Transcript of Doorstop Interview – Parliament House, Canberra
JOINT DOORSTOP – Kelvin Thomson MP
Shadow Minister for Public Accountability, and
Anthony Albanese MP
Shadow Minister for Environment & Heritage
2 November 2006
SUBJECTS: Advertising expenditure double climate change expenditure; Iraq oil imports scandal
THOMSON: The Howard Government is set to become the first Government in Australian history to spend $1.5 billion taxpayers’ dollars, on Government advertising. We learnt from Senate Estimates earlier this week that it spent $1.27 billion on media placements up until this financial year.
We know now that buried in the Budget Papers are a further $250 million to be spent for 2006/07. So, there is an avalanche of taxpayer dollars on Government advertising.
At the same time, we know that the Government has only spent some $670 million on climate change, so the fact is, it’s raining taxpayer dollars when it comes to Government advertising, but there is a drought on when it comes to climate change.
ALBANESE: It’s quite clear that the Australian Government’s priorities are all wrong. When it comes to the Howard Government, it’s self promotion first, daylight second and climate change last.
And the thing that the Howard Government Ministers have got to ask themselves this – do they want, in 20 or 30 years time, to show books to their kids and grandkids and say “this is what the Great Barrier Reef looked like”, this is what various plants and animals that were present in Australia looked like. This is what glaciers looked like before climate change arrived big time because they have been warned by the scientists, by the economists, but they still refuse to take action.
JOURNALIST: Given the quick turn around with the whole climate change debate in the last week or two, with the Government jumping on board, you must feel a bit vindicated after going along about this for years and not getting much interest?
ALBANESE: Well, what’s clear is that the Labor Party’s position has been vindicated by the Stern Report, the Labor Party released our Climate Change Blueprint in March of this year, which called for a ratification of Kyoto, a National Emissions Trading Scheme and a significant increase in the mandatory renewable energy target; as well as significant investment in clean coal technology and renewables.
What we’ve seen from the Government is a complete lack of action and what these figures highlight is that the Government is very good allocating money from time to time, they haven’t even spent the very minor amounts that have been allocated because they’d rather spend money on advertising themselves and getting themselves back into office, because they’re all concerned about their future and not about the future of the nation and the planet for this generation and generations to come.
JOURNALIST: Mr Thomson, can you just remind us what Labor’s position is on Government advertising, was it that you are going to appoint someone that it has to go through, is that it?
THOMSON: That’s right, we believe that the Auditor General’s proposed guidelines need to be put into effect. I’ve introduced a Private Members’ bill which would do that, it would ensure that there can be no money spent on Government advertising campaigns until legislation has passed the Parliament and it would require the Public Service Commissioner to scrutinise advertising campaigns and programs before they were run.
JOURNALIST: Kelvin, on the issue of alleged breaches of UN sanctions, are you concerned that is took DFAT five years to refer the BP case to Federal Police to investigate?
THOMSON: This has all the hallmarks of a cover-up. This matter was known to the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2001, and yet the investigation by the Australian Federal Police commenced in 2006. Frankly this is not good enough. In relation to the Cole Inquiry, on the one hand you’ve got an open public inquiry in relation to the wheat scandal, but concerning the other Oil for Food breaches, these things are being carried out in secret. Just when was Alexander Downer planning to inform the Australian people that all of this was going on?
JOURNALIST: The DFAT bureaucrats have stood before the Committee today refusing to answer questions for the same reasons that the Minister said he can’t. Is that acceptable given that most of the details of this BP case are out in the public anyway?
THOMSON: It’s not acceptable, in relation to the AWB scandal, the Howard Government has been hiding behind the Cole Inquiry and refusing to answer questions in the Parliament or at Senate Estimates and again here, they’re hiding behind the AFP inquiries and refusing to answer questions either in the House, when we asked them, or in Senate Estimates. It’s not good enough, there needs to be Parliamentary scrutiny, there needs to be accountability. What we’re getting instead is a cover-up.
JOURNALIST: Just a question to both of you gentlemen on Government advertising, you’re critical of the Howard Government spending too much money on advertising itself. Are you similarly critical of State Governments, particularly the Beattie and the Brack’s Government for the vast amounts they spend on advertising themselves?
THOMSON: What is required is independent scrutiny and proper guidelines. So you need to have some transparency about these things. We think that the Auditor General’s guidelines are right for the Commonwealth Government and the Commonwealth Parliament and we would introduce them in Office.
ALBANESE: I agree.
JOURNALIST: Ok, I hear you say that, but I’ve heard other people say that they are going to do stuff like that before too and when they get in power they spend millions of dollars on ads. If you’re going to be fair, you should be just as critical of your colleagues in the State Government as you are of the Commonwealth shouldn’t you?
THOMSON: Well, what I’m saying is there needs to be proper independent scrutiny and you need to have someone like the Public Service Commissioner looking at the ads and you need to have proper guidelines. The Auditor General suggested guidelines a number of years ago, after the GST Unchain My Heart ads went through, those guidelines have never been adopted. I’ve moved a Private Members’ bill in relation to this; this is evidence of our good faith and our intentions in relation to this matter, if and when we’re elected to office.
JOURNALIST: From your observation of State Governments, do you think that Labor State Government’s should also have some independent oversight of the ads that they place?
THOMSON: I believe they’re should be some independent oversight of Government advertising, that’s true for the Commonwealth, that’s true for the States as well.