The biggest electoral advantage of the Liberal-National Party Government is about to unfold and the television industry is looking forward to it with an eager anticipation. The pre-election Government campaigns are now in the final stages of preparation and the spending is about to begin.

Advertising managers for the commercial networks expect that the next six months will see a new expenditure record reached and there is no reason to doubt their prediction.

Every pre-election period seems to bring a greater need for the public to be informed of government projects than in the pre-election period that preceded it.

Accurate figures on government advertising expenditure are difficult to establish but the Parliamentary Library produced the following summary:

The Parliamentary Library research found that the 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2001 federal elections were preceded by sharp increases in government advertising outlays:

  • The bulk of the Keating Government’s $3 million advertising campaign on Medicare Hospital Entitlements was spent the month before the 1993 poll;
  • The Keating Government spent $9 million in the three months prior to the 1996 Federal election campaign;
  • The Howard Government spent $29.5 million in the three months before the 1998 election campaign. Half this expenditure ($14.9 million) was on the GST campaign. Still, pre-election spending on GST advertising accounted for only 13% of total expenditure on the GST campaign and;
  • In the four months before the 2001 election, the government spent roughly $78 million.

The advantage for the incumbent in such massive spending is enormous. In the guise of providing public information, the government parties are able to conduct the positive part of their campaigning – explaining all the good things in their record.

Their own political party funds can thus be predominantly used for the negative aspects of pointing out the failings and shortcomings of their opponents. Those opponents, without the benefit of the public purse, must use their own resources for both the positive and negative aspects of their campaigning.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey