If you’re annoyed that Scott Morrison has delayed calling the election so he can spend another $5 million of taxpayer money to advertise his government, don’t worry, it gets worse. Much worse.
Voters assume politicians and political parties are the main beneficiaries of political advertising. The mainstream media is content to let them think that. But it’s not true — the media is the main beneficiary of that advertising spend. For a desperate industry that is struggling for every dollar, government advertising — by one estimate, a quarter of a billion dollars by the Commonwealth since January 2018 — is a key source of revenue; last week, marketing industry site Mumbrella reported that government and election advertising were about the only bright spots in a bleak landscape for advertising revenue. With “the softest advertising demand in almost 10 years”, even an extra $5 million is some handy pocket money for the media.
So two big winners from Morrison’s dithering about the election will be the Murdochs and Kerry Stokes. Both are politically engaged Liberal Party supporters, and both regularly provide platforms for right-wing extremists in their media outlets. The other big winner is Nine — chaired, of course, by senior Liberal figure Peter Costello — which has a former Liberal staffer running its major papers and which owns over half of the Liberal Party propaganda outlet 2GB in Sydney.
So Rupert and Lachlan, Kerry and Peter all say thank you, taxpayers. The Murdochs, of course, are particularly grateful since their company is one of Australia’s worst tax dodgers.
The advertising doesn’t stop when the election is called, of course. But from that point, the parties themselves have to pay for it. And for the Liberals, who have been struggling to raise funds in an overall environment of declining political donations, that’s becoming more difficult. Worse, they no longer have Malcolm Turnbull to inject millions into their campaign when they fall short. Instead, they will have to rely on fundraising by current Liberal Party Treasurer Andrew “Helloworld” Burnes, Mathias Cormann’s personal travel agent and noted friend of His Excellency, Ambassador Joe Hockey, to help. At least the campaign travel arrangements will run smoothly.
The Coalition has always billed taxpayers for its partisan advertising and always done so via dodgy means. The notorious “unchain my heart” ads from the introduction of the GST two decades ago weren’t by any means the worst of it. Government advertising in the later Howard years for campaigns such as WorkChoices saw tens of millions of dollars handed to Liberal Party mates at the behest of an internal Liberal committee that had no authority to direct spending. The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) condemned the practices in a 2009 report that used extensive documentation to expose as lies the Liberal Party’s claims about the validity of the process of spending taxpayer money. Because the Howard government was history by then, the media ignored what was clear evidence of, at the very least, outrageous misuse of advertising spending — and, quite possibly, blatant corruption.
“Remember, my value is: we look after our mates,” Scott Morrison said when he first became prime minister. When it comes to political advertising, the Liberals have always looked after their mates. And they’re continuing to do it this week.
What do you think should be done about political advertising in Australia? Write to [email protected].