26 September 2023

Auditor not moved by government ad campaigns

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A performance audit into whether two Government advertising campaigns were cost-effective and complied with 2017 amendments to the Public Administration Act 2004 has found they were not compliant and cost-effectiveness could not be proven.

In his Report, Government Advertising, Auditor-General, Andrew Greaves said he examined the 2019 Our Fair Share (OFS) campaign, which advocated for more Commonwealth funding for Victoria, and Victoria’s Big Build (VBB) campaign, a multi-year campaign about major transport projects.

“In our opinion, the campaigns did not fully comply with the 2017 laws,” Mr Greaves said.

He said most OFS and a small number of VBB advertisements were political, in that they could “easily” be seen to promote the current Victorian Government and, in the case of the OFS campaign, criticise the current Commonwealth Government.

The Auditor-General said his Office sought independent legal advice from the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office about the 2017 laws and “its advice informed our interpretation of the laws, our assessment of the campaigns and our conclusions”.

“The Agencies interpret the 2017 laws differently,” Mr Greaves said.

“They maintain they complied with their obligations,” he said.

“The conflicting interpretations show the laws are not sufficiently clear.

“This needs to be remedied.”

Mr Greaves said he and his Office supported an independent review of the laws to assess whether they provided clear standards.

The Auditor-General said in the case of the OFS campaign, one of the Agencies involved (the Department of Premier and Cabinet) did not accept that it was legally responsible for the campaign.

“We disagree,” he said.

“DPC initiated the campaign, helped develop the advertisements and arranged the media bookings.”

The Auditor-General said the three other Agencies involved in the OFS campaign – the Department of Education and Training, the Department of Health and the Department of Transport – accepted that they caused the campaign’s publication and were legally responsible for compliance.

He said in addition, the Agencies could not show that the campaigns were cost-effective.

Mr Greaves made seven recommendations aimed at improving oversight of Government advertising and the evaluation and reporting of advertising cost-effectiveness.

He also recommended DPC commission an independent expert review of the 2017 laws.

The Auditor-General’s 59-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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