andrew Murray says that there needs
to be greater public scrutiny of government advertising (here).

Murray
claims there’s no accountability from the ministerial committee on
government communication which makes the spending decisions. special
minister of state Eric Abetz says the committee abides by guidelines
established by the previous Labor government. Saying “They did it,
too!” doesn’t necessarily answer Murray’s concern.

The Commonwealth spends around $100 million a year on advertising and it creeps up before elections, Media Report
was told by Melbourne University academic Sally Young, who says the
Feds are up there with Coke and McDonald’s and Toyota as one of the
country’s biggest advertisers.

Where Media Report got
interesting, however, was in its coverage of the Ministerial Committee
on Government Communications. They talked to Stephen Bartos, a former
senior public servant who’s now Director of the National Institute for
Governance at Canberra University. He pointed out how the Committee
doesn’t contain ministers other than the special minister of state.

Last
time there was public information about its membership, it had three
other members: two Liberal Party backbenchers, and Tony Nutt, a member
of the prime minister’s staff. The Ministerial Committee on Government
Communications doesn’t have its own website, it doesn’t have its own
publications, it’s just mentioned briefly in a couple of lines in the
Government Communication Units’ website.

This is worrying
because it’s dealing with decisions about spending taxpayers’ money,
roughly $100 million each year, and some years the government
advertising spend goes well beyond that. In the year when we had the
GST campaigns, it was well over $200 million.

Who does Bartos
thinks sets the agenda? “The Prime Minister’s office,” he replied. And
who does the committee answer to? “As far as we can tell, it doesn’t
actually report to anyone at all.”

Something to think about when the ads hit.

Peter Fray

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