Millions of taxpayer-funded ads ‘politicized’ by governments, new study finds

At least a quarter of the Commonwealth’s annual expenditure on taxpayer-funded advertising is highly political and biased in favor of the government of the day, according to a new study.

The Grattan Institute analyzed spending between 2008 and 2021 and found that governments across the political spectrum have taken advantage of loose advertising rules, “arming” taxpayer funds for election purposes.

The report found that nearly $50 million of the $200 million the federal government spent annually on advertising during the period was questionable.

“Some advertising campaigns look politicized – this is because they include, for example, party slogans or color schemes, usually they tout government achievements or policies, and they are often timed to take place before the election,” report author Anika told Stobart.

“Nearly $50 million each year has been spent on campaigns that gave the incumbent government a political advantage – accounting for about a quarter of the federal government’s total annual spending.”

The Institute said that over the past five years the Australian federal government has spent $7 per person per year on advertising, compared to $4.50 per person for the UK government and $2 per person for the Canadian government. .

Anika Stobart says current rules aimed at preventing the politicization of taxpayer-funded advertising are not very effective.(ABC News: Barrie Pullen)

Data from the Department of Finance and the AusTender website showed the federal government’s daily spending on advertising rose just before Australians headed to the polls, further underscoring concerns.

“During the 2019 election, the federal government spent about $85 million of taxpayers’ money on politicized campaigns,” Stobart said.

“This is the combined spending of political parties on television, print and radio advertising over the same period.

“The opposition, the small parties and the independents do not have the possibility of exploiting public money to cover the saturation.”

Stricter rules recommended

The Grattan Institute report recommended strict legislative requirements for taxpayer-funded advertising.

“Most state governments, as well as the federal government, have rules in place to prevent the politicization of taxpayer-funded advertising,” Stobart said.

“But although they look good on paper, they are not very effective in stopping politicization – especially government achievements.”

The report also recommended the creation of an independent panel to check whether advertising complied with the rules before the start of any campaign.

“I think there’s probably public outrage when we see publicly paid government ads spouting what the government is doing, even especially when they add their party logo or color scheme to it” , said Ms. Stobart.

“We see it all the time on our screens, like promoting the next big transportation project or promoting what the government is doing to lower the cost of living.

“We want to see ads that will actually provide real public benefit or encourage change in the community, or request specific action from community members.”

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