Treasury suspended a $10 million ad campaign last week. The decision was made to terminate the government-funded promotion over concerns it would break caretaker conventions.
The ads in question promoted the Coalition’s Economic Plan, focusing on the government’s record on job creation. The third phase of the Morrison government’s Economic Recovery campaign started in early March, promoted across TV, radio, digital and social media, and billboards.
A Treasury spokesperson stated, “In accordance with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s guidance on caretaker conventions, the Department of Treasury has ceased all campaign advertising for the Economic Plan from 9.30am, Monday 11 April for the caretaker period.”
Under caretaker conventions, “Campaigns that highlight the role of particular Ministers or address issues that are a matter of contention between the parties are normally discontinued, to avoid the use of Commonwealth resources in a manner to advantage a particular party.” The campaign was suspended under this reasoning.
Labor senators alleged the Treasury campaign was political advertising, being used to nudge audiences to vote Liberal in the upcoming election. They criticised the blue colour scheme as being suggestive of the Liberal Party, as well as the slogan “we’re taking the next step”.
During Senate estimates, NSW Labor Senator Tim Ayres asked Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, “What does, ‘We’re taking the next step’ mean, Minister? What are people supposed to do? The next one says, ‘Helping individuals take the next step.’ There’s a picture of people’s feet. What is it for? What is it asking people to do apart from vote Liberal?”
A report by the Australian National Audit Office, released February 17th, also found issues with the Coalition’s Building Our Future campaign. ANAO discovered “shortcomings” in the taxpayer-funded advertisements, stating “Campaign materials were not always presented in an objective and fair manner”.
The report cited ads with ‘no reference’ to state or territory partners in projects including the Brisbane Metro and the Victoria M80 Ring Road and Nowra Bridge. The federal government provided just one quarter of the funds for the former, and only half for the latter.
In its conclusions, ANAO recommended the infrastructure department “assess whether continuing a campaign represents proper use of taxpayer resources and document the reasons for continuing the campaign.”
Ahead of last Monday’s dissolution of the House of Reps, the Coalition had 17 advertising campaigns in the market. Campaigns “of an operational nature” are usually permitted under caretaker conventions – including over issues like defence force recruiting or public health.
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