Government agencies use advertising campaigns to inform the public of their rights, responsibilities, and entitlements to services or products. Examples include the Drink Driving Community Education Campaign, Influenza Campaign and the Domestic Violence Campaign.
In 2011-12 and 2012-13 agencies spent at least $45 million on buying television, radio, print and online media places for their campaigns. This does not include the cost of developing the campaigns. In the same period Government Trading Enterprises (GTE) spent $31 million on purchasing media places.
Advertising campaigns can be an effective way for agencies to inform the public. However, campaigns can attract considerable public and political interest over their cost and potential to be used to send political messages. There is a fine line between acceptable use of public money to fund government messages and the risk that these messages may be perceived as biased toward the incumbent political party. Agencies must therefore demonstrate high levels of transparency and public accountability to avoid criticism.
The Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC) is responsible for the oversight of advertising by core government agencies. GTEs are not subject to DPC’s oversight, instead their independent boards oversee all their policies, including those on advertising.
DPC’s Government Advertising and Communications Policy (Policy) provides direction and guidance to agencies on matters that include avoiding misuse of public funds and on preventing campaigns being used to send political messages. DPC also maintains a three member Independent Communications Review Committee (ICRC), to ensure that agencies comply with the Policy and supporting guidelines, and for considering post campaign performance.
Our objective was to assess whether government funded advertising campaigns are managed in a way that is accountable and transparent and where appropriate, that the outcomes are evaluated.
Campaigns generally complied with the Policy, with some minor exceptions. But, the policy could be strengthened in the important areas of transparency and accountability. Specifically, we had concerns with the limited transparency of campaign expenditure and the independence of DPC’s Independent Communications Review Committee.
DPC’s evaluation of campaigns of significant material value and its overall assessment of government communications was inadequate. Their ability to assess these was limited to the savings achieved from purchasing of media through the Master Media Services Common Use Agreement (CUA) contractors. Fundamental campaign information such as actual costs and evidence of how they achieved their objectives was not given to DPC.