This is a sample of The Echidna newsletter sent out each weekday morning till the end of the election. To sign up for FREE, go to theechidna.com.au
If advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have on something they don't need, then government advertising is surely the art of spending other people's money and boasting about it.
But calling it art is a little disingenuous. So for accuracy's sake let's simply refer to it as a massive misappropriation of public funds that should be stopped but, in all likelihood, never will be.
Australia's federal, state and territory governments outlaid an extraordinary $610 million of taxpayer's money on advertising campaigns last year. Despite a sizeable chunk being spent on pandemic-related messaging, a significant amount was splurged on little more than public relations exercises extolling the virtues of their own achievements.
We're not talking about political advertising like those crass election ads currently filling your screens that do not have to comply with truth in advertising laws and which, judging by present standards, require little artistic expertise beyond a diploma in kindergarten finger painting.
No, this is spending such as the Coalition's recent $6.2 million 'Building our Future' campaign designed to "raise awareness" about its multi-billion-dollar infrastructure investment program. It also conveniently splurged $4 million extolling its COVID economic recovery plan in the crucial month leading up to the calling of the election. There was also a "making positive energy" campaign that, at a cost of $31 million, informed the public about the government's "good progress in reducing emissions."
Apart from being nothing more than blatant electioneering and braggadocio, this sort of advertising infects all levels of government and even extends to the modern practice of virtue-signalling. The Echidna's burrow is in a regional area governed by a council that recently went broke. It never had the money to fill potholes or maintain public parks. But somehow it always found the cash to install a series of distracting roadside signs reminding residents they should always say no to domestic violence.
No-one would dispute that governments should communicate with the people they serve. But since when did it become a critical function of governing to tell us things we either already know or are pure common sense? And when did it become standard government procedure to boast about "achievements" that were once considered normal practice?
The Australia Institute, an independent policy think tank, recently revealed that the federal government spent more than $140 million in advertising in the past financial year - surpassing multinationals like McDonald's, Amazon, Pepsi and Coca-Cola. And that was a fairly cheap year compared to 2015-16 ($180 million) and 2017-18 ($160 million).
"It's no wonder voters are cynical about government advertising when they are spending more than these major multinationals," said the Institute's Bill Browne. "Current rules have failed to prevent dubious and controversial advertising campaigns from being funded at a cost of millions of dollars of public money."
The Institute wants the Auditor-General to be given powers to pre-approve government advertising. Good luck with that when governments around this country remain enraptured with what American politician John Randolph described almost two centuries ago as "that most delicious of all privileges - spending other people's money."
HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you pay attention to government advertising? Is it time governments at all levels cut back on their ad spends? And did you watch last night's debate and who did you think won? (It was far too late for The Echidna)... Send us your views: firstname.lastname@example.org
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
THEY SAID IT: "We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
YOU SAID IT: "A so-called hung Parliament this time? Leading to a power sharing arrangement and cooperation? Possibly leading to an effective ICAC and genuine commitments on climate change? Yes, please, and if we like it, let's do it again." - Ross.
"I think election day will more likely be labelled 'Informal Disaster Day.' I have just received my postal voting forms and I know one name on the Reps paper and three names on the Senate paper. Alas!" - Billie.
"I think a hung Parliament will be a good thing - and I'd like Albo to be our new PM! What a refreshing change that would be - a real leader with a caring heart." - Linda.
"Cheaper medicine won't change my vote and no key issue or fake election promise from any major party will. I'm putting Australian Democrats first then sensible smaller parties and Independents. And yes I will be pre-polling." - Lesley.
"I will not be voting independent after Oakeshott and Co. put Gillard in who promised no carbon tax and then introduced it. Independents have questionable platforms and cannot be trusted." - Derek.
"Make May 21 Australian Independents Day!" - Greg.
"If Australia is to return to the great country it was 70 years or more ago, then the majority of the populace need to wake up, forget the 'She'll be right' attitude of the past and take a real active interest in what is happening in our country and how it is governed. Let us hope that the major parties get such a shocking shake up that they start to really listen to the people." - Murray.
"I don't think it's so important to remember every detail and statistic, it's more important to know where or who can provide those details. Knowing everything just shows micromanaging, and a lack of trust in your team." - Sally.
"Preferential voting isn't the problem. Education and knowledge of the voting system is lacking for many people. If people had insight about the power of their vote, then maybe they would seek a more democratic voting system. As it is, many of us vote and can't get the ideal choice, however, second best and third best are much better than the 10th and infinitely better than a blank next to a candidate." - Russell
"Having donated $1500 to Climate 200 and being totally disgusted with the Morrison government for its support of the fossil fuel industry, failure to set up the promised integrity commission and total failure on climate action I'd be very disappointed if any of the teals supported the 'COALition'." - Dave.
"I support Scott Morrison's stand on an integrity committee. It is more important to get it right than to rush in, in order to check it off the list of things to do. The damage done by a rush job could be enormous." - Wendy.
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