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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1417

Senator McLUCAS (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) (10:19 AM) —I will respond to Senator Fierravanti-Wells’ questions first, if you do not mind, Senator Xenophon. Essentially that $102 million indicates what we are doing in the first tranche. So that piece of work will be focused on the questions around obesity and smoking. As she would be aware, we have quite a considerable amount of money in social marketing around the abuse of alcohol. That is already underway. That does not indicate that that is the only piece of social marketing that will be undertaken by the authority ever; this is just the first tranche.

You asked: why don’t we define social marketing? I think the answer is inherent in the comments you made. Social marketing has to be responsive and diverse. You cannot say it is advertising—you cannot say it is pictures on buses. By the nature of technology in Australia, it is changing almost minute by minute. If you defined social marketing five years ago, you would not include SMS in it. Now we do. So let us leave social marketing as something that we all naturally understand, and then it can respond to the changing ways that our communities, and particularly some of our target communities in this space, will be communicating with each other. We all know what social marketing means. It used to be defined as advertising when I was a little girl. Now we call it social marketing intentionally so that we capture all of the potential ways of influencing behaviour.

Senator Xenophon, this is quite a considerable precedent that you are asking the authority to set in the way that advice is provided by public servants to governments. This is a significant shift from the system that we have at the moment where the Public Service is there to provide excellent, well-briefed, well-researched advice to government. That is its job, and it is tasked to provide it in the baldest way: ‘Tell us the facts and then when we have all of those facts decisions can be made.’ My concern with your amendment is that that encourages the Public Service to behave in a different way than we would ordinarily expect of it. It would then be tailoring advice to try to understand or pre-empt what the government of the day is thinking. We have seen examples of that in our history in Australia, where public servants have attempted to think ahead of where a minister or a government may be thinking.

That is dangerous. I go back to your words: ‘A copy of any advice’. If that is required to be placed on the internet within 12 months of giving out advice, public servants, because they are human beings, will change their behaviour. We would be making a significant precedent if we passed your amendment today. I do encourage you to contemplate looking at the potential of a summary to be provided. I do take your point that once a summary is provided the next question is, ‘What did you leave out?’ Then I go to the point that we have Senate estimates, we have the fact that the CEO will appear in front of Senate estimates and we have the opportunity for FOI under the normal constructs of FOI. On your earlier point, where you said that FOI would reveal all anyway, there are rules around FOI, as you would know probably more than most, that go to third-party considerations and the public interest test. You made the point: ‘Why don’t you do it anyway, because we will get it through FOI?’ There are rules around FOI, as you know. I think the institutional structures we have around transparency will give the sort of scrutiny you are looking for. To take it to the next step—and that is a requirement that all advice is published—I think that may diminish the power of the authority in a long run, and that would be a shame.

You recognise that our government is one of the first governments—the first government, I think—in the history of Australia that has decided that preventative health investment is the way to improve the quality of life in our country. I would hate to think that that goal could be diminished by this amendment, where the upshot could very well be that we have public servants in the authority a bit scared of telling it like it is. That would be a failing. That would be, I think, unfortunate. It would be terrible if it resulted in decisions being made not on the basis of good information. So I encourage you to look at the alternative, as I have indicated, as a way to potentially solve your concerns but also ensure that those who work in the authority will be providing the best information to the minister and the government so they can make the best decisions in terms of the health of this nation.