Government ‘No Visa’ campaign draws fire for being politically motivated

boat asylum adThe Federal Government’s new ‘No Visa’ campaign is drawing from criticism from media buyers, politicians and political activists alike, who say the Government has launched a politically motivated campaign funded by taxpayers ahead of the upcoming federal election.

The first two days of the national campaign which so far features print and radio advertisements, apparently declaring to asylum seekers arriving without a visa by boat: “You won’t be settled in Australia”, is estimated by media buyers to have cost taxpayers up to $400,000. However the media schedule for the campaign appears to be targeting middle Australia rather than asylum seekers.

“The average government campaign is four weeks and will extend over print and digital,” said a senior media buyer. “For just a weekend campaign across the five News Corp metro newspapers you’re looking at at least $200,000, the ads in Fairfax will be another $120,000. So at least $320,000 in just two days.”

“Once you go regional and radio it becomes a lot more murky but the general rule is you add 25-30 per cent on top of what you spent on metros, so at least another $100,000.”

The Daily Telegraph today reports the ‘No Visa’ campaign is part of a wider advertising blitz that could see the government spend as much as $65m in the coming three months. When approached for comment the Department of Immigration today confirmed the campaign is currently being run in print and radio but would also be run digitally and on television in the coming weeks.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon told Mumbrella he would be making a formal complaint to the Auditor-General about the ‘No Visa’ campaign arguing it is “blatantly political advertising”.

“I’m making a formal complaint to the Auditor-General about the ads because they’re a cheap way for the ALP do its blatantly political advertising at taxpayers’ expense. I mean really—how many people-smugglers in the outer suburbs of Jakarta subscribe to the Adelaide Advertiser?,” said Senator Xenophon.

Over the weekend Treasurer Chris Bowen defended the campaign on the grounds it was important to advertise the new policy, of sending asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea, domestically, because recent migrants from countries including Iran, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan would communicate it back to their home countries. “And tell them, look the policy has changed in Australia, the law’s changed, please don’t come by boat because you’ll get resettled to Papua New Guinea,” Bowen told Sky News.

Jana Favero, director of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, rejected the Government’s strategy. “I’m sceptical in terms of who they are trying to reach, they got the campaign up very quickly, and it was shown that it didn’t go through their normal channels for approval,” said Favero.

“I have only seen the ads in English so if they’re aim is to get messages back to people in home or transit countries, as they have with previous campaigns, then by putting ads in The Daily Telegraph or on shock jock radio they are probably not reaching the audience they are trying to reach.”

Senior media buyers also cast doubt on the strategy. One buyer who declined to be named told Mumbrella: “I’m not sure I understand the strategy behind this campaign, if you wanted to reach the target audience why not go spend the money in The Times of India, the largest english language circulation newspaper in the world?”

A spokeswoman for Australia’s Customs Service, which has responsibility for overseas advertising, said an advertising campaign had begun but at this stage the media component was confined to social media and the “wide-spread distribution of media materials via Australian Embassies and High Commissions, who have distributed material focussed on delivering messaging on migration policy in key source and transit regions for people smuggling activities. These areas include South-East Asia and the Middle East.”

Senator Xenophon said the creative involved in the campaign clearly showed the political strategy behind the advertising.  “For Chris Bowen to say these ads are written for recent arrivals to communicate back to their families is ridiculous: the ads don’t say ‘tell your families’ they say ‘you won’t be settled in Australia’,” said Xenophon.

Update: Immigration spokesman Sandi Logan this afternoon confirmed the first week of the Government campaign would cost a total of $2.1m.

“The minister has approved $2.1m in the first week and has not resiled from approving further spending in the following weeks,” said Logan.

“The campaign was only certified on the 19 July and went live on July 20, the research from a previous campaign informed the direction we have gone with this campaign so that it not just ethnic media.”

Nic Christensen 


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