Those of us waiting for the phony campaign to end have heard plenty of reasons why the PM is procrastinating. One plausible reason appears to be the avalanche of government information campaigns still coming at us.

With Labor and the unions already spending campaign funds on television ads, it makes sense for the Coalition to take advantage of the millions of dollars yet to be spent on government advertising for a while yet. At least it would make sense if most government advertising were anything but a complete waste of our money.

There is one giant flaw in advertising paid for by governments. It has to at least appear to be non-partisan. While partisan advertising is in the eye of the beholder, and this beholder thinks a lot of recent government advertising is party propaganda, tax-payer funded advertising generally eschews the most effective element of party campaign ads.

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We all claim to hate the negative ads that make up well over half of campaign advertising spending. But negative ads are effective. In spite of the failure of the initial WorkChoices ad blitz to shift public opinion on industrial relations, the Howard government has let fly with another campaign tackling the alleged myths about the system.

The scare campaign by the business groups is more effective, raising the spectre of union thugs running rampant under a Labor government. Government ads can’t be that blunt. Why, then, does the government persist with advertising campaigns that are not only ineffective but very likely to p-ss voters off with their sheer magnitude?

Call it the PR State. John Howard is surrounded by record numbers of public servants and PR flunkies whose very existence depends upon lavish government spending on government propaganda. No doubt they have plenty of taxpayer-funded focus group evidence claiming that expensive information campaigns serve their purpose.

Don’t believe it. If there is an issue that voters have fixed opinions on, it is industrial relations. Australians know where their bread is buttered. The ACTU campaigns have been successful because they raised the profile of the issue and appealed to voters’ fears and prejudices about Work Choices.

The Howard Government’s IR ads keep the issue alive. Clearly, Howard thinks he can make some ground on this issue but he needs a sharper anti-union message than taxpayer-funded ads can provide.

Similarly, advertising on climate change will only remind voters that the government has fumbled that issue. Howard needs a scare campaign targeting the potential cost of Labor’s climate change proposals. He can only do that once the campaign proper gets under way.

Labor is promising to reduce the ad spend on contentious issues by having the Auditor-General vet proposed campaigns and approve only those with essential functions. Like partisanship, just what is essential is a matter for judgment and will be difficult to put into legislation.

Once they are surrounded by the PR state, Rudd and his ministers may, like their state ALP counterparts, see the wisdom of ever more spending on government propaganda.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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