First the advertising, then next Monday the Fairness Test

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First the advertising, then next Monday the Fairness Test

Legislation to establish the new Fairness Test for AWAs will be before Parliament next Monday, Prime Minister John Howard has confirmed.

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Legislation to establish the new Fairness Test for AWAs will be before Parliament next Monday, Prime Minister John Howard has confirmed.

Under sustained questioning in and outside Parliament, the Government eventually admitted that the cost of this week's ads for the Fairness Test — about which there is currently almost no information — is about $5m.

However, while the Government declined to give any information about the total budget for the current campaign, Howard did confirm that the cost of the WorkChoices advertising campaign last year — widely regarded as an abject failure — was $55m.

The Opposition spent part of question time pursuing Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn, over the allegation that the Fairness Test advertising campaign had been organised before a Government Committee authorised it. He avoided the questions.

'Arrogance off the Richter scale'

Opposition spokeswoman on IR, Julia Gillard, said the Government's failure to disclose the total cost of its 'multi-million dollar' advertising campaign was 'arrogance off the Richter scale'.

'Last week, they were behaving like Basil Fawlty doing his best to "not talk about the war",' Gillard said. 'The Prime Minister, Ministers, MPs and even DEWR call centre operators were under strict instructions no to mention "WorkChoices".

'We can even speculate that like Basil Fawlty, they muttered to each other "I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it". Now they are imitating Fawlty Towers' Spanish waiter, Manuel, who is often quoted saying "I know nothing".'

Gillard said that in 40 minutes of questioning across five different questions, the Howard Government 'could not do the right thing and disclose to the Australian people how much they were spending on the research-driven campaign, that led to them banning the term "WorkChoices".'

'Value for money'  but no costing

She said Nairn indicated to Parliament the campaign had been assessed as 'value for money', but without disclosing the cost.

'The only confirmed spending total for industrial relations is the disclosure by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, this morning that "our advertising booking is less than $5m … for this tranche".,' Gillard said. 'Based on the Prime Minister's response in Parliament, this appears to be for the first week.'

'This figure does not include research, creative and production costs. At this rate, the Howard Government will rack up approximately $20m per month, if the campaign continues at the present rate.'

Nothing political

In an interview on the ABC's AM program Howard claimed there was 'nothing political' about the advertising campaign.

'It is purely informative,' he said. 'It doesn't attack the Labor Party. It doesn't attack the union movement. It doesn't even mount a philosophical argument in favour of the changes.

'It simply states that there are protections, there is somewhere you can go to get information and we are going to introduce a fairness test. Now nobody can say that there's anything political and the truth is that people want more information.'

However Labor claimed that a further statement from Howard that advertising by the ACTU meant that people 'can be confused and they do want information' meant that the ads had been produced in response to the Your Rights At Work campaign.

Listened to feedback

Minister Hockey put out a statement on the ad campaign in which he said: 'We have listened to the feedback on a need for a better safety net and that is now in place.'

In fact, he is yet to even introduce the legislation setting up the safety net.

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