ACT govt vows crackdown on 'sexist' ads amid Geocon dispute

The ACT government is considering introducing planning rules to stamp out sexualised advertising, amid a war of words with construction giant Geocon over its controversial marketing campaigns.

The move comes despite the national advertising standards bureau last year finding Geocon's campaigns had not breached Australian guidelines, even finding some of its material depicted woman as confident, comfortable and aspirational.

Protesters objected to Geocon's representation of women on its advertising materials. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Protesters objected to Geocon's representation of women on its advertising materials. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman said the government was exploring how the development application process could be used to regulate commercial advertising, including on hoardings and site fencing, to "improve standards and prevent sexist advertising".

Territory plan rules governing signage were also being reviewed, with an announcement on any changes expected within weeks.

Mr Gentleman took aim at Geocon on Friday, saying the promotional material used for its housing projects - including the proposed Tryst development opposite Glebe Park- "did not meet community expectations and we don't condone it".

He said the construction company appeared to have ignored complaints about its advertising, prompting the government to consider the new regulations.

"Business and community leaders have an important role to play in driving cultural change on gender equality, particularly local businesses like Geocon," he said.

"It is widely acknowledged that there is a strong connection between how girls and women are portrayed in society and gender based violence, harassment and sexual assault."

Mr Gentleman would not be drawn on whether the new regulations would potentially influence the ACT Planning and Land Authority's assessment of Geocon's application for a $319 million redevelopment of land opposite Glebe Park, which includes the Tryst, Metropol and Envie projects.

The Canberra Times understands the authority is in the final stages of evaluating the landmark city project.

Geocon on Friday defended its marketing material, which it said had been developed by a predominantly female team and was compliant with national advertising standards and existing planning rules.

The Advertising Standards Bureau has dismissed two separate complaints relating to alleged "sexualised and demeaning" advertisements at Geocon's Tryst and WOVA developments in the past 18 months.

In rejecting the Tryst complaint in November last year, the bureau's panel "noted" concerns about sexualised imagery, before ruling the advertisement did "treat the issue of sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant broad audience". The panel found the material depicted the woman as "confident and comfortable".

ACT Minister for Women Yvette Berry wrote to the bureau's chief executive, Fiona Jolly, a month after the decision, saying the panel's views appeared "out of touch with members of the Canberra community".

"Continuing to depict outdated gender stereotypes or to depict woman in these sexually exploitative ways is detrimental to us achieving gender equality in the ACT and Australia," Ms Berry's letter stated.

Ms Berry last year wrote to Geocon managing director Nick Georgalis twice in relation to concerns about the company's advertisements. In a February 27 letter, obtained by The Canberra Times, Ms Berry said the ACT Office for Women would be "only too willing to work with the company to act as a sounding board for future campaigns".

On Friday, the Geocon spokeswoman disputed claims the government had contacted the construction company about its grievances, as she described Mr Gentleman's statements as "untrue and inflammatory".

Last week, Unions ACT protested against the developer after it held an International Women's Day event touted as a panel of well-known women sharing their property expertise.

Unions ACT has since launched a online petition calling for a ban on "sexist corporate advertising that objectifies women's bodies", which has received more than 400 signatures.

"It is clear that companies like Geocon are out of step with Canberra's community expectations and have abused the privilege granted by the community to display massive public advertisements," the petition stated.

The Geocon spokeswoman said the Unions ACT campaign had "nothing to do with advertising", claiming it was "another example of unions influencing commercial outcomes through political issues", with politicians "acting as their puppets".

The company last week it was being challenged in the Fair Work Commission by the construction, forestry, maritime, mining and energy union in relation to its enterprise agreement application.

Liberal planning spokesman Mark Parton said the ACT government should not be intervening in the regulation of advertising standards.