The controversial Powering Forward advertising campaign that spruiked the government's energy policies has been slammed by the Auditor General, who found there was no evidence some of the claims made in the ads were accurate.
The government also continued to spend money on further phases of the campaign, despite receiving evidence previous phases hadn't had an impact on changing people's energy use, or encouraging them to get a better deal.
Starting in September 2017 and running until April this year, the $33 million campaign was intended to help Australians get better deals on electricity, but has been criticised for having a message too close to that of the Liberal party.
While the audit report found its message was non-political and relevant to the government's policies, it found briefings to the secretary didn't include document verification of the statements made in the campaign.
The report said the secretary of the department of Environment and Energy had signed off on the campaign statements, without receiving documented advice verifying the statements were accurate. Departmental officials say this verification was given verbally, but it wasn't documented.
A radio advertisement that ran from August to October 2018 said "we've secured agreements with retailers to give you a better deal ... with savings of hundreds of dollars per year," but when the audit office asked for evidence of this statement, the department referenced events that happened after the advertisement had been on air, including a meeting between ministers and energy retailers on November 7, 2018.
While the audit office found the advertising itself didn't contain an overt political argument, a ministerial media release published in December 2018, the start of the fourth phase of the campaign did.
Auditor-General Grant Hehir found four examples where language in a ministerial media statement that included attacks on the opposition bore resemblance to the statements made in the government advertising campaign. The report recommended all media releases associated with launching a campaign be subject to to the same approval and certification process of the campaign itself.
The government continued with the campaign even though an evaluation report in September 2018 found the impact of the campaign, which had started more than a year earlier, was "yet to be seen".
A further evaluation in October 2018 found the campaign's first three phases "had no clear impact from the benchmark".
"Overall, the campaign did not impact the likelihood of contacting energy providers, especially for those aged 55 years or more with limited internet use; and did not have a clear impact on energy related behaviour."
The Environment Department didn't use some of the less favourable information when advising the government to continue with phase four of the campaign, worth $4 million. Instead it said the key messages would continue to achieve positive results and there was a "solid behavioural response to the campaign's call to action".
The fourth phase involved advertising over December 2018, and an evaluation of its effectiveness found "awareness actually fell amongst households".
Despite this advice, the government continued with a fifth phase of the campaign, in March 2019, just two months before the federal election.