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Victoria: is some Government advertising in contravention of the legislation banning political advertising on the electronic media?

RICHARD ACKLAND: Now, we return to domestic affairs and the breathless excitement of the Victorian election campaign, and the advertisements roll on in Victoria despite the election mode. And this, possibly, is in contravention of the new political advertising ban legislation, but as Ian Mannix reports, some people are indeed upset that this swag of ads from the Government could well influence voting behaviour.

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UNIDENTIFIED: Victoria has 32 national parks, every one a living, natural treasure. Call 005512120 for your guide to Victoria's national parks.

IAN MANNIX: The Victorian Government says advertisements like that aren't political, but throughout the Victorian election campaign, Joan Kirner has made much of the fact that her government has created vast numbers of national parks and the Opposition was opposed to many of them.

But other advertisements running on television, at the moment, aren't so subtle.

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UNIDENTIFIED: I've just turned 19 and shouldn't I get a pay rise? How do I check?

UNIDENTIFIED: Now, you can find out your award entitlements because, now, your rights are on the line - Wageline, 6551333.

IAN MANNIX: Talk to Joan Kirner about the Coalition's industrial relations policy and you could be forgiven for thinking your rights are on the line. But Ken Bolt from the Department of Labour, says the advertisements weren't placed with an election in mind.

KEN BOLT: It was part of a structured campaign that we've had going over four years. The first campaign, back in March 1990, was entitled 'Your Rights are on the Line - Wageline'; and in November 1991, November-December 1991, we ran a similar campaign targeted at small business employers entitled 'Advice that's Straight Down the Line'. The current campaign - we set it for the period that it is, simply, to coincide with things like the superannuation guarantee levy which came out at the same time.

IAN MANNIX: But the Liberals don't agree. Phil Gude is the Coalition's Industrial Relations spokesman.

PHIL GUDE: Well, I think it's something that the Electoral Commission should have a very close look at. There obviously are a number of advertisements and this is one where the Government have gone right up to the line and maybe have crossed it. I think that it's worthy of further close scrutiny. The Broadcasting Tribunal will be watching these things closely themselves. One would hope that they would have a very close look at this and maybe, if they're listening to this broadcast, that might be sufficient to prompt their attention.

IAN MANNIX: The final arbiter of what's political and what's not is the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. Public Affairs Officer, Fiona Chisholm, says there have been no complaints about the swag of advertisements or their content.

FIONA CHISHOLM: Political advertisements are described by the Broadcasting Act as those which are intended or likely to have an effect on voting in an election, and which contain material that has either an express or implied reference to issues to do with the election. Now, those issues - there's a short list of those: the election itself; candidates; issues .... elective in that particular election, so issues they're going to have to think about in voting; the Government, the Opposition or a previous government or opposition; a Member of Parliament or a political party.

IAN MANNIX: Timing was always going to be a problem for any department running a television campaign in Victoria this year. Everyone knew there would be an election - only Joan Kirner knew when. Meanwhile, the Tourism Commission is planning a series of advertisements promoting regional areas and there are advertisements urging Victorians to be prepared to stop domestic violence. Joan Kirner's pledge has always been 'Work not words'.

And Patricia Gillard, Associate Professor in Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology says there is a political side to these advertisements.

PATRICIA GILLARD: It has election overtones because of the language - it talks about rights being on the line - but that's also the kind of pun that any advertiser uses to get attention. So it's really that it is now being seen in the context of an election campaign that makes it political, rather than the ad, intrinsically, itself. I think - played at another time - it wouldn't be political, so much as informative.

IAN MANNIX: And what do you think the impact on the voters in Victoria will be?

PATRICIA GILLARD: Advertising acts, indirectly, in the sense of affecting people's feelings about things - it's meant to act that way - and if people have concerns about their own employment - either as employers or, as is more likely, as employees - then, I guess they'll have a sense of the Government doing something about it for them. That's a good thing when you go to vote. But, in terms of a direct relationship between what boxes they're going to put ticks and crosses in, I think that would be fairly hard to argue.

IAN MANNIX: If advertisements are supposed to affect people's feelings, the Conservation, Forest and Lands is a very positive advertisement. Could that affect people in the same way?

PATRICIA GILLARD: Yes, it could, in the same indirect way of wanting to support a government which is supporting things that you agree with and want to participate in, or is providing you specific services.

IAN MANNIX: Could these three advertisements be seen to show the Government doing things?

PATRICIA GILLARD: Yes. I think they support that kind of slogan and I don't know whether that was the intention. They also do what, I gather, is their main purpose, which is to give information that's work related, and that's information that I'm sure is seen to be needed in a time of work restructuring and change. Ultimately, I don't think that you can dissociate political from the rest of life.

RICHARD ACKLAND: Yes. That was 'the HAT' reporting there, and he says that government spokespeople say that the Wageline advertisement is part of a long-term campaign, as are the anti-violence ads, but no one could be found, there, to discuss the overall impact of those advertisements.