The central issue in the entire IR
policy advertising controversy is that Minister Abetz, if he were
serving in most other western countries, would be facing either
prosecution or being hounded out of office.

He is, sadly, saved
from such a fate by our unregulated environment, a compliant media and
the demise of the concept of Ministerial responsibility in Australia.
Instead he is free to keep spending our money and keep employing his
chief of staff Peter Phelps to engage in abuse and witchhunts against
dissenters.

To judge the quality of Mr Phelps’s work, let’s
look at just one specific example. Phelps accuses the Minister’s
opponents of “half-truths and outright lies” motivated by leftist bias.
He then makes the claim that the Victorian Government “adopted a set of
advertising guidelines in 2002 that were virtually identical to those
in place with the Commonwealth.”

To the extent that they are
both written in English, it is arguable that they would appear
“virtually identical” to a dyslexic Cantonese speaker or to someone who
spent their life imagining that socialists and Yezidis were huddling
together under beds throughout Australia.

They do cover some
common ground around appropriate connections with women, regions,
ethnic communities and the disabled but that’s about where the
similarities end.

But the Victorian guidelines also state:
“Public funds should not be used for Government communications where: A
reasonable person could misinterpret the message as being on behalf of
a political party or other grouping; The method or medium of
communication is manifestly excessive or extravagant in relation to the
objective being pursued.”

By no stretch of the imagination could the IR campaign pass either test.

If anyone doubts that Mr Phelps is engaging in “half truths and outright lies” on this one, they can visit here and here and go to Guidelines for Victorian Government Advertising and Communications and see for themselves.

But,
the best test of all for this controversy is to invoke the shade of
the great philosopher all true Liberals admire – Adam Smith – and ask
what he would say about a government spending huge amounts of taxpayers’
money on propaganda. It’s hard to imagine he would approve.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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