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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 3417

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (15:58): I present the explanatory memoranda and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This Bill was prompted by the Federal Government's announcement that it plans to spend $12 million of taxpayers' money on an advertising campaign about their plans to price carbon.

But it should be said that this is not a new issue to me.

Way back in 2001 I remember standing in Parliament House in South Australia shoulder-to-shoulder with then Opposition Leader Mike Rann.

Mr Rann promised the South Australian people that he would eliminate the use of taxpayers' dollars to fund what are effectively party political campaigns.

I believed Premier Rann at the time, but history shows I probably shouldn't have.

That's because, like so many Governments that have come before and since, what they say they will do when they are in Opposition is quite different from what they end up doing in Government.

Needless to say, the Rann Government has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on blatantly political advertising under the auspices of public information campaigns.

In 2007, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd referred to taxpayer funded government advertising as "a sick cancer on our system" and "on democracy".

And then Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard said, quote: "I'm always worried when the government takes taxpayers' money and uses it for its own politics, to try and save its political hide" … "It seems every week there's a new advertisement, a new piece of propaganda for taxpayers to fund".

We should also remember the Coalition spent $121 million plugging the benefits of Work Choices before it became law so both sides of politics are just as guilty when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars on trying to convince the Australian people to back Government policy before it becomes law.

There is an important principle of accountability here—taxpayer funds should not be spent promoting a policy that has not been authorised by the Parliament.

But why do we need these ads? I don't think we do, and I believe they are a complete waste of taxpayers' money.

The last time I checked, Prime Minister Gillard has a seriously big profile.

She's famous.

People know who she is and when she talks people listen.

I would suggest that if she wants to tell the Australian public what the Government plans to do on climate change she could do it by having a press conference.

I guarantee the media will show up, and they will report what the Prime Minister says.

They'd even go live on SKY.

And the best news is it won't cost the taxpayer a cent.

The Independent Member for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, was correct when he described the planned $12 million Federal Government advertising campaign as "a dumb idea at the wrong time".

But I believe this Bill offers a simple solution.

If passed, this Bill would ban the use of public money to advertise a Government policy unless the policy has been enacted in legislation.

In other words you can only use taxpayer dollars to explain how a policy which has become law will affect people.

But you can't use tax-payer dollars to try and build support for an idea that the Government wants to become law.

The Bill does offer two exemptions if a Government policy has not yet been enacted.

Public monies would be able to be used to advertise the policy if a resolution is passed by both Houses of Parliament, or in the event of a national emergency with the consent of the Leader of the Opposition.

Of course, broader reforms are needed for government advertising for laws that are already in place—this Bill deals with the most blatant instance of taxpayer dollars being used inappropriately.

The Australian people don't want their money being spent on political propaganda on a yet to be passed law, and this Bill will put an end to that practice once and for all.

Senator XENOPHON: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.