Victorian State Election: Crackdown on government advertising pledged

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The Age: Victorian State Election: Crackdown on government advertising pledged. November 4, 2014 Richard Willingham, State Political Correspondent

Taxpayer-funded advertisements spruiking major projects, such as the East West Link and the rail link to the airport, would be banned under an elected Labor government.

Governments of all political persuasions have spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns that promote future and existing projects. The campaigns are often criticised as being “too political” , especially when they are paid for by public funds and detail projects that may be built well into the future.

Under a Labor government, television and radio advertising would be restricted to ads promoting workplace health and safety, community wellbeing and behavioural change.

Advertisements allowed would include TAC road safety, Quit, Sunsmart, problem gambling messages and fire readiness.

In 2009-2010 taxpayer-funded advertising hit a high of $130 million and the Baillieu opposition attacked the Brumby government for commercials that promoted a massive transport plan.

The most recent advertising data under the Baillieu-Napthine government, from 2012-13, showed $98 million was spent on campaigns.

Data for the 2013-14 year is not available until after the November 29 election.

Over the past year Victorians have been bombarded with advertisements promoting the East West Link, new hospitals and the rail link to the airport, which will not be open until at least 2026.

The opposition’s scrutiny of government spokesman Martin Pakula said that if elected Labor would write new guidelines on which the Auditor-General would have oversight.

“While TAFE has been gutted and ambulances don’t turn up on time, this government has wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on blatantly political TV advertising. That will end under a Labor government,” Mr Pakula said.

In 2010 the Coalition promised to crackdown on advertising by setting up a five-person panel headed by a retired judge to scrutinise government advertising.

The panel took more than a year to establish and failed to recruit a retired judge. Instead the panel was reduced to a trio headed by a former Howard government bureaucrat. Its next report is due after the election.

It isn’t only straightforward advertising that has been part of the Napthine government’s promotional arsenal.

In recent months on the Frankston train line, its agency Public Transport Victoria has been running an “information campaign” about improvements.

It has included regular free coffee at railway stations that fall in marginal seats along the route. These include the seat of Bentleigh, which includes McKinnon railway station. There, coffee was being given away on Monday morning.

Transport Minister Terry Mulder and the MP for the marginal seat, Elizabeth Miller, were also campaigning at the railway station on Monday morning.

A spokeswoman for PTV said the “information mornings” on the Frankston line were to let passengers know about upcoming works. She confirmed there would be no more coffee giveaways before the election.

– with Clay Lucas

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