Page 171 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 10 December 2008

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It is important at the outset that we define the sorts of advertising material we are talking about. It is true that in a free democracy the public is entitled to be able to access information about what the government is doing, what rights have been altered and what recourses are available. We are not talking about that advertising. We are talking about advertising that presents opinions as fact, partisan positions as preferable, slogans instead of substance or is simply self-serving.

As I said, that this occurs is undeniable. Scholars, commentators, political players and the general public have all commented on the fact. In research note No 2003-04 into federal government advertising, Dr Richard Grant noted:

The distinction between government and political advertising is often blurred. This creates claims of political bias …

He also notes the steady increase in government campaigns and the notable spike during election years. Professor Sally Young of Melbourne University, in her book The Persuaders and other articles, notes that the use of government advertising budgets allows governments to run permanent campaigns and gives incumbents a massive advantage. In fact, our current Speaker has noted this trend and said on 4 August this year that the Stanhope-Gallagher government was “using taxpayer funds to advertise itself”. He went on to say:

Over the weekend, I received two glossy brochures in my letterbox advertising the government. One was on the government’s new health investment, reinforcing the money already spent on TV advertising. The second was on schools in the area. This is on top of the glossy brochure advertising the Budget that came around two months ago.

After comparing Stanhope to the federal government, Mr Rattenbury continued:

These brochures do not contain important practical information like how and where to access services, or deadlines for enrolments in school, they are simply self-promotion for the government.

The community rightly became cynical about the Howard government when it adopted this practice, and the Labor government in Canberra is inviting the same response.

The Greens call on the government to stop this blatant political advertising and instead focus on providing services and real information such as where we can get easy access to a doctor and a dentist, and how we can enrol our kids in our local neighbourhood school.

I wholeheartedly agree. Let us look at some of the advertising we have seen by the Stanhope-Gallagher government in the lead-up to the last election. After we ran a campaign on housing affordability, using money we had raised to promote our policy, we were met with a barrage of press and TV advertisements from the government talking about housing affordability and Own Home. You could argue that citizens are entitled to be aware of these schemes. However, they were two full colour facing-page advertisements in the Canberra Times and TV ads promoting the virtues of the scheme, not just the existence of it. Of course, the timing can be nothing less than suspect.

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