As this week’s opinion polls have shown, the jury is still out on whether
or not the federal government’s industrial relations changes will be a
major electoral liability. But a consensus seems to have emerged that
its advertising campaign for the changes was a failure – and an
expensive one, costing an estimated $55million of taxpayers’ money.

For many of us, the success or otherwise of the advertising was
secondary to the point of principle, that our taxes were being used to
fund a blatantly partisan, political campaign. But the opposition’s
attempts to make capital out of the issue were subject to
counter-attack by the government, which asserted that Labor governments
did much the same thing, that the opposition was being hypocritical and
the government’s critics in the media were being one-sided.

As a defence of wrongdoing, the argument “they did it too!” isn’t very
convincing, but it does deflect a lot of criticism. So it is
interesting to see the news today that Victorian Liberal leader Robert Doyle has lodged a complaint
with the auditor-general about four of the Bracks government’s recent
publicity campaigns, which he calls “a blatant self-promoting
advertising blitz.”

Some of the campaigns attacked by Doyle are more defensible than
others. Advertisements for water saving, for example, are at least in
principle a proper use of government funds, although they may have been
needlessly extravagant. But the main one, the $6 million “building a
world-class Victoria” campaign, was simply a catalogue of government
achievements, almost indistinguishable from the sort of thing that
would run during an election campaign – except that then, the ALP would
have to pay for it.

The complaint deserves to succeed for the same reason that the federal
IR blitz was outrageous – if anything, generic “feel good” advertising
has even less justification. It’s true that Doyle (who has not had a
good year) would have more credibility if he was on the record anywhere
objecting to the IR campaign. But his embarrassment is mild compared to
that of Kim Beazley, who not for the first time finds that the actions
of a Labor premier are more help to the Howard government than they are
to him.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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