Scott Morrison with tourists in Hawaii, 2019 (Image: Twitter)

Crikey cannot be the only publication gleeful at the news that the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) is considering an audit of “the effectiveness of the Department of Home Affairs’ management of its public communications and media activities”.

Home Affairs in general and Border Force in particular has long been on the very forefront of government secrecy, from the blackout regarding “on-water matters” (implemented by Scott Morrison when he was immigration minister) to the present day.

On more day-to-day issues — many of which regard Australians stranded by border closures — there is a striking contrast between its sloth in answering questions and how swift it is to demand a story be corrected.

If you’re not familiar with the ANAO, it is probably the most effective watchdog in the country, diligently producing report after report into the effectiveness of various government agency processes. Usually, it’s as glamorous as it sounds, producing small reports on minor process improvements that are required.

But the office is also the reason we know about, for example, sports rorts, a significant Coalition donor getting paid 10 times over the odds for a parcel of land near the proposed Western Sydney Airport, and two crucial government departments failing to complete the most basic security for their IT systems.

Home Affairs has frequently come under the ANAO’s scrutiny, so there is potential for some real revelations from this process.

While we’re looking into government media, perhaps we could get the ANAO treatment on the effectiveness of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) media management? Areas of inquiry could include:

  • The failure to announce the prime minister’s trip to Hawaii in December 2019 while bushfires were raging across the country. The refusal to confirm his whereabouts at the time or how long he would be absent, the insistence that rumours the PM was in Hawaii were “wrong” and that the matter was “not a story”. (Side note: was the PM specifically told to avoid taking photos with tourists while he was away?)
  • The choice of Kirribilli House, rather than the Blue Room or the PM’s courtyard in Canberra — more accessible to the press gallery — as the venue for the release of the aged care royal commission’s damning final report. The half-hour’s notice journalists were given to get there. The failure to provide the report to journalists until minutes before the press conference, and whether this was intended to stymy questions. (Side note: was there a plan for whether Anne Connolly — or any other journalists heavily across the brief — showed up, and if so why did it fail?)
  • How did the prime minister come to be incorrectly briefed that Sky News was apparently facing an HR complaint against one of its employees regarding “harassment of a woman in a women’s toilet” (which Sky News then refuted)? Further, was it a specific media strategy to put on the public record what the PM was made aware of a private workplace complaint without the alleged victim’s consent, or was the PM acting on his own initiative?
  • What percentage of media inquiries does the PMO outright ignore? We’d happily tender our six months or so of unanswered questions.
  • A less urgent but still valid inquiry might be into how every major publication came to use the phrases “hauled in” and “dressed down” to describe the prime minister’s interactions with Craig Kelly, and the phrase “war footing” describing the national cabinet.