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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 3273

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (5:21 PM) —I rise to also take note of ministerial statement. I support Senator Ronaldson in his comments and will focus my comments on yet another disgraceful display in relation to rules on advertising that are being flouted. This refers to the false and deceptive advertising in relation to the health reform or the grand health plan. What I would like to do is take the Senate through some very pertinent points that have been raised in relation to this through estimates—most importantly on the parameters of the authorisation for this campaign. It does not appear that the campaign that is currently being run actually meets the guidelines that were approved by the ICC. So, Senator Ronaldson, what happens is that, even when the ICC gets involved and gives approval, this government is not even capable of following the guidelines to the letter.

Let me show you why. In relation to the health reform, let me take the Senate back. At estimates we were told that there was a series of meetings that occurred before COAG. Ministerial approval was given on 19 March to develop an advertising campaign. On that same day, four agencies were invited to tender. Indeed, in only 11 days an agency was appointed. How can you go through a process of appointing an agency within 11 days if you are going to follow even your own rules? This was the evidence that was given by Ms Palmer in community affairs estimates on 2 June. There was a process where they engaged a research company, focus groups were run, benchmark researching was undertaken and—voila!—after 11 days we suddenly got an agency appointed.

Then, of course, the minister decides to get approval, so then you have this process where they do go to the ICC. In the middle of all this, COAG happens, which completely reverses and changes the Prime Minister’s original plans, which he had outlined at the National Press Club, where he told everybody:

For the first time, Local Hospitals Networks, run by local health, financial and managerial professionals, rather than state or, for that matter, federal bureaucrats, will be put in charge of running the hospital system.

That was the grand plan and the grand promise: that these local hospital networks would be run locally and funded federally. But, of course, that bears absolutely no resemblance to the agreement that was finally set out with the states.

So what do we have? We have the correspondence in which approval was given to this campaign by the Independent Communications Committee. They refer to five meetings. The department was told that it needed to check that the inconsistency in the website on which it was called to action in the materials has been fixed. I do not know what that is about. But, interestingly enough, this campaign was approved with no materials reviewed: no television commercial, no radio advertisement, no print advertisement and no digital advertisement. Why was none reviewed? Because the attachment to that letter says: ‘Final campaign advertising material reviewed: none. Not applicable.’ So this ICC approved a campaign without even looking at this material. It is absolutely appalling.

Then, of course, suddenly approval is given. It is little wonder that there is absolutely no scrutiny, because the other appalling part of all this is that Jane Halton, the secretary of the department, signed off and certified on behalf of the government for this campaign. This is supposed to be advertising for the implementation of a cabinet decision ‘which is intended to be implemented during the current parliament’. But, of course, we know that this has not been approved by cabinet. Despite my questioning of the department, they were not able to tell me who finally approved this. Indeed, Ms Palmer told me that it was by ministerial approval; it was not by cabinet approval. Therefore, how can you certify that this is a campaign where there has been a cabinet decision which is intended to be implemented during the current parliament? During the current parliament, for goodness sake! The legislation has not even come here and they are talking about spending money for something that has not even been implemented yet. But, of course, the Australian Financial Review of 9 June tells us that the hospital and health package is another one of those kitchen cabinet decisions by Mr Tanner, Mr Swan, Ms Gillard and the Prime Minister. So I do not understand. I would like clarification as to why this document was certified when there does not appear to be a cabinet decision.

Indeed, it specifies in this document that the campaign materials that have been presented are fact and those facts are accurate and verifiable. Of course they are not accurate. In fact, our two-day hearing on health reform shows just how inaccurate and deceptive this whole campaign is. Indeed, so much evidence was given during the inquiry which goes to show that this agreement, which was entered into by the Commonwealth with the states after this campaign appears to have been approved, basically says that the local hospital networks will be appointed by the states and that the premise is that the doctors in these local hospital networks will come from areas ‘external to the local hospital network wherever practical’. So all this drivel that exists in these advertisements that talk about it being ‘run locally’ is absolutely deceptive and misleading, using taxpayers’ money for what was supposed to be a campaign about fact. I call on the government to withdraw these ads and tell the Australian people what the facts really are. The facts are that this network will not be run locally. It is in black and white in this agreement that the doctors in these local hospital networks will not come from that local area. You cannot get more deceptive than that.

Then they talk about there being more aged-care beds. They are raiding the budget. They are raiding $276 million from the aged-care budget destined for residential high-care beds, shunting it off to failed state and territory hospitals so that we can keep people who should be in aged-care facilities in hospitals longer. In 2007, this government promised a new direction for frail and aged Australians. ‘We are going to get them out of hospital and into aged-care facilities.’ They are doing the exact opposite. They are keeping 2,000 more in hospitals. In any given night in this country there are 3,000 people who should be better cared for in aged-care facilities but who are in our hospitals. This government is breaking another promise. It promised to help our frail and aged and make the transition out of hospital into aged care better. Instead they are doing the direct opposite, just like they are deceiving the Australian public in relation to these advertisements.

I call for some facts in relation to this misleading and deceptive advertising. Even when they get approval through the ICC they cannot even follow the guidelines. The guidelines and the certifications are not even worth the paper they are written on, because they too do not follow the ICC. And how can you approve a campaign when you do not actually see the material? How can the ICC have approved this campaign? It is little wonder that what has come out at the other end with the ad campaigns in radio, television and print media bears no resemblance to the actual facts of what is contained in this agreement.