Well, I came into this building this morning and I could barely breathe for the stench of hypocrisy. It was everywhere.
The worst source was the Government, insisting on the urgent necessity of rolling out its RSPT advertising campaign in the face of a mining industry campaign to “talk the economy down”. Having described Government advertising as a “cancer” in opposition, Kevin Rudd now looks contemptibly two-faced having abandoned the very process to prevent self-serving advertising he rejigged only weeks ago. “Craven, gutless and deceitful” was how one MP described it.
And that the Government is insisting that some sort of urgent national interest justifies the campaign is simply embarrassing.
Then there’s the Liberal Party, which in Government had taxpayers not merely fund blatantly partisan advertising but did so without proper authorisation and via million-dollar contracts to Liberal mates, an outrage that to this day the mainstream media has ignored. The Opposition is jumping up and down about holding a Senate inquiry into this Government’s advertising.
Maybe there should be a Senate inquiry, which would also look into how John Howard’s Ministerial Committee on Government Communications handed so much money to Liberal-connected figures, without any legal authorisation, but don’t hold your breath.
The Liberals would have to die and be born again to have a scintilla of credibility on government advertising.
And there’s more than a little hypocrisy from the media — which, don’t forget, will receive the bulk of the $38m apparently set aside for this campaign. Political coverage today is chockers with outrage over the Government’s decision. That’s a decided contrast with coverage of the Government’s changes to the advertising vetting system and its dramatic scaling back of advertising since the glory days of the Howard Government, which was virtually non-existent.
The only coverage to date of the Government’s approach to advertising has been when there’s been something to criticise, like when it removed the role of the Auditor-General and replaced it with an independent panel.
You can see why the Government might figure that, given it gets no acknowledgement of trying to be a better government on such matters, not from the media and not from voters, it may as well give up and be as bad as the other mob were. After all, voters think all politicians are liars anyway.
John Howard went through a similar process. He arrived in office promising to improve Parliamentary standards, and tried for a while. Half-a-dozen ministers later, he gave up, realising his commitment to higher standards just created a rod for his own back. It was a prelude to a fairly systematic debauching of standards of public accountability. Watch for the same from this lot.
But as Charles Richardson pointed out back in January, such brazen departures from professed standards of good government rarely draw any rebuke from voters. Most voters would only be faintly aware the Government even had any advertising guidelines to breach.
Where this is more likely to hurt the Prime Minister is amongst his own colleagues. There is considerable anger and dismay amongst MPs and some Ministers about the decision, a sense that not merely is Rudd trashing whatever is left of his own credibility but that no one is trying to stop him. What does Rudd stand for? The answer is less and less clear, especially given how relatively new the Rudd ‘brand’ is in Australian politics.
Howard, Keating and Hawke all had well-established political personae, even if they regularly acted entirely at odds with their own principles. Rudd hasn’t got that. There’s a growing void where his professed principles used to be.
It’s also painfully clear to Labor MPs — if it wasn’t obvious before — that Joe Ludwig is a poor replacement for John Faulkner as Special Minister of State, and lacks the internal respect and throw-weight to successfully prosecute any sort of accountability agenda within the party.
Worse, the decision was unnecessary.The hysterical tone of the RSPT campaign had become obvious. The debate had begun turning in the Government’s favour, especially after the Opposition’s Question Time efforts had, by Thursday, begun to run out of puff. Announcing a sort of “national emergency” excuse to roll out a campaign looked panicked.
It’s the sort of impression this Government gives off regularly these days.