Last week’s yarn in The Australian‘s media section about $15m spent on IR “overkill” may have done two favours.

The first, of course, was drawing attention to the scandalous spending of the Government on its industrial relations dog’s breakfast – expenditure later tipped to be heading as high as $40 million.

What was also interesting, though, were the comments from various industry figures that the splurge just wasn’t working. The Australian quoted one anonymous media planner as saying “it’s obviously overkill. If you show a TV commercial more than seven times, it is a waste.”

John Sintras, the head of the Media Federation of Australia, told The Oz that “there is a fine line between effective reach and overkill and they have crossed it.”

An anonymous planning consultant added: “How much is too much and how much is not enough? Whether you run an ad eight times or 12 times, it is not going to make that much difference. As a voter I think it is over the top and as a Liberal supporter I think it is over the top.”

Does all of this represent a new state for the Howard Government?

The Howard Government has been sloppy. There’s always been plenty of administrative incompetence. Messy ministers. This has been compensated for by the Prime Minister’s own undoubted political skills, external circumstances – luck – and Labor incompetence.

One of Howard’s greatest strengths has been his ability to persuade everybody in the Government to be in constant campaign mode, to be frightened of losing, to constantly raise the risk of losing – and therefore keeping everyone singing from the same sheet.

After last year’s triumph – and with Kim Beazley falling flat with voters – a belief has developed amongst the Government that they can’t lose the next election. The constant campaign– funded by taxpayer dollars through the Government Members Secretariat – shores up the marginals. Where that fails, there’s pork – everything from regional rorts through to Philip Ruddock’s new family law centres.

The IR overkill epitomises these trends. So how about a new line for Labor – something that can target the Government while the ALP gets its act together.

How about: “They don’t think you can vote them out”?

Peter Fray

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