EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Taxpayer-funded political advertising scandal
, June 26, 2010
With tightly-fought elections due to be held nationally and in various states over the next 12 months, voters are being inundated with political advertising masquerading as government information.
Although governments employ an army of researchers and media spokesmen, and taxpayers directly fund the major parties' election campaigns, it seems that for governments, the temptation of using taxpayer funds to promote its policies or programs is too difficult to resist.
During the 2007 election campaign, when the Howard Government embarked on a similar vote-buying exercise, Kevin Rudd denounced it as "a cancer on democracy", and gave a "100 per cent guarantee" never to indulge in the practice. The cancer on democracy has now become a necessity for Mr Rudd's government, thereby destroying whatever credibility Mr Rudd still had.
The final straw was the Federal Government's $38 million advertising spree to support its mining "super-profits" tax, which proceeded on the basis that "there is an active campaign of mis-information about the proposed changes to our tax system, and that Australians are concerned about how these changes will affect them," as the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, wrote.
It later emerged that approval to spend the $38 million had been made by four senior ministers, including Mr Rudd and Mr Swan, some time before the super tax was announced.Home insulation
This followed mass advertising for the Federal Government's "free" home insulation scheme, for its now-abandoned emissions trading scheme, and for the multi-billion dollar Education Revolution, which has been rorted by some state governments imposing excessive charges for the installation of basic facilities.
The home insulation scheme culminated in the deaths of at least four installers, fires in over 100 homes due to faulty installation, and the Federal Government's embarrassing abandonment of the scheme, after the Prime Minister had explicitly promised that it would be reviewed and improved.
State governments are doing exactly the same. Anna Bligh's Queensland Labor Government has begun sending media presentations to newspaper editors around the country; but, like Kevin Rudd's advertising campaign on the super-profits tax, her initiatives may well backfire.
On May 28, the Queensland Premier sent out a glossy 68-page publication called Positively Ageless
, advertising the government's "Seniors Strategy 2010-20".
The content of the strategy was a summary of actions currently being undertaken by various government departments, and plans for their development in the future.
It contained little or nothing of interest to elderly citizens, and was clearly prepared for the benefit of the media. It is unlikely that this will give much comfort to elderly Queenslanders facing substantial increases in the price of essentials such as electricity and water, as a direct result of actions taken by the government.
A little over a week later, she sent out a statement about the Queensland Government's "latest push to drive innovation for tomorrow's Queensland".
This announced the Queensland Government's $25 million investment in a $250 million "venture capital fund", involving the US pharmaceutical multinational, Eli Lilly and Company, and other drug companies.
At a time when Australian pharmaceutical companies are desperately short of venture capital, it is extraordinary that the Queensland Government should have entered into a partnership with an American company with a poor reputation which should disqualify it from such a role.
Last year, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, Eli Lilly agreed to pay $1.42 billion to settle civil and criminal charges that it had promoted an anti-psychotic drug, Zyprexa, for off-label uses. The corporation admitted to using the drug for treatment of dementia in the elderly. It had also been involved in a number of other similar cases.
Eli Lilly has also aggressively attempted to prevent the use of generic drugs which would reduce the cost of prescription drugs. The Queensland Government's investment will no doubt assist the continuation of these practices, at a time when manufacturers of generic drugs, some of which are Australian-owned, are facing constant legal pressure from corporations such as Eli Lilly.
There are, of course, Australian companies involved in cutting-edge medical research. Queensland is the home of several teams involved in stem-cell research, including the National Centre for Adult Stem-Cell Research at Griffith University.
Additionally, a Queensland company, Qbiotics Limited, which is seeking venture capital of $10 million for a possible anti-cancer drug, has released encouraging information on the efficacy of its treatment on animals. Instead, the Bligh Government has invested $25 million in a partnership with an American multinational drug company.
What is most astonishing about the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on political advertising is how ineffective it is. The Australian people are not fools, and politicians who treat them as such deservedly end up paying the price.Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.