WorkChoices ads were ‘propaganda’, says Senate Committee


WorkChoices ads were ‘propaganda’, says Senate Committee

A Senate Committee inquiring into Federal Government advertising has found its WorkChoices industrial relations ads to be ‘wasteful expenditure and politically partisan’.


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A Senate Committee inquiring into Federal Government advertising has found its WorkChoices industrial relations ads to be ‘wasteful expenditure and politically partisan’.

In fact, they amounted to ‘propaganda’.

However Government Senators on the Committee said in a minority report that the terms of reference for the inquiry had been ‘arbitrarily restricted’ and ‘aimed at achieving a partisan report’.

The Committee, which was dominated by non-Coalition Senators, has recommended that in future Government advertising material ‘should not be directed at promoting party political interests’.

Some facts uncovered

The Committee found that the Commonwealth Government is one of the largest national advertisers in Australia, spending in excess of $100 million per year.

‘Expenditure on Commonwealth Government advertising has climbed steadily since 1991-92,’ the report says.

‘Between 1991-92 and 1995-96, the average yearly advertising expenditure through the Central Advertising System was $85.6 million. Between 1996-97 and 2003-04, the average yearly expenditure on advertising was $126.75 million.’

‘The overall cost of Commonwealth government advertising is also tending to escalate each year. For example, advertising expenditure in the three years from 1996-97 to 1998-99 was $55 million, $89 million and $92 million respectively.

‘In 1999-00, there was a very large jump in expenditure to $240 million, which is accounted for by the GST advertising campaign.

‘Expenditure since that time, however, has never dropped below $100 million per year. In the four years from 2000-01 to 2003-04, yearly expenditure was $170 million, $122 million, $103 million and $143 million respectively.’

The report says Special Minister of State, Senator Eric Abetz told the Committee that all the advertising campaigns conducted could be justified with reference to legitimate public policy goals.

‘The Committee, however, considers that the expenditure figures clearly show that current Commonwealth government spending on advertising is excessive and that the costs to taxpayers of such expenditure are steadily increasing,’ the report says.

‘The recent advertising campaign on the government’s proposed workplace relations reforms, the WorkChoices campaign, provides a clear example of this government’s wasteful expenditure and politically partisan advertising.'

WorkChoices campaign

The report says two major ‘tranches’ of advertising ‘trumpeting the supposed benefits of WorkChoices ‘reforms’ were conducted before the legislation was even introduced into the parliament’.

‘The real purpose of the campaign seems to be to persuade the public, in advance of any scrutiny or debate on the substance of the reforms, that whatever the legislation contains it must be supported,’ it says. ‘Such a campaign is properly called propaganda.’

It says the average TV viewer saw the WorkChoices advertisement 29 times.

‘In addition to the television advertisements, six million information booklets were printed for distribution,’ the report says.

‘At 3 November 2005, 157,500 of the six million booklets had been ordered and just over 178,000 had been dispatched. This meant that about 5.8 million booklets were left in the warehouse.’

High Court challenge

The report says the failure of the High Court challenge by the ALP and the ACTU to expenditure on the advertising raises serious issues about financial accountability.

‘The implications of the judgement by the High Court are twofold,’ the report says.

‘First, the judgement makes plain that under the financial management framework erected since 1997, the Parliament has limited ability to determine how much money is available for particular purposes or the purposes for which money is to be spent.

‘The second, and consequent, implication of the High Court’s judgement is that because of the government’s freedom in relation to the expenditure of its appropriations, there is almost nothing in the appropriations process itself that will provide any restraint on government expenditure on politically contentious advertising activities.

‘The judgement raises questions that go much wider than expenditure on government advertising. They concern the whole financial accountability framework and Parliament’s role in monitoring and approving government expenditure.’


The report makes 13 recommendations, including that:

  • No expenditure of public money should be undertaken on mass media advertising, telephone canvassing or information services, on-line services, direct mail or other distribution of unsolicited material until the government has obtained passage of legislation giving it authority to implement the policy, program or service described in the public information or education campaign.
  • Where a proposed public information or education campaign covers a matter which does not require legislation, an appropriation for the specific purpose of the public information or education campaign must be obtained.
  • The current guideline heading ‘Material should not be liable to misrepresentation as party political’ should be replaced with the heading ‘Material should not be directed at promoting party political interests’.

The Committee also wants the Auditor General to look at all Government advertising campaigns valued at $250,000 and report whether the campaign complies with the revised guidelines on government advertising, and the extent of any non-compliance.


The report can be found here. Also read the:
Executive summary


Minority report


Federal Govt’s IR ads may backfire, say opponents


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