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Not just the vibe: Liberal Party Advertising v the Constitution.



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Nicola Roxon MP Federal Labor Member for Gellibrand

Not just the vibe: Liberal Party Advertising v the ConstitutionNot just the vibe: Liberal Party Advertising v the Constitution

By Nicola Roxon, Shadow Attorney-General 27 July 2005 - embargoed 6am 28 July 2005

Over the last few weeks a multimillion dollar Howard Government advertising campaign has begun, promoting an industrial relations plan that will affect millions of working Australians.

The detail of Mr Howard’s extreme industrial relations changes has not even been announced, let alone put before the Parliament, but that hasn’t stopped the Liberal Party from putting their hands in our pockets. It isn’t even law yet but the Howard Government is happy to spend our money to tell us how grateful we’ll all be to have our rights and protections in the workplace removed.

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The Howard Government calls this ‘information to citizens’. In fact, they are so keen on ‘information to citizens’ that they’ve spent almost 1 billion dollars in the last ten years on it!

Australians have a right to ask serious questions about these ads: • Is it a waste of money that could be better spent on health, education or other services? • Is it propaganda promoting their political interests rather than the

real work of Government? • Is it a good and proper use of taxpayers’ money?

We know it’s wrong, we know it’s wasteful, we know it’s politicised, we know it’s unethical.

But is it legal?

It’s not just “the vibe” (with apologies to that great Australian film The Castle), its section 83 of the Constitution.

For more information call: Nicola Roxon or David Robinson on (03) 9687 7355

Nicola Roxon MP Federal Labor Member for Gellibrand

That section demands that Mr Howard get approval from the Parliament before he races off spending taxpayers’ money on any old thing that takes his fancy.

Even though he now controls both houses of parliament, Mr Howard isn’t above the law. And the Constitution makes clear that the Government can only spend money that Parliament has given it.

This is not some mere constitutional technicality - it goes to the very heart of our parliamentary democracy. It is one of a handful of mechanisms which ensure that the Mr Howard remains accountable to parliament and, through it, the community. In fact it’s a principle that can be traced as far back as seventeenth century Britain, when Westminster processes of responsible government were first taking shape.

It is not clear at all whether the Parliament has given a single cent to pay for the ads that appeared on the weekend, much less the $20 million we are told it will cost for the glossy brochures and TV spots to follow.

Even with Government’s tendency to stretch the normal meaning of words, there is nothing in the budget bills passed at the end of June that refers to spending taxpayers’ money on this industrial relations campaign. There was no statement on budget night, no details in the budget papers and no last minute amendments to the bills. Nothing.

This is despite the fact that the budget is full of other advertising items. These are properly documented and there is no doubt that Parliament approved them. They include the current ‘super choice’ television campaign, a campaign to advertise family law changes and ads about the benefits of generic medicines. But the Workplace Relations Minister Mr Andrews can’t point us to anything similar for the industrial relations ads.

Mr Howard might have the numbers in the Parliament, but he still must report to it and comply with the Constitution.

He can’t just spend taxpayers’ money on any Liberal Party cause that comes up.

For more information call: Nicola Roxon or David Robinson on (03) 9687 7355

Nicola Roxon MP Federal Labor Member for Gellibrand

For more information call: Nicola Roxon or David Robinson on (03) 9687 7355

So far, despite our repeated attempts to get to the bottom of this matter, the Government has refused to tell us where the money is coming from.

They have forced us to take this matter to the High Court.

Together with the ACTU, the Labor Party has asked the High Court to stop the Government spending taxpayers’ money illegally.

We already know Mr Howard and Mr Andrews have broken the spirit of the Constitution. Now we are asking the High Court to tell us whether they’ve broken the letter of the law.