Friday, 12 February 2021

Well it didn't take long the undeclared federal election campaign to sink down to the lowest common denominator - abuse of a journalist during an interview

Well it didn't take long for the undeclared federal election campaign, begun in earnest this month, to get nasty after the Liberal Party began to white ant basic rules. 

It's the fact that a general election has not yet been called - which  means that the rules for publicly funded information campaigns still have to be obeyed to the letter - which will cause problems.

Stating a clear intention to go to the polls has never suited the Prime Minister's preference for conducting most of an election campaign before setting a date (which triggers an AEC timeline) so he can milk the public purse for millions of dollars in campaign expenses.

The guidelines and underlying principals are clear.....

The underlying principles governing the use of public funds for all government information and advertising campaigns are that:

a. members of the public have equal rights to access  comprehensive information about government policies, programs and services which affect their entitlements, rights and obligations;

b. governments may legitimately use public funds to explain government policies, programs or services, to inform members of the public of their obligations, rights and entitlements, to encourage informed consideration of issues or to change behaviour; and  

c. government campaigns must not be conducted for party political purposes. [my yellow highlighting]

For some reason the Minister for Health and Aged Care & Liberal MP for Flinders Greg Hunt - a veteran of seven federal election campaigns to date - decided to make it glaringly obvious that he intended to rack up as much free advertising as possible and well as bill personal campaign expenses to the public purse through his taxpayer funded media team. 

He did this by putting the Liberal Party logo on paraphrased text from a 4 February 2021 Australian Dept. of Health announcement - which skated on thin ice when it comes to publicly funded information campaigns but didn't quite break the rules.

It didn't break the rules because the only place the logo appeared was in visual material on Greg Hunt's free social media accounts, which are officially authorised as the Liberal Member for Flinders even though they carry little local electorate content being primarily geared to display content associated with his ministerial role.  

In the end it was Hunt's arrogance and nasty name calling which gave the game away. As for the justification he gave - it was nothing but arrant nonsense.

The NSW Nationals are being a touch more circumspect in tying past federal government grants to the undeclared federal election campaign.  They offered over-egged comment only, which didn't have to skate over any ice at all.


The problems with abuse of process in relation to federal government advertising has been recognised but unfortunately not resolved.

Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), Government Advertising: June 2015 to April 2019, 26 August 2019:

13. The Australian Government’s campaign advertising framework was introduced in 2008 with the express purpose of providing confidence that taxpayer funded campaigns are legitimately authorised, properly targeted and non-political. A decade on, this area of government administration remains contested, with an ongoing focus on the discretion inherent in the framework and the long-term trend of increased campaign expenditure before elections. The persistence of debate over the use of public resources for certain government campaigns indicates that the framework has not achieved its primary purpose of building confidence and is therefore ineffective in respect to this outcome. In these circumstances, there would be merit in the Parliament and Australian Government revisiting the framework. This audit report includes recommendations aimed at improving both the selected entities’ administration and the framework’s transparency. The recommendations reflect the findings of this audit and four previous ANAO audits conducted since the framework’s introduction. Framework-level recommendations focus on: clarifying mandatory requirements to reduce the large measure of discretion which is a feature of the framework; strengthening the third-party compliance advisory function to enable it to review campaigns at any stage of development; improving the transparency of approved campaign budgets and annual expenditure reporting; and applying certification processes to media releases associated with launching a campaign. [my yellow highlighting]

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