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AG highlights flawed NSW Government advertising campaigns

The NSW Government spent approximately $83.8 million on advertising in 2016–17, a 53 per cent increase from $54.8 million in 2014–15. This represented a significant reversal in trend, after advertising expenditure fell by 53 per cent between 2007–08 and 2014–15. Image: NSW Auditor-General’s Report to Parliament – Government advertising: Campaigns for 2015–16 and 2016–17.

Geoff Helisma

NSW Auditor-General Margaret Crawford has found that two NSW Government advertising campaigns – ‘Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities’ and ‘Dogs deserve better’ – “used subjective or emotive messages to build support for government policy”.

The AG’s report, Government advertising: 2015-16 and 2016-17¸ “concluded that neither campaign breached the specific legislative prohibitions on political advertising in Section 6 of the Act”; and that they “complied with most other requirements of the Act, the regulations, other laws and the Government Advertising Guidelines”.
However, “shortcomings in both campaigns … potentially compromised value for money”, the report states.

The campaigns, which cost $4.5 million (amalgamation) and $1.3 million (greyhounds), were conducted by the Office of Local Government in conjunction with the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Department of Justice, respectively.

An AG media release states: “Some advertisements were designed to build support for government policy and used subjective or emotive messages.
“This is inconsistent with the requirement in the Government Advertising Guidelines for ‘objective presentation in a fair and accessible manner’.
“Advertisements in the ‘Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities’ campaign used subjective statements such as ‘the system is broken’ and ‘brighter future’.
“While advertisements in the ‘Dogs deserve better’ campaign used confronting imagery such as gun targets, blood smears and gravestones.
“The perceived urgency to advertise impacted how the agencies engaged creative suppliers and the notice given to book placement of advertisements in the media.
“Due to this approach, it is hard for the agencies to demonstrate that value for money was achieved for both campaigns.”
The AG also highlighted “factual inaccuracies” in the greyhound campaign regarding the lifespan of the dogs, either racing or not, and the number of countries where greyhound races are conducted; and that the department’s “cost benefit analysis [did not] consider alternatives to advertising”, such as “direct mail, face to face forums, and a telephone helpline”.
In a letter included in the report in response to the AG’s findings, the Justice Department agrees with just one of eight specific points raised, and partially agrees with three.
Of the amalgamation campaign, the AG found that phase 1 “did not reflect the full scale of work to be undertaken” and that phase 2 “did not sufficiently consider alternatives to advertising, as is required by the Government Advertising Guidelines”.

Commenting in a media release, Opposition leader Luke Foley said: “The Government has been caught out lying to the public through ads that were a complete waste of money.”
Michael Daley, deputy Opposition leader and shadow minister for gaming and racing, said: “They [the NSW Government] think the rules never apply to them and the fact the taxpayer funds were used and wasted in an attempt to cheat the system means nothing to them.”
The AG’s report can be viewed at www.audit.nsw.gov.au.

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