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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 3275

Senator XENOPHON (5:32 PM) —I will be brief in my remarks. I think it is fair to say that when the coalition was in power they spent an enormous amount of money on government advertising and they did so before legislation was actually passed. I think that was the wrong thing to do, but they did not promise to reform the system.

Senator Parry —At least legislation was drafted.

Senator XENOPHON —I do not think that is the point. I know that in my time in state parliament there was concern expressed in broad terms by the then South Australian Auditor-General, Ken MacPherson, who was concerned about government advertising of a policy when the legislation was not yet passed by the parliament. I know that the constitutionality of that was dealt with in the context of the High Court’s decision in Combet v Commonwealth, when Mr Combet took on the then government about advertising with respect to the Work Choices campaign. The High Court found that, so long as there was an appropriation for that funding, it was legal, notwithstanding that the legislation had not been passed.

The difficulty for the government here is that they promised the people at the last election that they would clean this up and that they would have a new regime in place. I think it would be fair to say that the government has monumentally failed to deliver this. The new process we have seen through the ICC is, with respect, too cute by half. That is why I think there is considerable public disquiet about what the government has done. I know that Senator Ronaldson and Senator Fierravanti-Wells have outlined their concerns about this, and I share a number of those concerns. This is not the right way to go about things. The rules have been changed by taking this away from the Auditor-General as the independent watchdog to deal with these matters, and I think there are very real concerns about that.

I believe that the government has fundamentally done the wrong thing here. What they have done is try to cloak this in process, to say that they have somehow managed to fix this problem up with process, but the government has been too cute by half by doing so. My concern is that we do not have a system in place that is robust, accountable and transparent in dealing with government advertising. I think the government’s argument is, ‘We’re spending less than the last mob,’ to put it colloquially, but the fact is that this government came to power on the basis that they would fix this up and what they have done is the opposite. That is why they are taking public opprobrium; they have fundamentally done the wrong thing. They have done the wrong thing by taxpayers. What we are seeing is a cheap way of doing the party’s ads using taxpayer funds, and that is fundamentally wrong. It is an even more serious issue when you consider that this legislation has not even passed the parliament. We have not even seen the drafting of this legislation.