Our State plan: wasting taxpayers’ money

It’s a rare experience to find myself agreeing with Peter Debnam, who consistently pulls off the remarkable feat of making Morris Iemma appear both competent and popular. But his comments on the State Government’s expenditure on advertisements are spot on. Ever since those awful “State plan” ads started showing during the Brisbane Test, my blood’s been boiling every time I see Morris Iemma spending our money propping up his mediocrity of a government.

The ads have been so transparently improper. Where Howard’s were restricted to specific policies, at least, these try to encompass everything. With their abstract, feelgood phrases about things like “better living” and “respect and responsibility”, they look exactly like party election ads, with plenty of imprecise mentions of more cops and nurses and the stuff that voters have evidently said in focus groups that they care about.

And I particularly love that Iemma spent more on advertising the plan – $2.6 million – than developing it. Could his priorities be any clearer?

Not only is the campaign woefully hamfisted, but it may well backfire. Since the Government has to stop short of explicitly saying “So, re-elect Morris Iemma!”, what with it being publicly funded and all, voters might think all this nice stuff was happening anyway, rather than viewing it as contingent on leaving Labor in office. If good stuff’s happening anyway, voters may think, why not give Debnam a run? Well, because he’s quite scary, as David Marr’s profile last year made clear – but that’s a subject for another day.

It’s a bit rich, of course, for a Liberal to be criticising the waste of taxpayers’ money on advertising. The Howard Government has poured squillions into selling its less popular policies. But at least they do a half-decent job of it. Sure, they generally over-labour a metaphor, like the umbrellas for the private health rebate and throwing off chains for the GST (and what an ironic metaphor that was, in hindsight, for small business.) Most recently, it blew millions on the impossible task of making ordinary punters think that WorkChoices wouldn’t hurt them.

But the article mentions that where the Federal Government came in fifth in the league table of big advertisers, the NSW Government came in seventh. I was gobsmacked by this. Not just because it’s only a state, but because I can’t remember a single dodgy NSW advertisement before the current crop. Really, if they’re going to waste our money, they could at least do so effectively.

Debnam is particularly angry that the ads will continue until just before the election, and well he should. They might seriously detract from his chances of winning. So on second thoughts, perhaps the money’s worth it?

If the Opposition Leader really wants to get voters behind him on this issue, though, there’s one simple thing he can do. Promise not to spend a cent on dubious government advertising if elected Premier. But we’ve seen the Federal Liberal Party play the same game for a decade, and I fear that if Debnam is elected, the advertising we’re subjected to may only get worse. As outrageous as they are, at least Morris Iemma’s ads have never been responsible for endless repetitions of ‘Unchain my heart’. With the Liberals in charge in NSW as well, we could be in grave danger of more Joe Cocker songs – perhaps even ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’.

Dominic Knight

Photo: Chris Colls (digitally merged)

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