25 June 2004

Federal government advertising

Sally Young, a Melbourne political scientist, has argued that these arrangements have placed incumbents at a �massive advantage� and challengers at a �massive disadvantage�.(21) She argues that governments have the capacity to run a �permanent campaign� using the highly effective electoral tool of direct mail-outs. In the absence of restrictions on the format of these advertisements, Young sees modern government advertising as blatantly self-promoting.


Tables 1 and 2 support this claim of pre-election spikes in expenditure on government advertising. The 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2001 federal elections were preceded by sharp increases in government advertising outlays:

  • the bulk of the Keating Government's $3 million advertising campaign on Medicare Hospital Entitlements was spent the month before the 1993 poll(14)
  • the Keating Government spent $9 million in the three months prior to the 1996 Federal election campaign(15)
  • the Howard Government spent $29.5 million in the three months before the 1998 election campaign.(16) Half this expenditure ($14.9 million) was on the GST campaign. Still, pre-election spending on GST advertising accounted for only 13 per cent of total expenditure on the GST campaign, and
  • in the four months before the 2001 election, the government spent roughly $78 million.(17)

This trend of pre-election spikes in government advertising seems likely to continue. A May 2004 Senate Estimates Committee heard evidence of various plans for commencing new and continuing existing government advertising campaigns (see Table 2, shaded).

Both sides abuse government advertising. Neither side follows principles advocated by the auditor-general in Victoria. The obvious reform is either bipartisan membership of the Ministerial Committee on Government Communications or requiring opposition approval for advertising more than 30 months into the parliamentary term.

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