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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 227

Senator WONG (9:03 PM) —I rise to speak briefly on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2007-2008 and cognate bills and to address myself to the two sets of amendments that Labor, in conjunction with the Australian Democrats, intends to move in the committee stage. The first issue I address is government advertising. We have seen from the government an extraordinary propensity to treat taxpayers’ money as its own. Over this last period, particularly through Senate estimates, it has been disclosed that this government proposes to spend millions of dollars prior to the next election. We have had the extraordinary example of around $4 million being spent in some six or seven days on the latest tranche of the industrial relations campaign, the Work Choices mark 2 campaign. We saw around $24,000 an hour being spent by this government on advertising Work Choices mark 2. I remind the chamber that this second tranche of advertising is on top of the $55 million of taxpayers’ funds that the government has already spent on advertising Work Choices mark 1. One of the most telling examples of the wastage associated with this campaign and the way it has been all about propaganda is the example of the booklets. I am sure all parliamentarians would remember the very pretty yellow Work Choices booklet, and that millions were—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Forshaw)—Excuse me, Senator Chapman—

Senator WONG —printed by this government at taxpayers’ expense.

Senator Chapman —It’s all right. I haven’t gone between you and the speaker.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Chapman, I have not said what I was going to say. I think it is appropriate that senators do not wander around the chamber while Senator Wong is speaking.

Senator WONG —I thought he was coming at me. I thought, ‘Do I have to duck or something?’ I know the government is embarrassed about how much advertising money it is spending, but really!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I understand that people are trying to make arrangements to expedite the program.

Senator WONG —I cannot remember how many millions of booklets there still are. The government printed millions of these booklets as part of its propaganda campaign and, of course, it could not get rid of them all. So for the last X number of months the government has been paying thousands of dollars a week to store 3.5 million booklets or thereabouts, which now become obsolete because it has changed the law. So this has not been a very effective or intelligent use of taxpayers’ money—this is fiscal conservatism of the other side of the chamber.

As I said, we determined through Senate estimates an extraordinary spend. What we know—and this is only what we know, because there are a number of campaigns the government refuses to disclose the cost of—is that the government has either spent or has budgeted to spend prior to the election around about $1.8 billion over the life of the Howard government. So, if you take what we know they spent since they were elected and what they are able spend through what they have budgeted for between now and the next election, it is about $1.8 billion—nearly half of that since the last election. This is unprecedented expenditure of public moneys on political campaigns. This is a government that, frankly, treats taxpayers’ money as its own.

Together with Senator Murray, we are moving an amendment and a request for amendment in the bills before the chamber which seek to impose some discipline, some propriety and some accountability on expenditure of public moneys for advertising purposes. The amendment being moved is consistent with the policy commitment that Labor has made: that advertising projects in excess of $250,000 must be assessed against clear and transparent guidelines and that such assessment should be undertaken by the Auditor-General or their delegate. That is a very significant commitment. In addition, the Labor Party has indicated that we will work through the COAG process to try and achieve consistent principles in relation to government expenditure on advertising across jurisdictions. We think the Australian people are tired of having their taxpayers’ funds used in blatant political advertising, and the commitment that a Rudd Labor government will make, and has made in opposition, is to lift the standards of government integrity when it comes to a range of matters, and in this instance when it comes to advertising. The Australian people are ready for this and there is a very strong case for lifting the standards of government. We can do far better than this government has done when it comes to accountability and integrity.

The second amendment we are moving, also with Senator Murray, is in relation to Kirribilli House and the Lodge. From what has been disclosed in the public arena in recent days, we know about the ‘cash for canapes’ affair, as it has come to be called, and we know the Prime Minister has hosted a range of functions associated with the Liberal Party Federal Council at the Lodge and Kirribilli House. We say that using taxpayer funded official residences for the purposes of political fundraising is inappropriate and I suggest that Australians regard it as inappropriate. These are not premises which are someone’s private home—they are official residences funded by the taxpayer and they ought to be treated as the privilege they are. They are certainly not a private fundraising playground for the Liberal Party of Australia. Those are the two amendments that Labor is proposing to move in conjunction with Senator Murray. Unless it is necessary, I will not address these issues in substantive detail again in committee, but I am happy to do so if the government wants the debate.