Yesterday’s release of federal government advertising figures for 2006-07 showed that the Coalition’s spending on “advertising campaigns” continued unabated during the last financial year. But the total – just under $200 million – wasn’t big enough to set a new record or to grab page one treatment in today’s papers.

The real figure might be significantly higher, though the full picture is not easy to piece together.

Yesterday’s data, released by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC), provides figures only for the largest campaigns – those that cost $5 million or more during the year. Nevertheless, the most striking omission is any reference to WorkChoices advertising, despite the fact that in excess of $100 million has been spent on marketing the government’s original legislation and its 2007 “fairness test”.

The gap in PMC’s figures could be an accident of timing. The first WorkChoices ad blitz was before 1 July 2006 and the second blitz mainly after 30 June 2007, in both cases outside the reporting year. But when I talked to Senator Andrew Murray, a long-time campaigner on the issue, he suggested that the individual departmental annual reports might include different figures. In the past, he said, there have been significant discrepancies between what the departments say they’ve spent and what PMC reports.

It was good advice. Leaving aside defence recruitment, the biggest outlay on advertising – according to the PMC list – was $18,062,993 spent by the Department of Finance and Administration on marketing the Telstra 3 Share Offer. A lot of money? Well, according to DFA’s annual report, the real figure was $25,368,199 – $7.3 million higher. A call to PMC for an explanation of the difference hyson’t been returned.

That’s the biggest discrepancy among the annual reports I’ve looked at so far. But making the comparisons is complicated by the fact that most contentious spender on advertising, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, is one of only two departments that failed to meet this year’s annual report deadline.

According to the department, the department’s annual report is complete and is in the minister’s office awaiting his okay. As Crikey went to press, the minister’s office hadn’t responded to my enquiry about the reason for the delay.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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