Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. M.C. Parnell:
1. That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into and report on taxpayer-funded government advertising campaigns with specific reference to:
(a) the establishment of guidelines dealing with the appropriate use of South Australian government advertising;
(b) the cost of government advertising;
(c) a process for dealing with complaints about government advertising from the general public; and
(d) any other matters that the committee considers relevant.
2. That standing order 389 be so far suspended as to enable the chairperson of the committee to have a deliberative vote only.
3. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.
4. That standing order 396 be suspended to enable strangers to be admitted when the select committee is examining witnesses unless the committee otherwise resolves, but they shall be excluded when the committee is deliberating.
(Continued from 18 February 2009. Page 1317.)
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (20:58): I rise to support the motion. I do so—
The Hon. P. Holloway: Why doesn’t your Budget and Finance Committee do this? I thought that’s what they were supposed to do.
The PRESIDENT: The minister will not encourage the Hon. Mr Lucas.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: As the Leader of the Government knows, there is so much waste and inefficiency right across the board, the Budget and Finance Committee is fully stretched keeping up with most of the inefficiency—
The PRESIDENT: The member will not debate interjections.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: —and wastage right across the board. This is just a specific example, Mr President.
The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: I can understand why you didn’t do ads when you were treasurer.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Why’s that?
The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: ‘We have a record deficit,’ said Rob Lucas, Treasurer.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: That interjection comes from a member of a government which is about to go into massive deficit—’massive’, if I could quote the Premier of South Australia. It is a massive deficit on all three measures, whether it be cash, operating result or, indeed, the net lending result. We are likely to see the Hon. Mr Finnigan defending his Treasurer from his faction. Again the potential is that, in the coming months, this state will lose its AAA credit rating, so the Hon. Kevin Foley will join the only other treasurer in the state’s history, another Labor treasurer, to have lost the AAA credit rating from South Australia. If the Hon. Mr Finnigan wants to talk about deficits, surpluses and performance, I am very happy to engage with the Hon. Mr Finnigan on those issues.
The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Lucas may be better off addressing the motion.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I will talk about the Rann government’s hypocrisy on party political advertising and trace a little of the history of this issue. Back in June 2001, Premier Rann (then leader of the opposition) held a joint press conference with Nick Xenophon supporting legislation to ban taxpayer-funded political advertising. He made a promise to the people of South Australia that, if elected, he would implement a ban on taxpayer-funded party political advertising. I will quote from the Sunday afternoon press conference. I said to the Hon. Mr Xenophon afterwards, ‘And you believe the premier?’ He said, ‘Well, I have no reason to disbelieve him’. If you ask the Hon. Mr Xenophon these days whether he has reason to disbelief the Premier in relation to some of his promises, you may get an entirely different response. What did he say on that lovely Sunday afternoon at a joint press conference with Mr Xenophon? Mike Rann on Channel 9 on 3 June 2001 stated:
“When you see a politician in an ad, then you know basically its about politics.”
“South Australian ministers will be forced to pay $100,000 out of their own pockets if they authorise the use of taxpayers’ money for party political advertising.”
So, Mike Rann was promising that, if a Labor minister under his premiership was to involved in using taxpayers’ money for party political advertising, they would be forced to pay $100,000 out of their own pockets. The Australian further stated:
“No pokies MP, Nick Xenophon, who will introduce a bill into the upper house on Wednesday in an effort to curb spending on political advertising, was at a press conference with opposition leader, Mike Rann, yesterday that announced Labor would support the legislation.
So, that was the promise this government and then leader of the opposition Rann made to the people of South Australia.”
In the period leading up to the 2006 election—as the Hon. Mr Brokenshire indicated, we are now in the countdown to the 2010 election—we saw, to quote the Leader of the Government, a massive increase in taxpayer-funded political advertising prior to the 2006 election. Did it relate to the announcement of new policies like pensioner concessions or things like that? Let us look at some of the taxpayer-funded campaigns prior to the election. There was the Rann government State Strategic Plan advertisement claiming stunning results, such as the new Adelaide Airport terminal, which was started before the plan was even announced. This television advertisement was claiming stunning results, yet that terminal had started even before the State Strategic Plan had commenced.
There was a television commercial on the air warfare destroyer contract, with Mr Rann telling everyone that we had won the contract after the decision had already been announced. It was not as if it was providing information and detail that had not been provided. The decision had been announced that South Australia had won the contract—and one can argue about respective roles of the federal Liberal government or the state Labor government, but nevertheless it was an open debate at the time.
We then had television commercials with a man on the phone saying, ‘G’day, Premier, I’ve got some very good news: ASC has won the contract.’ Mr Rann said, ‘Its about jobs for our kids. It is about jobs for our kids for decades to come.’ Then there was the South Australian government logo on the left and the voiceover still saying, ‘This is just the beginning’, and then another voice over, ‘Authorised by Mike Rann, Adelaide’. The South Australian Strategic Plan had that lovely jingle from Ben Lee ‘We’re all in this together’, and I will ask the Hon. Ms Zollo to sing that for the chamber.
The Hon. Carmel Zollo interjecting:
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I can claim a passionate interest in truth and accountability but I certainly do not claim to be a good singer. We had the dulcet tones of that, and I will not go through all that script.
Then we had the law and order ad and Mr Rann telling us what a good job he was doing keeping people safe. This is what Mr Rann said:
“This is Mike Rann. Everyone is entitled to feel safe in their homes and communities and, while I am pleased that crime rates are coming down, the state government will continue to do more to ensure our neighbourhoods are safe. We now have a record number of police on the beat and we are still recruiting. We are also providing more money for crime fighting, including DNA testing, and we have been changing the laws with much tougher sentences to ensure the punishment fits the crime.”
Last week we announced a new community policing initiative designed to put extra police on the ground where they are needed, and we are expanding the Neighbourhood Watch program to better educate communities on crime prevention. Let’s keep our state safe.
Then the voiceover is ‘A message from the government of South Australia’. It is all Mike Rann to camera in the law and order radio advertisement.
Then, of course, we had the massive news of the airport terminal opening and Mr Rann telling us about free bus services to the airport for the opening. That was important enough to have more electronic media, and this was Mike Rann again:
H”i, this is Mike Rann. South Australia is on the move—first the train to Darwin and then winning the giant air warfare destroyer project, and our new trams will be arriving here soon. This weekend you’ll have your chance to see Adelaide’s brand new airport terminal. We’re providing special free bus services to and from the airport so that everyone can have a look, and it’s fantastic. So, check the papers for details or call the Adelaide Metro Infoline, but don’t miss out.”
Again, that was Mike Rann in the radio advertisement.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins): The honourable member will refer to the Premier by his title.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I would love to, Mr Acting President, but the actual script says, ‘Hi, this is Mike Rann.’
The ACTING PRESIDENT: I understand that.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: The script says ‘Mike Rann’ but I will refer to him as the venerable Premier. They were the important television advertising campaigns, and we found out through FOI after the election (and I put out a release in April 2006) that the documents showed—the ones we were able to get, and this is half the argument—they had spent more than $2 million on that advertising binge in the lead-up to the campaign. There was the Eventful Adelaide campaign, the climate change campaign, the Strategic Plan, the state budget, Real Choices at Work, Nursing SA, the AFC contract, free buses to the airport, and policing. There were nine separate electronic media campaigns in that period leading up to the 2006 election.
This came from a person who in June of 2001 stood up with the Hon. Nick Xenophon and promised that if his party were ever involved in any taxpayer-funded party political advertising the ministers would be fined $100,000 out of their own pockets. That is how tough he was going to be on advertising.
There was a series of other releases over the last two years that I have put out releases about as a result of FOI. In terms of last year’s FOI requests about taxpayer-funded advertising, we had always sent these FOI requests to the Department of the Premier and Cabinet because Premier and Cabinet has a coordinating communications committee which was a subcommittee of cabinet and all requests for taxpayer-funded advertising had to go to that committee. So we would send the document requests to that area. After a lot of fighting we got some of them, and we had to appeal others, etc., and it was a long and difficult process.
However, this year, when we put in the same requests, they came back with answers such as ‘no documents exist’. For example, we put in a request for the documents about the use less energy television campaign which had been running last year which I think all members would have seen, and it came back ‘no documents exist’.
From another FOI, we found a reference to the black balloon advertising campaign costing $400,000 to $500,000. It was the same advertisement of course: the black balloons that came out of the household appliances. So, we went back on appeal and said, ‘Well, you tell us no documents exist. We know that there’s advertising. What’s going on here?’ They said to us, ‘Oh, do you mean the black balloon advertisements?’ They did not realise that the tagline to the commercial, ‘Use less energy’—which had been used in the FOI request—related to the black balloons, or so they said.
In regard to a number of other requests, they have said, ‘We don’t hold documents. You need to go to the other agencies.’ Recently, at Budget and Finance (to answer, in part, the Leader of the Government’s question), we have pursued respective areas. When Premier and Cabinet were to appear before Budget and Finance, lo and behold! On the morning of the day that the chief executive was to appear before Budget and Finance, he was urgently required by the Premier to attend the cabinet and could not attend Budget and Finance, so poor Greg Mackie had to pinch-hit and answer questions, and he took them on notice.
However, we put questions to Premier and Cabinet and said, ‘What’s going on here?’ There is something that is now called the Premier’s Communication Group, and we have a list of the five people who are in that group. As you would expect, Paul Flanagan, one of the corporate communication gurus and a former spin doctor to Mike Rann, is on the committee, as are a number of other spin doctors. We said to them, ‘What’s going on? Are you trying to suggest to us that, even though there is a Premier’s Communication Group within Premier and Cabinet, you don’t keep any documents when they come to you seeking approval to go out for a government advertising campaign?’
I think that is a fanciful proposition, having myself been, I might say, a chair of the communication group, whatever it was called, or the subcommittee of cabinet in the last four years under the last Liberal government. There was a secretariat for that group as there is with all cabinet subcommittees and, of course, it kept all the documentation in relation to government advertising. So, one of the tasks for this committee is to get to the bottom of what is actually going on within that communications group in terms of approvals and so forth.
Another issue, again, to assist the Leader of the Government, who is interested to know what Budget and Finance has been doing on this, is that, without the work of Budget and Finance, we would not have established another big promise that the member for Ramsay—the Premier—made in the 2006-07 budget. He said, ‘Look; we are cutting back on government advertising. We are going to cut $9 million out of the government advertising budget over the forward estimates: $1 million in 2007-08; $3 million in 2008-09; and $5 million in the period leading up to the state election.’
The cynics at the time, I guess, wondered whether that could indeed be true, but that was his promise on behalf of the government in the budget documents: $9 million out of the forward estimates on government advertising, with the biggest chunk—$5 million—to come out in the period leading up to the election. That was a momentous change for Premier Rann and his government. Having splurged all that money prior to the 2006 election, he was saying he was actually going to cut the advertising budget by $5 million in that period leading up to this election.
Of course, no-one had pursued that issue other than the Budget and Finance Committee. We pursued that issue with the Under Treasurer last year, and he said, ‘Well, look; I’d better take that on notice. Yes; it was in the budget document. I’ll take that on notice.’ Eventually, we got a reply back which, I think, was tabled before the committee in February of this year (or it might have been late last year), and that indicated that that decision had been deferred.
A decision had actually been in taken in 2007 straight after the budget, but they had not told anybody that that decision had been deferred. Cabinet officers were looking at alternative mechanisms to achieve the same budget savings, or so we were told. If the questions had not been asked in the Budget and Finance Committee, we would never have heard of it.
There is one interesting thing that we will pursue in Budget and Finance with Treasury. For those members who follow the budget documents, Budget Paper 3 always lists the new decisions and their impact on the forward estimates for each department or agency. So, if you go to chapter 2 or 3 under expenditure, members can look at each agency and see each decision that has been taken—either an increased expenditure or a cut in expenditure for each agency—and then straight after that section is a list of all decisions taken since the previous budget and their impact on the forward estimates.
If, since the previous budget, a decision has been taken, which means either more expenditure or less expenditure and the impact on the forward estimates, it is listed in that section. If you go to the budget documents, the decision to defer the cut in government advertising is not listed. It was hidden deliberately by Premier Rann and Treasurer Foley. Every other decision—many of them much smaller than $9 million in terms of the impact on the forward estimates—is listed in a separate line, but this particular decision was hidden, because they did not want people to know that they had made the promise and that they had not delivered it.
There are many reasons why we should have a Budget and Finance Committee, and that is just a further example. If it had not been for the work of the Budget and Finance Committee, this premier and this government would have got away with that and no-one would ever have known that the promise they made in 2006 had been deferred.
Now we have pursued that with the Department of the Premier and Cabinet this year, and we are now being told that cabinet is about to look at other options where the $9 million might be shared out amongst all departments and agencies. When we asked the question, ‘Does that mean that the agencies might have to achieve it perhaps through cutting back in a publicity office or something like that, rather than cutting back on taxpayer-funded government advertising?’, they said that, yes, that would be possible. There will be no $5 million cut in government advertising during that period.
The final point I want to make, and here I pay some tribute to the Hon. Mr Xenophon. In the period after the 2002 election (possibly even before—I cannot remember the exact dates) the Hon. Mr Xenophon introduced legislation into this place, which was by and large opposed by the government and Liberal Party at that time, in order to introduce the new notion of the involvement of the auditor-general in government-funded political advertising.
I think the drafting of that bill was way too wide; everything right down to the merest information booklet that a department might prepare for the information and benefit of consumers would have had to go through the auditor-general’s department. I think the purview and the breadth of that was much too wide.
I pay credit to the Hon. Mr Xenophon because that particular notion, albeit back a bit, is starting to have some credence in some jurisdictions around the world. I was fortunate enough to have made it a point to look at the electoral disclosure legislation on my last trip to the United States and Canada, and I have spoken earlier on this. I also looked at donations, the activities of lobbyists and some of the changes that have been implemented in the Canadian and American jurisdictions.
I looked at this in Toronto (there is certainly no equivalent in the United States) because it was the only place I could see in Canada where the auditor-general is required to provide oversight for government-funded political advertising. I am not suggesting that, if this committee is established, we should travel to Toronto to have a look at that. The Hon. Mr Parnell may want to do that, I am not sure, but I would not support that notion.
I think the committee ought to look at the experience. I have gathered some information that I am happy to share with the committee but, independently of me, the committee should collect information as well. I met with the auditor-general officers, and they took me through the processes they go through. For particularly controversial advertising campaigns, they appoint a panel of independent advertising consultants to try to provide some advice to the auditor-general who makes the final decision as to whether or not a particular campaign is party political.
It is a vexed issue. It is one of the problems with the Xenophon legislation and it is still one of the problems in the Toronto legislation; it is not perfect. In relation to some of the things which got through in Toronto, whilst they did not have the face of the premier or the leader of the party there, clearly the party and the opposition may well have seen that as making a political point on a particular issue.
It is a vexed issue, and it does place the Auditor-General, or whatever committee it is, in a very difficult situation when making those decisions, and both sides of parliament would want to have confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Auditor-General to entrust that sort of decision to them. Labor Party members, if they speak or if they have already spoken on this motion, will make the point in relation to federal Liberal government advertising, as critics at the moment will make criticisms of the federal Labor government advertising, as they have done in the past as well.
In Toronto, I saw enough of that to think that it is worth exploring. Of course, since then we have seen its introduction in the commonwealth arena. I am indebted to my federal colleague, the member for Mayo, who took up the issue, I think in the last two weeks, with the appropriate federal committee when the federal Auditor-General appeared before that committee. They showed the Auditor-General some of the Rann government’s television advertising and said, ‘Would this sort of advertising be accepted by you under commonwealth law?’, and the answer was no, that, under the current commonwealth restrictions and guidelines, the Rann advertising would not be acceptable. It was certainly deemed by the Auditor-General to be party political in terms of what was included.
That is one of the issues I think this committee ought to look at, in addition to government processes for authorising and approving campaigns. There may well be other models that might be recommended to the parliament in terms of providing some restriction on the government of the day in relation to the massive amounts of taxpayers’ funds that can be used to fund government advertising. With those remarks, I indicate my support and the Liberal Party’s support for the motion before us.