Xenophon denounces $30m government advertising campaign

boat asylum ad

The domestic advertising budget for the government’s controversial campaign to promote its new asylum seeker policy is $30m, it has been revealed.

The number vastly exceeds previous estimates for the campaign budget which has been criticised as being politically motivated to win over voters rather than being targeted at potential asylum seekers.

The number was revealed in a letter from spending watchdog the auditor-general Ian McPhee to Independent Senator Nick Xenophon.

(View the letter)

McPhee reveals the campaign, which was launched in the wake of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s new Papua New Guinea policy for boat arrivals, will cost up to $30m.

“The minister’s office requested that full page ads were to be run in all metropolitan ‘tabloids’ the day after the Government’s policy announcement… the office listed the other media to be employed, campaign length and a notional media budget of up to $30 million”, wrote McPhee.

In the days after the campaign was launched media buyers, politicians and political activists alike criticised the campaign for being politically motivated.

Such concerns have now be heightened after the auditor-general explained the campaign has been exempted from scrutiny by the Independent Communications Committee on the basis of a being declared a matter of “extreme urgency” by the Special Minister of State Mark Dreyfus.

Rather than go before the scrutiny of the Independent Communications Committee, which normally vets all government advertising, an “internal Statement of Compliance” was issued on 19 July  and prepared by the Secretary of the Department Immigration and Citizenship. This internal statement of compliance has not been made public.

“The Auditor-General’s response raises serious concerns over the magnitude, haste and inadequate processes of this campaign,”  said Xenophon. “There is no ‘extreme urgency’ in saturating Australian households with these ads—it’s a politically expedient ploy.

The Auditor-General also addresses concerns about the sudden increase in government spending which was up 50 per cent in April. 

“There is a “tendency for campaign media expenditure to increase in the lead-up to federal elections,” wrote McPhee. “It has been challenging for governments to exercise to restraint in spending on advertising campaigns in the lead-up to elections.”

”The Auditor-General has, in effect, highlighted how open to abuse the current processes are,” said Xenophon.

The independent Senator said he would attempt to introduce legislation when Parliament resumes to overhaul the rule on government advertising and have heavy penalties on Ministers who breach them. The legislation is likely to meet strong opposition from both Labor and the Coalition.

In 2007 Rudd described politically-inspired government ads as “a cancer on democracy”.

Nic Christensen 

The Senator gave an interview with Sky News’s Paul Murray on the topic last night:


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