Government Advertising

Grievance Debate

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:06):  Today, we had another example of the Premier's refusal to provide information to the people of South Australia as to why he is splashing millions of dollars of taxpayers' money—the money of the people of South Australia—in a desperate attempt to save his own political skin. Let's just consider for a moment that the people of South Australia are being fleeced $2.6 million, as we know, from the Weatherill government's attempt to desperately distance itself from the responsibility of South Australia's electricity crisis, their lame attempt to actually deal with it and then their pathetic plan to provide some answers.

So bad is it that he needs to spend $2.6 million to try to hoodwink the people of South Australia into thinking that it is a good thing. But let's also consider what has happened in the last three years. In 2015, the state government spent $25 million on political advertising. They spent $28 million the next year and $34 million in the last financial year—$34 million. It is going up incredibly. What we have under this government is an era of spending more to sell their own message to save their skin and show you less.

The newest era of concealment is to have the sanitised, short, minimalist annual reports. You have to go on some sort of Alice in Wonderland search to SA Data and then to various websites to try to ascertain information that had previously been provided. On this issue, for example, in the annual reports you have the particulars of not only what was spent but also how much each agency spent. Just have a look at the 2016 report. On page 30, it gives you a list of how much each agency spent. Page 32 lists the top 10 government campaigns, and on page 33 there is a list of Department of the Premier and Cabinet advertising campaigns.

Let's consider the 'tell them nothing' approach that the people of South Australia are paying for in light of the fact that the Auditor-General conducted a review in 2013—in the lifetime of the Weatherill government—into political advertising. Government advertising was already at a stinking level in the community and the Auditor-General conducted a review. In his 2015 report, he noted that the government's Marketing Communications Guidelines:

…state that public funds should not be used for communications where:

the image or voice of a politician is included within the advertising

The Auditor-General recommended:

The Marketing Communications Guidelines requirement that the image or voice of a politician not be included in publicly funded advertising should be applied to all forms of government marketing communications.

In response, the unit in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet responsible for this, at page 29 of the Auditor-General's Report, stated:

GCA continues to support the established practice that politicians should not be represented in paid advertising. A definition of political advertising will be included in the Marketing Communications Guidelines with the next periodic review.

Of course, then we have the guidelines. They make it abundantly clear: no voice or image; if there is, then it is clearly political advertising. Where did we go from there? We then had the Premier's Communication Advisory Group (PCAG). This is the new group he has established to monitor and supervise the activity in this area. It is to assess all applications over $200,000, consider any reviews and so on.

The PCAG is comprised of five people: a chair, the director of government communications in DPC; the Premier's two delegates; a communications consultant from GCA, DPC; and a senior communications peer. Four out of the five work for the Premier or his delegates, as nominated. This raises some questions about its independence, especially when we hear of a recent plan where it took only minutes to approve a multimillion dollar campaign.

What is equally concerning now is that four months ago the Premier was asked during estimates to provide the date on which the PCAG gave its approval to the communication strategy implemented in March of this year. He was also asked if he could confirm that there was a submission for approval to the PCAG before any expenditure was made on the energy advertising in March, who the members of the PCAG were who considered the communications plan and whether there was a supplementary request to the PCAG after the initial March 27 advertising expenditure and so on.

What has happened in four months? Nothing. Not only did the Premier refuse to answer questions then but he has refused to answer them since. So we asked him today, 'What is the explanation for this new secrecy approach in relation to what is claimed to be a completely transparent government?' Nothing. Silence. The people will not be silenced. This will be an election issue and we will make sure of it.