My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 16 April 2019

by ray goodlass

Morrison government mates profit from government advertising

Pope’s cartoon in last Wednesday’s Daily Advertiser mentioned three actions of the Morrison government in response to a fictitious rental house bond clean up: political appointments, approval of the Adani cola mine’s groundwater plans, and government ads. All of course references to the forthcoming federal election and clear evidence that Mr Morrison was delaying calling the election so he could milk every available opportunity to advantage his government, as the rushed appointment of no fewer than 49 Morrison’s Mates to various government bodies and the last minute Adani approval  demonstrate.

So even though the election has now been called I was stimulated to investigate further, especially the barrage of advertising in the preceding week or so that has been telling us of massive government expenditure on infrastructure, health and education and so forth.

Most people would, with good reason, wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, we know the election has to be held in May, so why does it matter if it’s called two weeks ago or last week?  There’s one very important reason – until the election is called the government can use taxpayer money to fund advertisements and commercials, which of course is very convenient for a government seeking re-election.

Political chicanery that’s par for the course most readers would probably think, and though that is regrettable it is true. Labor has after all done it in the past.

But what got me thinking was a headline in Crikey, which read “In political advertising, the Liberals have always looked after their mates”. It provoked me to investigate further, and what I found was very disturbing, for indeed, the owners or major shareholders in our media outlets are indeed Liberal Party ‘mates’, and due to Mr Morrison’s delay in calling the election they pocketed millions by running government ads – and that’s taxpayer money, so we are all footing the bill out of our own pockets.

And the media really needs this money, for given that commercial advertising is currently in the doldrums it is struggling for every dollar of government advertising that it can get. By one estimate, a quarter of a billion dollars has been spent by the Commonwealth since January 2018, making the government a key source of revenue for our media barons. According to advertising tender documents, government spending this year is a phenomenal $136 million, or $1 million a day.

A week’s delay in calling the election is therefore a cool $7 million. Of course, the cash cow of taxpayers’ money would dry up instantly the election is formally called. And make no mistake Mr Morrison and his mates have been milking it.

Which lead me to think about who exactly would benefit, and the outcome was very disturbing, for the two big winners from Morrison’s dithering about the election were the Murdoch family media empire and Kerry Stokes. Both are very politically active Liberal Party supporters, and both also regularly provide platforms for right-wing extremists in their media outlets.

The other big winner was Nine, which also owns 50% of radio station 2GB in Sydney, well known as a Liberal Party propaganda outlet through the platform it gives to shock jocks such as Alan Jones and Ray Hadley.

This realisation encouraged me to think beyond this election and look to see if Liberal/National coalition governments have made a habit of billing us, the taxpayers, for their political advertising, and indeed they have. The appalling “Unchain my heart” ads from the introduction of the GST two decades ago are an infamous example, but they aren’t necessarily the worst.

In the later Howard years campaigns such as WorkChoices saw tens of millions of dollars handed to Liberal Party mates at the request of an internal Liberal committee that had no authority to direct spending, even though the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) condemned the practices in a 2009 report. However, because the Howard government was ancient history by then, the media ignored what was clear evidence of, at the very least, outrageous misuse of advertising spending — and, quite possibly, blatant corruption.

All of which reminds me that when Mr Morrison became Prime Minister he said “Remember, my value is: we look after our mates”. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise he meant that quite so literally.