(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)

Taxpayers are on the hook for a $5.2 million campaign to promote the government’s online safety reforms in the lead-up to next year’s election, as Scott Morrison looks to make it a major political issue.

In last year’s federal budget, $23.2 million was earmarked for addressing online harm. Of that, $5.2 million was allocated to promote the government’s online safety laws, including the recently passed Online Safety Act which is due to come into force in January.

In an October Senate estimates hearing, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications assistant secretary Susan Charles said the advertising campaign was timed to come into effect “likely January”.

Since then, the government has made it clear that its suite of tech reforms will be one of the major planks of its reelection campaign. In addition to the Online Safety Act, the government has proposed an online privacy bill and a social media anti-trolling bill

“Our government is stepping up and standing up for those who need to be stood up to … And so that is why our government has taken an important decision. We will be introducing legislation in addition to all the other legislation we have already introduced,” Morrison said in November.

With an election due in the first half of next year, the Morrison government will have a multimillion-dollar, publicly funded campaign that spruiks one of the main messages it wants to take to the election.

It’s not the first time government MPs have been accused of using publicly funded campaigns for political purposes. At the same estimates session the same department was asked about Liberal MPs using government advertisements spruiking the government’s climate change achievements on their personal social media profiles

As Crikey reported in November, the “Australia’s making positive energy” campaign spent $26,000 in its first week on Facebook ads. It’s clocked up more than $200,000 on ads in the month since

During that hearing, Labor Senator Nita Green compared it to the forthcoming online safety campaign, asking the department secretary, Simon Atkinson, whether this campaign was created to be used by Liberal MPs.

“It’s not the intention,” he said.