Bill: Electoral (Government Advertising) Amendment Bill


Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 19 October 2017.)

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (11:09): This is an important bill brought to the house by the member for Bragg. It responds to what has been an atrocious abuse of public trust and public funds by this government over the last year, over the last three years, since the last election and over the last 15 years, frankly. This is a government that barely one in three South Australians voted for, yet they have managed to spend over $100 million since I have been in the parliament on advertising themselves—more than $30 million in the most recent year on telling the people of South Australia how good they are. It is a disgrace.

We have examples of the government, not content with destroying South Australia's confidence in their electricity supply, and the reliability of the electricity supply, and then coming up with a half a billion dollar solution to cover their shame, then wanting to spend millions of dollars of the South Australian taxpayers' money telling the taxpayers about their solution. My goodness, $400 million for diesel generators, but we can spend millions of dollars of taxpayers' money on advertising them.

Millions of dollars of taxpayers' money has been spent by this government on advertising their Transforming Health strategy—Transforming Health, which became so synonymous with failure and cuts to services that the Premier no longer calls the government's policy that. They say that Transforming Health is done, yet we have pictures of the Premier not only advertising his own electricity solution but advertising Transforming Health.

We have cinema advertising and electronic advertising. It is impossible to open an app on your phone these days without having very pleasant ads about how much money the government is spending on government schools. There are a lot of things in the government's Public Education Action Plan that the opposition supports from the announcements a couple of weeks ago. But $1.8 million in advertising encouraging people to talk to their local schools about their children 'becoming themselves' is not a wise use of money in the education space. A lot of good things could be done with $1.8 million.

There was a $40,000 ad on pages 2 and 3 of The Advertiser the other day that talked about 'children becoming themselves'. It was very nice, but we are talking about taxpayers' money that could have been spent on other things in the education system. But the education minister and the government thought to spend it on ads telling people that government money was being spent on the education system and using taxpayers' money to do so, so that is what they have done instead.

The most appalling aspect of government advertising, though, is very clearly that which is in fact political advertising paid for by the taxpayer and not by the Labor Party. It has long been a tenet of principal administration in South Australia that if you have a reason to use taxpayers' funds for government advertising then it must be non-political. For the most part, I think there are plenty of things that we spend government money on, at a federal and a state level, that the members of the public would not have a concern with.

'Every cigarette is doing you damage,' is a public health education campaign using taxpayers' funds at a federal level over a number of years that saw a marked impact on the health and wellbeing of the people of Australia. Smoking rates dropped and the message that 'every cigarette is doing you damage' is a clear evidence-based message that was worthy of public funds and has seen solid outcomes. It is a message that people remember. Messages about drug education sometimes can be controversial, and the concept of advertising safe driving can have positive impacts on the community, positive health outcomes and positive outcomes for the wellbeing of the South Australian community.

When you have a politician's face and, particularly in television advertising, a politician appearing and talking about their own campaigns, as was the case with the Premier talking about their electricity campaign and the Premier talking about the health campaign, you have descended into political advertising. This is not just the opposition saying this. This is a long-held principle that has been understood by people on both sides of the chamber for many years. The Auditor-General says so, parliamentary inquiries have said so and the government's own advertising rules have said so.

The fact that this government chooses deliberately, despicably, to flout those rules, to flout those conventions, is a wilful act of a government that is determined to use taxpayer funds for their personal preferment, their political ambitions and their desire to stay in power. It is a disgrace. It is a disgrace that should not be countenanced. It is a disgrace that will be addressed by the member for Bragg's bill in this case. There are a couple of challenging issues here, and one is the question of retrospectivity.

We think it is important that this government takes note of this bill because it is the opposition's intention to put this bill into law if we are elected to government on 17 March next year. This bill includes a provision that as of 1 November 2017—as of 15 days ago—every advertisement promulgated and paid for by taxpayers under government advertising will be caught so that, if the government puts any more of those 'Jay Weatherill for health and electricity' ads on the television, they will be in breach of this bill, and the government advertising will be looked at by the Electoral Commissioner and potentially taken into account for the purposes of penalty on their public funding.

The Labor Party stands on notice that the people of South Australia and all political parties in South Australia, other than the South Australian Labor Party, believe that the Premier should not be appearing in his own ads at taxpayers' expense effectively spruiking for the re-election of the Labor government. We are in a situation where the expense on political advertising from 1 July this year through to the election day on 17 March is, in fact, capped. Only a certain amount of money can be spent on political campaigns in this election.

It is a novel concept dreamt up, in fact brought forward, by this Premier, yet that cap is dwarfed by the amount of taxpayers' money—not paid for by the unions and the Labor Party—pushing forward political ads for the Labor Party in the period from 1 July. When we introduce bills that have a starting date, the principle is that the starting date for the application of the bill should be after the announcement of the bill. That is why we cannot go back to 1 July this year. If we did, we might find that the Labor Party had spent more through taxpayers' dollars than they did through Labor Party dollars on their own political ads.

That is a disgrace. That is a matter for the government to be judged on. This bill will take it from 1 November. Hopefully, that will save the taxpayers of South Australia some money because the government will decide that they are concerned that they might lose the election. They are concerned that this may become legislation, assuming that they are not going to support it now, in April or May next year, and they do not want to have to pay that fine.

Hopefully, this will improve their behaviour. The fact that it has to be brought up in the first place is a real disgrace, and it is an indictment upon the credibility of this government. Anything they have to say about public administration or fairness in advertising, political advertising or campaigning is undermined by the behaviour they have exhibited in recent years. Mike Rann used to complain about government advertising under the Brown, Olsen and Kerin governments.

The hypocrisy demonstrated by Labor Party members elected to the parliament in 2002 or 1997, back when Mike Rann used to complain about far less egregious uses of government advertising, is palpable. I will give you this commitment: a Liberal government led by Steven Marshall will not ever use government members spruiking themselves and get the taxpayers to pay for it. What is more, we will make it punishable through financial sanction by this bill that the member for Bragg has brought forward.

I commend this bill to the house. I hope that government members will reflect on it and vote for it so that the public of South Australia can go to this election confident that this government is not going to waste any more of their money on political advertising. I suspect that the government may not do that, so we call on the Independent members of this parliament to support it. Hopefully, today or next Thursday we get to a vote—hopefully today so that it can go through the Legislative Council next week. I commend the bill to the house, and I commend the member for Bragg for bringing it.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (11:08): This is an important bill brought to the house by the member for Stuart. I commend him for doing so, and I hope that we can reach a vote on it today and that all members will support it.