Government Advertising Bill

Second Reading

Today, I introduce the Government Advertising Bill 2019, which gives effect to the government's election commitment to introduce stricter controls on taxpayer-funded advertising. Essentially, the bill makes it unlawful for government advertising to feature the voice or image of a member of parliament or a minister.

On 19 October 2017, I introduced a private member's bill that had a more expansive scope of operation into parliament to amend the Electoral Act 1985. The catalyst for this bill was the behaviour, and absolute waste of taxpayer funds, of the then government during their extensive campaign for their Fund My Neighbourhood grant funding scheme and the multimillion-dollar advertisements spruiking their electricity policy.

After the election in 2018, the government prepared a new standalone bill for consultation with a range of government agencies, and valuable contributions to the bill have been made during this consultation process. In March 2018, this government amended the Marketing Communications Guidelines, which regulate government advertising and other communications. The government has continued to review the guidelines regularly to ensure appropriate controls and transparent processes are in place.

Since 1 July 2019, the Government Communications Advisory Committee has maintained operational responsibility for reviewing and approving government communications, marketing and sponsorship activities under the guidelines. The guidelines set out an approval process for government communications that varies, depending on the level of expenditure. The total cost and an evaluation summary for communications initiatives above $50,000, excluding GST, are now published on the Department of the Premier and Cabinet website. This bill:

  • gives statutory recognition to the Marketing Communications Guidelines discussed above;
  • provides that government advertising must not contain the voice or image of a member of parliament or a minister;
  • defines government advertising as advertising purchased by a government agency under a contract or arrangement for commercial media distribution;
  • provides for regulations to prescribe or exclude advertising from the definition;
  • provides an audit function for the Auditor-General, who must determine, in conducting an audit, if a breach of the act has occurred; and
  • provides a reporting function for the Auditor-General in relation to any determination that he makes.

The bill balances the need for transparency and accountability in the use of taxpayer funding for advertising, with the implied constitutional freedom of political communication. I commend the bill to the members and seek leave to have the explanation of clauses inserted in Hansard without my reading it.

Leave granted.

Explanation of Clauses

Part 1—Preliminary

1—Short title

2—Commencement

These clauses are formal.

3—Interpretation

This clause defines terms to be used in the measure. Key definitions include:

government advertising, defined as advertising purchased by a government agency under a contract or arrangement for commercial media distribution. The regulations may prescribe advertising that is to be included and excluded from the definition;

government agency, defined as a Minister, an administrative unit of the Public Service, an agency or instrumentality of the Crown or a person or body declared by the Minister by notice in the Gazette to be a government agency. The definition of government agency allows agencies to be excluded from the definition.

Part 2—Government communications guidelines

4—Government communications guidelines

The clause provides that the Minister must prepare and maintain government communications guidelines, to be published on a website to be determined by the Minister, setting out the following:

requirements relating to the style and content of government communications;

matters relating to approvals required for government communications;

requirements relating to the manner in which government communications may be disseminated;

any other matter the Minister thinks fit.

Part 3—Regulation of government advertising

5—Ministers and MPs not to be in government advertising

The clause provides that a government advertising campaign must not contain the voice or any image of a Minister, a member of Parliament or a candidate in an election.

6—Auditor-General to conduct audits of government advertising

Subclause (1) provides that an audit of the government advertising of a particular government agency may be conducted on the Auditor-General's own initiative in relation to a financial year. Alternatively, a Member of Parliament may request that the Auditor-General conduct an inquiry of particular government advertising notified in the request.

Subclause (2) provides that if an audit is conducted, the Auditor-General must determine whether the content of government advertising constitutes a breach of proposed section 5.

Subclause (3) sets out that government advertising will not constitute a breach of proposed section 5 if the voice or image of the Minister or Member or Parliament was recorded or taken at a time when that person was not a Minister or Member of Parliament or if the Minister or Member of Parliament did not know, and could not reasonably be expected to have known, that their voice or image was to be used.

Subclause (4) provides that the Auditor-General may exercise the powers and functions under Part 3 of the Public Finance and Audit Act 1987 in relation to an audit under this section as if it were an audit under that Act.

7—Auditor-General to report on government advertising breach

This clause provides that if the Auditor-General determines that there has been a breach of proposed section 5, they must prepare a report on the matters set out in the clause. The report must be delivered to the President of the Legislative Council and the Speaker of the House of Assembly, and published in a manner set out in the clause.

Part 4—Miscellaneous

8—Delegation

This clause provides power for the Minister to delegate powers or functions under the proposed measure.

9—Regulations

This clause provides power for the Governor to make regulations for the purposes of the measure.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr Odenwalder.