Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Report No. 24 of 2011-12
In accordance with the provisions of the Auditor-General Act 1997, I present the following report of the Auditor-General: Report No. 24 of 2011-12: Performance audit: Administration of government advertising arrangements: March 2010 to August 2011.
I seek leave to move that the Senate take note of the report.
That the Senate take note of the report.
This report only just tabled has an absolute wealth of history of this government's abuse of the advertising guidelines. There will be much more to say on this matter, but it is worth recounting the period that this report covers.
This report covers the period when the government declared a national emergency in order to have a mining tax campaign. The guidelines that they had lauded and preached from the rooftops—the guidelines they had said would guarantee that they would not use money for partisan or political purposes—were shredded the minute the mining tax became a PR disaster for then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The government gave this particular advertising campaign an exemption on the grounds of an emergency—which was one of the criteria it could use—in order to fund an extraordinary campaign to try to buy public support with what had to be some of the most boring and ineffective ads in advertising history, as if putting ads of a PowerPoint slide was somehow going to excite people and change their opinion.
This report is very important. I have only had time to briefly read some short parts of it. As I said, I am sure my colleagues will have more to say on this in the future. This report, in various parts, in a masterful level of understatement that only the ANAO could be capable of—as all good auditors are—said that 'there was not the same level of discipline evident in the processes where the campaign exemptions were granted'. That is extraordinary. That is a very, very understated way of saying that the government trashed everything else it had said it would stick to and that it had trashed any principles of not using taxpayers' money for partisan political purposes. It did so in order to save its own political skin and, particularly, the skin of the then Prime Minister.
Of course, what happened after the change in the prime ministership in June 2010 was that the new Prime Minister announced that the mining tax advertising campaign would cease immediately—and it did. It ceased mainly in order to stop an ineffective advertising campaign generating even more public outcry against a badly designed tax which was bad for the economy. It was merely another example of trying to save the political skin of the Labor Party. Further on, the summary of this report said that the Treasury was required to fast-track development of the so-called tax reform campaign in order that 'the advertising is able to go to air more quickly'. That statement alone explains what the real purpose of this advertising campaign was. It was a political and partisan advertising campaign.
But there are other issues that are relevant here. The advertising agency which was given the contract for this was named Shannon's Way. I believe that was its name at the time but that it subsequently changed its name to something like 'Go Shannon'. This advertising agency is fired by its Labor traditions. I was working in the Victorian parliament at the time that it was embroiled in a scandal about tenders for state government contracts there. What is notable about this agency is its long-term ALP links. Its founder, Mr Bill Shannon, was a founder and a director of the Progressive Business Association—Labor's fundraising arm in Victoria. It has donated to the Labor Party over many years, including—according to the releases which came out just last week from the Australian Electoral Commission—$25,000 in the 2010 election year.
I now seek leave to continue my remarks so that I can have more time to read the full Auditor-General's report, because I am sure that a short reading to create clarity around this government's agenda will provide more and I know that my colleagues will have more to say as well.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.