Having failed to convince the Senate crossbench of the merit of Christopher Pyne’s deregulation of university fees, the government has now determined to try to convince voters of its case with a taxpayer-funded advertising campaign. In doing so, it has managed to alienate exactly the senators it needs to convince to secure passage of its legislation — including Queensland PUP Senator Glenn Lazarus, who savaged the campaign yesterday.

The campaign wouldn’t be necessary if the government had developed its deregulatory policy in consultation with all stakeholders and then explained the need for deregulation and the benefits of it to the sector and to voters. Instead, the government misled voters before the election by saying there would be no cuts to university funding, then sprung a massive cut of 20% on the sector in the budget and used that cut as a justification for deregulation.

At no stage has Pyne effectively articulated the rationale for the policy in a meaningful way to voters, and at no stage has he done the basics to address what he terms a “scare campaign” by Labor and the Greens over deregulated fees. It’s impossible to determine whether it’s a scare campaign or not, because the government has refused to provide any modelling about the impact of its policies — indeed it claims not to have done any.

The cost of Pyne’s failure, and the government’s mendacity, is now to be borne by taxpayers in an advertising campaign that — typically of this cack-handed government — is already proving counter-productive. The government might be best served by dumping the campaign and taking the whole summer off to rethink not merely how it communicates, but how it determines its policies in the first place. The experience of 2014 suggests both are deeply flawed.

Peter Fray

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