The announcement of a ‘broadband fix’ by the Federal Government last week was quickly followed by accusations that the announcement was more about politics than policy, and the leaking of an email from the Minister’s office calling up a list of marginal seats for the Cabinet discussions really only leant weight to the argument.

But, in addition, a quick flick through last week’s Hansard reveals that the Government’s use of the issue to shore up marginal seat holders runs deeper even than that.

Last Tuesday’s Hansard contains this exchange between Labor’s Chris Evans and Communication’s Minister Helen Coonan:

Senator CHRIS EVANS (2.54 p.m.)–My question is directed to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Can the minister explain to the Senate how the member for Stirling, Mr Keenan, was able to have an advertisement in local newspapers promoting Australia Connected published on Tuesday of this week, the same day as the official launch? Was there a leak of the minister’s plans from her office or was it the case that as a member in a marginal seat, one of those listed in the 40 taken to cabinet, Mr Keenan was provided with advance information as part of the government’s political fix? Doesn’t this again confirm that the minister’s announcement is much more about short-term politics than about the long-term communications needs of this country?

Senator COONAN–As I said earlier, this policy has been in prospect and being developed for eight months and it is fully costed. There are coverage maps for the whole of Australia and it is a policy that has been carefully developed. Under no circumstances could it be said that this policy has been developed either in response to the Labor Party or to the forthcoming election. This has been in prospect since the supplementary budget portfolio statements of September 2005. How can you conflate a date back in 2005 to some urgent outcome in 2007? That is seriously overstating the case. The important thing about the so-called leaked email is that what it referred to was a series of maps that were being prepared, and those broadband coverage maps were prepared and released in their final form to all MPs on the day of the announcement. I stand by that–they were released on the day of the announcement. That is not to say that certain members may have made some sort of submission to the office; I will have to take that on notice.

Opposition senators interjecting–

Senator COONAN–Well, if you do not want me to take it on notice I will withdraw that offer. What I will say is what I know, and that is that all coverage maps, irrespective of whether they were Liberal, Labor, National or Independent, were released at the same time yesterday after the announcement.

Senator CHRIS EVANS–Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that the minister did not actually answer the question. I ask when were the government MPs on the list of 40 considered by cabinet first advised. Is it the fact that they received information prior to the maps being distributed yesterday? If they were not advised earlier, how could the member for Stirling have got his advertisement into the papers today? Can the minister advise whether or not the ad was drafted by the government members secretariat on behalf of those members? Isn’t it the case that you didn’t release the information yesterday but you had put in a political campaign well before the announcement was made?

Senator COONAN–Senator Evans is completely wrong about that. The maps in their final form and all the details of the releases were released after the announcement was made yesterday.

To spell it out: the Liberal Member for the (very marginal) seat of Stirling in WA, Michael Keenan, had an ad about the broadband announcement in the local Guardian Express on the Tuesday after the announcement was made (the Minister’s press release is dated the 18th of June).

Now, if you haven’t dealt with the booking system in a local newspaper before, a Tuesday distribution, has a booking date of the previous Tuesday (12th) and artwork must be supplied by the Thursday 14th) – though from personal experience you can, at a pinch, get away with putting the artwork in on the Friday if you’re a good customer.

And, of course, the artwork must be done up which also takes time – and you’d be on a hiding to nothing if you bet that similar ads were lodged in target marginal seats across the country, with pretty similar artwork.

So, to add it all up – the Minister calls for maps of marginal seats while Cabinet is considering their broadband proposal; the proposal substantially benefits marginal government seats and those marginal seat holders are tipped about the announcement far enough in advance to be able to get ads about it into their local paper the same day that the announcement reaches the newspapers…

All we need is a Liberal Party linked agency to get a multi-million dollar government contract for a mass media campaign to ‘inform us about the new arrangements’ and the corruption of public policy for political gain will be complete.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that Michael Keenan and Stirling have been mentioned in the context of bodgy electioneering practises. Labor’s John Faulkner hauled the defence department over the coals in estimates last year, after the department apparently supplied Keenan with large numbers of tax payer purchased copies of a defence pamphlet which then somehow managed to find their way into an electorate wide mail-out in the marginal seat.

PS – apologies for the two step links to the relevant Hansard transcripts. The site’s permalinks don’t actually appear to work at all.

For the original blog post at Larvatus Prodeo, click here.