Government advertising is back in the spotlight after the Prime Minister last week refused to confirm whether the Coalition would cross the $200 million mark on advertising spending this year. Yet there are other numbers which are harder to ignore.

In the fiscal year 2006-2007, the Commonwealth Government spent more on advertising than any other organisation in Australia, boosting its spending by 25% on the previous year to take the number one spot. In the top 50 Australian advertisers, only seven other organisations — including Telstra, ANZ, Qantas, and Mitsubishi — increased spending by more.

AdNews reports an estimated federal ad spend of $170-$175 million to 30 June 2007 (not including letterbox drops, online advertising, etc), with Coles coming in second on $155-$160 million. Telstra, Harvey Holdings and Woolworths round out the top five. And the Government’s top brands?

  1. Workplace relations – over $25 million
  2. Health – $23 million
  3. Defence – $14 million
  4. Tax – $10 million
  5. Prime Minister and Cabinet – $7.5 million

Crikey understands TV ad spending has grown this year by 5%-6% more than projected, and half of it is coming from the Federal Government. With television attracting around $60 million in advertising a week (or $3 billion annually) and the government spending around $5 million a week, in that medium alone the Federal Government is consuming up to 10% of the total ad space.

This comes after revelations in The Age that the Government has spent $1.42 billion on taxpayer funded advertising and, in the euphemistic words of Special Minister of State Gary Nairn, “information campaigns” since its election in 1996. That makes the Commonwealth the fifth-largest spender on government advertising worldwide.

It takes only a glance at any one of our weekend newspapers to see the manifestation of this expenditure. Last weekend (September 22-23), across four mastheads (The Weekend Australian, Melbourne’s Sunday Age, and Sydney’s Sun Herald and Sunday Telegraph), Crikey counted 26 Government advertisements, two of which were glossy full-pagers appearing in magazine liftouts.

The majority of the ads were part of five major campaigns:

Australia’s Introducing a Citizenship Test: “Citizenship: your commitment to Australia. Find out more about the new Australian Citizenship Test” here. The promotion also features an information booklet that will be mailed upon request, as part of about $15 million set aside for advertising the new system. 

Climate Clever: flaunting the Government’s green credentials with a number of household enviro tips. The campaign also includes $25 million worth of television advertising, and a website (after it was decided that mailing out a booklet to every household would be environmentally unfriendly). “Find out about climate change and simple ways you can be Climate Clever and save money” here.

NetAlert: warning parents of the hidden dangers their children face online. A corresponding information booklet has been sent to all households, and a website created as part of the Government’s $22 million “public awareness” campaign.

More Money for Pensioners: advertising new vote-sweetening pension eligibility details as part of the Better Super initiative. “Find out how you can benefit from the biggest reforms to superannuation ever” here. Treasurer Peter Costello estimates the overall “communications cost” to be approximately $69 million over two years.


Know Where You Stand: designed to “educate” and reassure employers and employees about the new workplace relations system. The two-phase campaign includes press, radio and television advertising (as well as a public transport onslaught), at a cost of between $20-$100 million.

Running alongside these major initiatives on the weekend were a number of smaller ad campaigns aimed at voters of a variety of persuasions, including:

Horse lovers: Federal assistance is being advertised for people and businesses facing additional costs as a direct result of Equine Influenza.

Nurses: A full-page ‘Open Letter to Australia’s Nurses’ is being run in all major newspapers. It helpfully explains that health-sector industrial relations woes are the fault of state Labor governments.  

Cancer sufferers: the Government is pushing new federally funded cancer support networks.

Innovative Australians: a variety of new grants are being awarded for innovation in industries spanning training, food, telecommunications and health, and the Government wants us to know about it.

Gardening enthusiasts: help Howard defeat “the weed menace”.

And the states, it seems, are following Canberra’s lead. Total federal-state government ad expenditure grew a healthy 13% in 2006-2007.