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JOINT COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS AND AUDIT - 26/10/2009 - Role of the Auditor-General in scrutinising government advertising

CHAIR —Do any of the witnesses present wish to make an opening statement before we proceed to questions? As no-one wishes to make an opening statement, I will proceed. This hearing follows a hearing we had last week with an ANU academic which raised some interesting issues for us. It also follows the release of the Auditor-General’s Report No. 2 of 2009-10, the Campaign advertising review 2008-09. It raises some questions, Auditor-General. As a refresher, let us have a look at the advertising campaign.

A PowerPoint presentation was then given—

CHAIR —How successful has that advertising campaign been and how do you know how successful it has been?

Ms Huxtable —The evaluation of the campaign was only recently conducted and received. At this stage, the evaluation report is with the Minister for Health and Ageing, so it has not yet been released. However, I can say that the results have, in general terms, been very positive. They show that the campaign has cut through effectively and has been attention-grabbing.

CHAIR —So it is not publicly available information at this stage?

Ms Huxtable —No, not at this stage. We expect it to be made publicly available quite shortly. It is with the minister at the moment.

CHAIR —One of the areas that the guidelines are specific about is the evidence to suggest that the campaign is necessary. As the member for Newcastle and on the basis of personal experience and statistics that I have seen, I have no doubt that the evidence is there—

Mr GEORGIOU —In that case, who needs research!

CHAIR —That is right. No, the research and, particularly, the statistics are there. Could you elaborate on the sorts of research evidence you did use for this campaign—not just what you used to justify the need for the campaign but also what you used to determine the nature of the campaign?

Ms Huxtable —The research evidence goes to two issues. In putting together the contents of the campaign, there has been a heavy reliance on facts. You will have already heard in the audio that there are a number of key facts that are communicated in the campaign. It was important that it was very factual and accurate. I think that contributes to the campaign being seen as personally relevant and cutting through. The research that underpinned the development of the campaign was done through a good deal of concept testing which occurred with focus groups of young people who were within the target group.

CHAIR —At what stage does that happen according to the guidelines?

Ms Huxtable —The concept testing occurs after the point at which the campaign has been authorised and is in the development phase. In this one, I think there was an initial phase of concept testing that included concept-testing the original concepts that were provided by the bidding agencies and then a further phase of concept testing to refine the materials.

Mr GEORGIOU —How did you choose the agency?

Ms Huxtable —There was a procurement process. Sam, you might want to elaborate.

Ms S Palmer —Part of the process of choosing the agency is testing the different concepts based on the brief that the five agencies put before the department. An important component of that assessment and that procurement processes is deciding which agency is most effective in producing advertising that works with the target audience.

Mr GEORGIOU —Do you shortlist?

Ms S Palmer —As part of that process, some agencies within the five get closer than others.

Mr GEORGIOU —But do you shortlist?

Ms S Palmer —Within the five? I do not believe that we do.

CHAIR —So it goes to out to a general tender?

Mr GEORGIOU —So you interviewed everyone?

Ms S Palmer —It goes to a select tender of five agencies.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —How do the five get on the list?

Ms S Palmer —How do the five get on the list that we choose from?

Mr GEORGIOU —Yes.

Ms S Palmer —Under the guidelines we have a multi-user list that the Department of Finance and Deregulation has. We choose from the agencies on that list.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —So you just pick? You have total discretion?

Ms S Palmer —No, we seek advice from Finance and Deregulation.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —My God, they are becoming powerful, Finance and Deregulation. What guidelines do you use, representatives of the Department of Finance and Deregulation, to determine which five they can pick? Ms Van Veen? Mr Grant? In terms of this short-listing process—

CHAIR —Is Finance involved in the short-listing process?

Mr Grant —Finance is involved in it but there is—

CHAIR —What criteria do you use?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —No, I will restate my question. I asked whether the Department of Health and Ageing could just pick whichever five they liked off the list. Ms Palmer answered that they have to seek guidance from the Department of Finance and Deregulation. What is the nature of your guidance and where are the guidelines in print that you use to advise them?

Mr Grant —Chair, I will let Ms Van Veen answer that.

Ms Van Veen —With respect to this campaign—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —No, any campaign, presumably.

Mr GEORGIOU —Stay with this one.

CHAIR —Yes, I am happy for you to stay with this one.

Ms Van Veen —Okay, thank you. The Communications Advice Branch was not formed at the time that this campaign was initiated. The communications multi-use list that was referenced by Ms Palmer was established on 31 March this year. I would expect that, at the time, agencies that had a track record in communicating with young people—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —That is not the question. Ms Palmer said that she had to seek guidance from the Finance as to which five agencies she could pick. I asked you where your guidelines are as to that guidance that you give and where are they in writing so that we can see them.

Ms Van Veen —In this instance I am unclear, not having been at Finance at the time. The Communications Advice Branch—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Who was there at the time?

Mr Grant —Perhaps, Chair, I can come in here.

CHAIR —Then I would like to follow up with the Audit Office on that issue.

Mr Grant —In the context of the work of the Communications Advice Branch—and I will talk about how it works with the multi-user list that exists now—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Can you give me a straight answer to the straight question I asked?

Ms Huxtable —Could I just clarify that the multi-use list was not actually in existence. I think Ms Palmer responded to your question for the current campaign but, in fact, there was not a multi-use list at that point, so Sam is about to clarify.

CHAIR —Let us go back so we know exactly what did happen in the case of this campaign.

Ms S Palmer —I apologise. I took the question as current tense—what we do now, as opposed to what was done then.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Well, maybe.

CHAIR —Let us talk about what you did in the past—for this campaign.

Ms S Palmer —This particular campaign started prior to the guidelines being in existence. At the time, we got a list from the GCU, which was in existence then, because it was previous MCGC process when we first started.

Mr GEORGIOU —When was this? Could you give me a time?

Ms S Palmer —Right back?

Mr GEORGIOU —When did you seek the advice from GCU? I thought GCU was abolished on day one.

Ms S Palmer —We commenced this in 2006 around the new national alcohol campaign.

CHAIR —That was before the election in 2007.

Mr GEORGIOU —This is an overflow from the previous government? Great.

Ms S Palmer —Yes, the national alcohol campaign.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Then why are we talking about it? Let us get it straight. This is an advertisement that was conceived by the previous government, actioned under the previous government but actually went to air under this government. So it went to air under the previous rules?

CHAIR —Ms Palmer, you can go through the process for us, please, from start to publication.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Otherwise it is irrelevant.

CHAIR —It is quite relevant, so please go ahead.

Ms Huxtable —It had commenced under the previous government. It was part of the national alcohol campaign, so the original commissioning of advice in respect of supplier advice—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —It was a Howard government conception?

Ms Huxtable —It was commenced under the previous government; however,—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —So how did it change?

Ms Huxtable —when the current government made announcements in March in respect to the National Binge Drinking Strategy there was a realignment, at that point, of the campaign—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —What does that mean?

CHAIR —In March ‘08.

Ms Huxtable —More toward the young group and focusing on the messaging around dissuading young people from drinking to the point of intoxication.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —So was there an ad in existence that got changed? Was there an advertising agency appointed that then got a new brief?

CHAIR —Let us go back to the beginning of the process then, in 2006, because that is what we wanted to know about. Can you go back to the choosing of campaign advertising firms for us?

Ms S Palmer —There was an announcement about the national alcohol campaign and a select tender process that had been approved by the former Ministerial Committee on Government Communications on 18 October.

CHAIR —What does a select tender process mean?

Ms S Palmer —That is where we get a number of agencies, on advice from GCU, about who we can choose to go out to tender from. It is a select tender. They have a big list and we get advice about which consultants off that list we can go to.

CHAIR —So you got the short list and you said that was a short list of five?

Ms S Palmer —Yes.

Ms Huxtable —They are the ones you go to so you can choose from them.

CHAIR —Yes, that is right, so you can get concept development.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —That was done before the last election? So that was under the old process?

Ms S Palmer —Yes. That was done under the old process.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —So we cannot take any evidence from you about this campaign about the new process?

Ms Huxtable —I think this campaign did move into the new policy—

CHAIR —That is why we are asking you to go right through the process. If members could let Ms Palmer go through the process it would be helpful.

Ms S Palmer —On 10 March we had an announcement by the new government for a National Binge Drinking Strategy.

Mr NEUMANN —On 10 March 2008?

Ms S Palmer —Yes, that is right. The minister approved the marketing strategy and RFT documents on 12 June 2008.

CHAIR —That was based on the original concepts and advertising campaign that had been put together previously?

Ms S Palmer —Yes, that is right, because those agencies had been part of that GCU process when we had originally conceived it.

Mr GEORGIOU —When did you select the agency?

Ms S Palmer —The agency was appointed on 9 September 2008.

Mr GEORGIOU —So you short-listed in 2006—based on GCU advice; I do understand the process—and there was a two-year hiatus.

CHAIR —So what happened in 2007?

Ms S Palmer —There was developmental research done in 2006.

Mr GEORGIOU —But you had not appointed the agency until 2008?

Ms S Palmer —No. You do the developmental research first so that you understand what is happening in the marketplace with the audience. That included young people in that research. Even though the campaign at that time was not specifically about young people, it did include young people, and it was taken that that research was still valid and appropriate for the development of this campaign.

Mr GEORGIOU —So you had five and you interviewed all five? All five presented?

Ms S Palmer —We provide the materials to them and they produce their creative—

Mr GEORGIOU —They all presented?

Ms S Palmer —That is right. Then we focused it.

Mr GEORGIOU —This process of selection got ticked off by the Auditor-General? I mean the initial process under GCU. Did that short-listing get ticked off? I am asking whether you signed off on the selection process and, if so, whether you did it under GCU approaches.

Mr White —We accepted the procurement processes even though they continued over a long period of time.

Mr GEORGIOU —No, did you endorse those processes in your limited assurance?

Mr White —We do not endorse a process. We were presented with a procurement process by the Department of Finance and Deregulation and—

Mr GEORGIOU —Which you thought was fair enough?

Mr White —We accepted that they appeared reasonable.

Mr GEORGIOU —Did you believe that that was a reasonable way to short-list? What did you sign off on?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —He thought it was okay, presumably.

Mr White —Yes, we did think it was okay.

Mr GEORGIOU —That is fine. That is all I wanted.

CHAIR —I would like to follow up on the matters of the Auditor-General and the Audit Office. Since the operation of the guidelines came into force, have you tracked the processes of selection? Are you seeing the same firms? Are you seeing any reason for us to think that there is an inner group that always gets the inside running? Is there scope for new operators?

Mr GEORGIOU —No, it is—

CHAIR —I want to know, Senator Georgiou. Is there scope for new operators or new agencies? What is happening?

Mr White —We have not looked at it specifically, because the department of finance is running the multi-use list. We are more than happy with the way that the process is running.

CHAIR —Mr Grant, you might like to answer that question.

Mr Grant —Chair, I am happy to do that—

Mr GEORGIOU —Before you go there: you said that you are happy with the process?

CHAIR —No, Mr Georgiou—

Mr GEORGIOU —No, I want to clarify things. You are happy with the process—that is okay. You just flicked it to Finance. What I am asking is whether you are actually certifying this in accordance with the level of certification and are happy with the whole process.

Mr White —Yes, we are.

CHAIR —You are happy with the multi-use process. We would like to know more about that, Mr Grant.

Mr GEORGIOU —Are you happy with the GCU selection, too?

CHAIR —Mr Grant, would you like to tell us more about the multi-use list?

Mr Grant —Communications Advice Branch works with the agency that is undertaking the campaign advertising. It has a look at the nature of the campaign. That includes things like the audience focus of the campaign and the nature of the message. That brings together a series—usually three to five—of potential suppliers off the multi-use list.

CHAIR —So how do you get on to the list?

Mr Grant —Companies are able to go onto the list by providing details about their capability and their financial—

CHAIR —But who picks them?

Mr Grant —Companies are able to nominate themselves based on their financial viability, the fact that they are a company and also by giving some references. We check the references. If there is any problem with a reference, we go back to the company and say, ‘We have a problem with your reference in terms of your expertise.’

CHAIR —You may not be able to tell me straightaway, but could you tell me how many on that list and what proportion—

Mr Grant —Around 250.

CHAIR —About 250?

Mr Grant —It is all on AusTender, so it is very visible.

CHAIR —Have you looked at whether that is a high proportion of advertising agencies? Are the most established, most well-known ones represented?

Mr Grant —All of the well-known ones are on there. It goes across five different areas. It includes creative, it includes non-English-speaking background and Indigenous, it includes research companies—

CHAIR —Is government seen as a good client that is worth the hassles, the effort, the money?

Mr Grant —Chair, there are over 250 on there.

CHAIR —So you think so? You cannot answer that for them. All right. Keep going.

Mr GEORGIOU —Apropos your point, when did the Indigenous and non-English-speaking material get produced for this campaign?

Ms S Palmer —For this campaign, we had non-English-speaking materials that went out in the first phase. We are finalising the Indigenous materials now. They will be coming out with the second phase.

Mr GEORGIOU —So you have not done it yet?

Ms S Palmer —No, we did not have them ready for the first phase.

Mr GEORGIOU —I have a question for the Auditor-General. Mr McPhee, you say that you did not have that material, so you could not assess it?

Mr McPhee —That is correct.

Mr GEORGIOU —How does that conform with the notion—

CHAIR —No, Deputy Chair—

Mr GEORGIOU —How does that conform with the notion of accessibility?

CHAIR —Deputy Chair, I am the chair of this committee. Before you go on, let us allow Ms Palmer to finish her process. She was going on from September 2008. I think we just need to finish that process.

Ms Palmer, you said that in 2006 the national alcohol campaign was kicked off; in 2007 there was a lot of concept testing and research; in 2008 you went through March, June and September to a selection. Please finish the process. We will then be able to go to more direct questions.

Ms S Palmer —No problem. We did six rounds of concept testing on the advertising we were producing, between July and November 2008. The interdepartmental communication committee reviewed the campaign in meetings on 1 October and 5 November.

CHAIR —Who exactly was that—say again?

Ms S Palmer —The interdepartmental communication committee.

CHAIR —That is under—

Mr Grant —It is a committee that is run by Finance, yes.

Ms S Palmer —The secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing certified the campaign on 14 November 2008. The ANAO review report was provided to the minister on 18 November 2008. The ministerial launch of the campaign occurred on 21 November. And the material started to appear in the media on 23 November.

Mr BRIGGS —Sorry, Ms Palmer, can we just step back a bit. The secretary of your department approved on 10 November?

Ms S Palmer —On 14 November she certified it, yes.

Mr BRIGGS —The Audit Office ticked off on the process—

Ms S Palmer —On the 18th.

Mr BRIGGS —So four days? It was given straight to you and it took four days and you approved the process?

Mr McPhee —We work in parallel with the department, so we have obviously been involved much earlier than 14 November.

CHAIR —Let us finish the process. You were up to 23 November.

Ms S Palmer —That coincided with the start of Schoolies Week.

CHAIR —So that was the launch of the campaign?

Ms S Palmer —Yes, to achieve maximum impact, when young people were celebrating and more likely to be drinking to intoxication. The campaign continued until March 2009. The evaluation was in-field between March and April 2009, and the evaluation report was available to us in mid-August.

Mr GEORGIOU —Can I just continue with the issue?

CHAIR —Yes, now, please do, Deputy Chair.

Mr GEORGIOU —So the campaign has concluded?

Ms S Palmer —The first phase.

Mr GEORGIOU —Could we get a look, sometime, at the non-English-speaking material? And can I ask again: how is it accessible if the Indigenous part of the campaign has not been executed at all, three years after it started and seven months after the first phase was completed?

CHAIR —Ms Huxtable, do you want to answer those questions?

Ms Huxtable —The Indigenous elements of the campaign have been developed. Since then, we did engage, my recollection is, with a specific Indigenous creative organisation to develop those materials, and they will be forming part of the second phase, which will be launched quite soon.

Mr GEORGIOU —Are you happy with your priorities—that, three years down the track, 2006 to 2009, you still have not delivered any material specifically for an area in which there is a real need for this material?

Ms Huxtable —There are two elements to that. Firstly, the campaign was launched in November 2008, so it is less than a year, or nearly a year, since the campaign was launched, so—

Mr GEORGIOU —It started development in 2006.

Ms Huxtable —I think to say three years is—

Ms Huxtable —No material had been in the field. So there has been material in the field for a year.

Mr GEORGIOU —You started concept testing in 2006.

Ms Huxtable —And the advice also that we received is that there is significant utilisation of the mainstream media by young people in both the Indigenous and the NESB groups. So it is not that they are not being—

Mr GEORGIOU —So there is no need for Indigenous materials?

Ms Huxtable —No, I did not say that.

Mr GEORGIOU —Well, sorry, but—

Ms Huxtable —And in fact we have been developing that material. So that is not what I said.

Mr GEORGIOU —Can I just ask the Auditor-General: under the tick-off on ‘accessible’, is this acceptable?

Mr McPhee —We have taken the view that we have to weigh up, I guess, the timeliness of the advertisements going out, and we have accepted agencies splitting out the English-speaking from the non-English-speaking and in some cases Indigenous campaigns. So we have accepted that. Otherwise, it would have resulted in campaigns being considerably delayed before they commenced.

Mr GEORGIOU —Can I make an observation: you sound just like a member of GCU.

CHAIR —And I will just make an observation: the city of Newcastle has the second highest incident of alcohol related violence, second to Wilcannia, so I suppose there is—

Mr BRIGGS —And that has reduced in the last few months.

CHAIR —It has, actually.

Mr GEORGIOU —I am sure that also explains why there was a two-year lag.

CHAIR —Auditor-General, there are funding and administrative cost implications for campaigns that go over such a long period. I imagine that substance abuse is always on the horizon. I do not know whether that fits in a similar category where there is an ongoing campaign. But is there improved practice of being a little bit more efficient in delivering these campaigns?

Mr McPhee —There is no question that we would dearly like agencies to present us with the complete package of material at the one time. We encourage that. The question we face, though, is if agencies are not prepared, should the whole campaign be delayed and the benefits of the campaign be delayed for that reason alone? From an audit perspective we make it very clear what it is we have covered and so a reader of our certificate will clearly understand what we have and have not looked at.

CHAIR —Is there any justification for not having these developed in a parallel way?

Mr McPhee —Agencies are better placed to answer that. But we would give great encouragement to them being developed in parallel.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —With respect to the original intent of these advertisements back in 2006, were other substances which are abused included in the campaign?

Ms S Palmer —Harm relating to alcohol—the safe use of alcohol.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —So it was only relating to alcohol?

Ms S Palmer —That is correct.

Mr GEORGIOU —What about anti drug?

Ms Huxtable —There have certainly been other campaigns, but that campaign was around the safe use of alcohol.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Did the anti-illicit drug campaigns also continue as this alcohol campaign did?

Ms Huxtable —There have been campaigns around the illicit use of drugs. I am not sure whether they have continued the same theme or—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Can you find out for me whether they have continued or whether they were chopped?

Ms S Palmer —We continued with the prevention message in the illicit drugs campaign, as did the previous government. The illicit drugs campaign that has been running since the election of the new government also includes an intervention message to try to assist people who are currently using illicit drugs to consider the consequences associated with that, to encourage them to reduce their use or stop their use.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —So the message changed from prevention to harm minimisation?

Ms S Palmer —It was not so much a change but a combination or an extension, so prevention—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —The original message was prevention. The current one is harm minimisation, so it changed.

Ms S Palmer —Prevention continues.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —It has changed; that is all right.

CHAIR —Mr Neumann, you have a question.

Mr NEUMANN —It arises from Mr McPhee’s reference to when Mr Briggs raised the issue of four days and the contact you had with the ANAO. As a result of your dealings with the ANAO, did you change any activity or change the campaign and, if so, what changes did you make?

Ms S Palmer —As the Auditor-General said, we do engage with audit staff as we work through the development of the campaign. It is quite often around discussion to ensure that they have full information about the research and about what the research is telling us is recommended to the department to change in the campaign so that they can understand that along the way. It is not my understanding that the ANAO request us to make changes as we go through that. It is more about ensuring that they are completely across what we have been doing and how we have come to the decisions we have come to with the campaign. So when it comes to them formally, after certification, they are completely across how we have got to where we are at.

Mr NEUMANN —I am puzzled about that response, because that is not what I thought was supposed to happen. You mean to tell me they just sit around and have a yak with you and do not do anything in relation to the whole thing?

Ms S Palmer —No, they really review the documentation we provide. For instance, a research report—

Mr NEUMANN —But my understanding of the ANAO is that they are very strong in terms of recommending changes as they go through process. What did they do? Did they sit around and sing songs while you guys were going through this process? What were you doing with them?

Ms S Palmer —We are providing them with information so that they are aware of the changes that we are making and so they are aware of how we have come to the decisions that we have come to with respect to the materials we put forward to them for formal review after certification.

Mr NEUMANN —As they were going through the process, did they say, ‘Hang on a sec, the guidelines suggest this; have you thought about that?’

Ms S Palmer —I think there is a fair bit of discussion between the officers, probing to ensure that we are making decisions that are completely in keeping with the research that they are putting before us.

Mr NEUMANN —If that is the case, and if they gave you advice, what advice did they give you and what did you change during the campaign?

Ms S Palmer —The thing about this campaign is it had an enormous amount of research undertaken to underpin the decisions.

Mr BRIGGS —Dare we say, unlike others!

Ms S Palmer —I am just saying that is what happened with this campaign. Six rounds of concept testing is quite a lot of concept testing to do to ensure that the campaign is going to be effective.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —It is more than usual, is it?

Ms S Palmer —I would say, in my experience, two to three rounds is quite normal. It can take six or more. It depends on how difficult the behaviour is and what the target market’s perspectives and perceptions are around the materials that you have built to try to change their behaviour and increase their awareness.

Mr NEUMANN —Perhaps the Auditor-General can answer this. What advice did you give on the way through and how did they change their campaign?

Mr White —I am not sure that we suggested changes per se that would have ever had any impact in terms of the materials. The campaign is the department’s.

Mr NEUMANN —I know. You have guidelines there, with respect, and if they are falling outside the guidelines, surely, your job would have been to say, ‘Hang on a sec, here are the guidelines, guys.’

Mr White —If we had a concern or an issue or a lack of understanding around any particular part of the guidelines we would have gone to back to Health and asked for an additional explanation to improve our understanding and collected additional materials.

Mr NEUMANN —Did you, and did they respond—it is a simple question. I just want to know

CHAIR —Is this formalised in any way? Is it minuted or are there records or whatever? Or is it informal?

Mr White —Certainly in terms of this campaign we did ask for further understanding of further documentation in terms of the research materials. Those materials were provided and that understanding was given to us so that we could document it against our review of the guidelines.

Mr NEUMANN —In response to what you did, did they make any changes?

Mr White —Not to the campaign. They provided additional materials for us.

CHAIR —Is it formalised in any way?

Mr GEORGIOU —We have asked for your communications with the previous campaign. If the Auditor-General says, ‘It seems to me that this is outside the guidelines, what would you do?’

Ms S Palmer —I can give evidence on what happened. I am not prepared to speculate.

Mr GEORGIOU —No, I asked what would you do if the Auditor-General—

CHAIR —You cannot speculate. She just said—

Mr GEORGIOU —What I am asking is if the Auditor-General says, ‘This is outside the guidelines,’ what would you do?

Ms S Palmer —If the Auditor-General said that he would issue a review report, we would not be able to ask the minister for permission to launch the campaign.

Mr BRIGGS —You would. The Auditor-General said before that you could still go ahead.

Mr GEORGIOU —Hold on. What I want to know is if the Auditor-General, in the process of this interaction and the sharing of perspectives, said, ‘I think this is outside the guidelines, guys,’ what would you do?

Ms S Palmer —I do not believe we would get to that point because we are working on the guidelines.

Ms Huxtable —It is very hard; we have not actually faced that situation.

Mr GEORGIOU —What I am saying is that the Auditor-General is there on the spot from go to whoa, except for this one. What I am asking is: if he says, ‘I have a problem with this’ what would you do? You say that it would never happen, and my question is: ‘What is the Auditor-General doing there if you are perfect?’

CHAIR —Is there a proactive approach being employed?

Mr McPhee —Would you mind, Mr Georgiou, if I just said a few words.

Mr GEORGIOU —Please.

Mr McPhee —The desirable outcome for any of these campaigns is the agency is completely—

Mr GEORGIOU —Autonomous.

Mr McPhee —They have done the work to support the adherence of the campaign to the guidelines. They have laid out the cost benefit, they have laid out the research, they have justified their campaign and my people, apart from having a conversation, were able to say, ‘Yes, that meets the guidelines and we’re in good shape and you can tell your secretary that we would be willing to provide an opinion if she is willing to sign off.’ That is the desirable model. By the sound of this case it looks as though there were not too many issues. My general understanding is that some of the health campaigns are more strongly supported by scientific, medical research than are perhaps some other campaigns.

Mr GEORGIOU —Let me ask you the question then. If your staff thought that something was outside guidelines half-way through the campaign, would you tell the department that, in your view, this is outside guidelines?

Mr McPhee —We would say we are not, at this stage, persuaded by the case for the cost-benefit of the campaign or the research or whatever. Sometimes the department would go away and possibly do research, which might confirm their position or require them to change their position. That is part of the ongoing process. Sometimes it does result in conversations between its chief executives and me about particular campaigns.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Can I put to you Mr McPhee, if I may, you are not permitted to tick-off where it is promoting a party political interest. Take the drug campaign, for instance, that has been running—

CHAIR —Could we—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Just a moment. This is relevant to this question.

CHAIR —I was just going to point out to everybody here that our room booking expires at 11.30 am and we have two other campaigns.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —We know that.

CHAIR —Go ahead, Mrs Bishop but be as quick and to the point as you can be.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Thank you. I know how I wish to ask my question, without your intervention. Mr McPhee, the question of the illicit drug message, we have heard, changed from one of prevention—which was a Howard government message—to one of harm minimisation, which is a Rudd government message. That is also a party political message. How do you tick-off on a change of that nature against your requirement for it not to be a party political interest?

Mr McPhee —Thank you, Mrs Bishop. The actual legal advice—I think we have provided it to the committee—from AGS is reasonably helpful, in this case. I could perhaps refer you to two aspects of it, if I may; firstly, in regard to the definition of the term partisan. The reference is paragraph 14, under the legal advice section. It basically says that partisan carries with it the notion of something being excessively dedicated to a cause or party, or biased or prejudiced. The advice further says that—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Does it define ‘excessively’?

Mr McPhee —No, it does not define ‘excessively’. But the subsequent paragraph says that it would be possible for there to be an information program conducted by the government about a particular government policy that did not, within the meaning of the guidelines, amount to an excess of dedication to that policy and did not display bias or prejudice in favour of that policy, notwithstanding that competing political parties did not support that policy. So it does not need to be bipartisan. The government is entitled to promote programs of its own.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —On that basis, you would have given a tick to the ‘Unchain my heart’ campaign?

Mr McPhee —I have not looked at the ‘Unchain my heart’ campaign.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —But it meets that description. All the criticism about why you are involved in this whole process—which I object to because it makes you a political player—was around advertisements like that campaign. And yet we hear a member of the GCU process say that you are sounding just like people who are part of that GCU process sounded, making the same reasonable arguments. It seems to me that, under the new regime, it is quite possible—particularly after what you have just said—that we are going to have a highly political advertisement given the tick by your office.

Mr McPhee —Mrs Bishop, I was just trying to make the point that programs do not have to be bipartisan to be advertised.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —We had the same roles. Yet they were criticised and you were brought in to be the arbiter, because if you said it was okay we all had to accept it.

Mr McPhee —And we have said in this case it is okay, from our perspective, Mrs Bishop.

CHAIR —We have to move on and I thank you for presenting today. I would like to ask one last question. We had a presenter who suggested—and this is particularly relevant to Health and Ageing—that, under the guidelines, the ‘Grim reaper’ advertisement would never pass, because the evidence was not in and it was a proactive, social-change advertisement which was highly successful and recognised internationally. Do you have a view on that? Would that sort of social change or health change type of advertisement be passed under today’s guidelines?

Ms Huxtable —The guidelines show the cost-benefit analysis and that the evidence is very strong for the campaign approach that is applied, so I think it would very much depend on the issues being faced and the research around how effective those messages will be. Really it varies case by case. But I think it is the case that there are some quite strong campaigns around that I expect would be continued. Certainly the tobacco campaigns are quite confronting.

CHAIR —Auditor-General, would you have a view on that?

Mr McPhee —We have not directly looked at it.

Mr Grant —I would just like to clarify an answer I gave before. I used 250 members of the communications multi-use list. I in fact have the exact detail of the numbers: as at 7 September it was 210 unique suppliers across the five different specialist categories of advertising, research, public relations, Indigenous and non-English-speaking backgrounds. There are 234 suppliers, so some of those 210 operate in more than one of those areas.

CHAIR —Mr Grant, with this campaign, is the allocation that includes NESB and Indigenous all allocated upfront? We see these things delayed. Is it funded holistically, and should we therefore expect the campaign to be a holistic one?

Ms Huxtable —The announcement in March 2008 was for $20.3 million for the binge-drinking campaign. That is in fact calibrated into two stages. I think the first phase is about $12.08 million, from memory, and the remaining amount will be for the second phase, which will be in November.

CHAIR —So you do the generic ones first and the specialty ones last?

Ms Huxtable —No.

CHAIR —Okay. That is what I wanted to know. Thank you.

Mr GEORGIOU —What was the allocation for Indigenous and non-English-speaking background?

Ms S Palmer —The allocation for Indigenous-specific is $150,000.

Mr GEORGIOU —Out of?

Ms S Palmer —Out of 11 at this time.

Ms Huxtable —The reason for that is that the media buy is going to be in phase 2, so that is when the majority of the spend will be.

Mr GEORGIOU —So how much are you going to spend on Indigenous in total?

Ms Palmer —I have not got the budget; I only have the expenditure.

Ms Huxtable —I would have to take that on notice.

Mr GEORGIOU —Can you tell us also about NESB?

Ms Huxtable —Yes—on notice.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —I would like to come back to Mr Grant on the question I was asking before we got into the discussion about when this campaign began. The question I have not had an answer to is prospective. Departments will come to you to get guidance, in Ms Palmer’s words, about whether or not they are complying. I asked: where are the guidelines? What is the nature of the guidelines that you follow to give that guidance, and are they in writing? If not, why not? And if they are, can we have a copy please?

Mr Grant —Yes. There are guidelines. They are published. In fact, we have provided them before, but I am happy to do it again. As to whether it gets down to the nature of the advice given to agencies by the Communications Advice Branch, it does not. I was going through the sorts of matters that the branch takes into account when it is assisting departments to select three to five suppliers.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Do your guidelines also apply to written brochures that might be produced as part of a campaign?

Mr Grant —Where they are part of a campaign, yes, they can.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —So it might be something like this one I am holding? And again, as the Auditor-General has said, it could be all pro-government, even though the opposition gave it no support at all? That would be okay?

Mr Grant —I think the answer is no. The campaign guidelines relate to all material associated with the campaign, which is part of campaign advertising.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Well, that is what I am saying. On the legal advice we have heard, your guidance would be that the whole campaign could be pro the government’s point of view, even though the opposition is dead against it.

Mr Grant —I think what Mr McPhee said is that—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —He said that that was the lawyer’s advice.

Mr Grant —The legal advice is that you do not have to have bipartisanship. However, the nature of the guidelines on campaign advertising is that you cannot have party political—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —But it is a very grey area.

CHAIR —I am going to conclude now.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —No, I just want to get this settled.

CHAIR —Mrs Bishop, you can explore that further in the next session. We are going to have a change of witnesses, but I think Finance and the Audit Office are staying with us anyway.

Mr GEORGIOU —I just have a request for information: I would like to see the research on the concept testing and on the outcome.

CHAIR —That concludes our examination of the National Binge Drinking Strategy campaign. I thank witnesses from the Department of Health and Ageing. It is important now that we move on to the child care tax rebate campaign. I call to the table witnesses from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Mr Grant, while they are changing over, you say that these guidelines are written down. I would like you to find the part in those written down guidelines which would preclude a wholly supported government initiative being advertised which is totally opposed by the opposition.

Mr Grant —I am sorry, Mrs Bishop, that is not written down in the guidelines as clearly as you would ask.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Why not?

Mr Grant —The guidelines are established under a cabinet decision. They are public. There are five key guidelines in here. Quite clearly they go towards the nature of the material.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Mr Grant, the question of freedom of speech is getting to be very important in this place, and Finance is becoming very much immersed in. I think is very important that we have consistency. We have established that the legal advice says you can have a campaign ticked off by the Auditor-General that is wholly in favour of a government policy, which is presumably the policy of the Labor Party, and it can be totally opposed by the opposition and the still ticked off under these guidelines, of which you are an intermediary part. You are not the final arbiter; the Auditor-General has said that he could tick off such a campaign. In your position I want to know why you are not bound by the same legal advice that the Auditor-General is, how you can be different, and, why, if you are different, it is not written down?

CHAIR —I am just going to interrupt—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —You interrupt all the time, Madam Chair.

CHAIR —because there are some semantics.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Can we just have an answer from Mr Grant, please.

CHAIR —I think Ms Bishop, it is important—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —He does not meet my question interpreted for him.

CHAIR —It is important to state that the guidelines go to party political. It is very possible—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Madam Chair, I just ask the question.

CHAIR —It is very possible in this parliament that government legislation was not supported by the opposition and government legislation would precede an advertising campaign.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —I am not asking you the question; I am asking Mr Grant.

CHAIR —Mr Grant, is it a question you can answer?

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —No, he is only a member of Finance, probably.

Mr Grant —All I can do is referred to the guidelines. The guidelines do not go towards whether it is a government policy supported or not supported by the rest of the parliament; the guidelines go to the nature of the material being relevant; the nature of the material being presented in an objective, fair and accessible manner; that the material should be directed at promoting party political interests; that it is produced and distributed—

Mr GEORGIOU —No, promotion of government policy.

Mr Grant —Should not be directed at promoting party political interests.

Ms GEORGE —Read on.

Mr Grant —Material should be produced and distributed in an efficient, effective and relevant manner, with due regard to accountability; and that it must comply with legal requirements. That is the basis of the information we provide.

CHAIR —Thank you, we all have a copy of those guidelines.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —But those are the guidelines

CHAIR —I must interrupt, because we have witnesses who need to be actively—

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —I know you want to railroad this inquiry, Madam Chair.

CHAIR —No, I do not, Mrs Bishop.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —Can you just let me ask the question and then you can have a go?

CHAIR —Mrs Bishop, we have time constraints. Mr Grant has answered your question.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP —No, he hasn’t.

CHAIR —We have new witnesses at the table and I need those, for the Hansard record, to each state their names.

[10.28 am]