(Continued from 19 October 2017)
Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (11:20): I rise to support the Electoral (Government Advertising) Amendment Bill brought to this house by our deputy leader, the member for Bragg. This is an incredibly important principle, and I support everything the member for Morialta has just said on this topic as well. It is easy to think that the government is out of control on this issue, but the unfortunate reality is that the government is completely in control on this issue. The government knows exactly what it is doing.
Former premier Rann and the current Premier are very deliberate with regard to leading their teams in the expenditure of taxpayers’ money to promote their Labor Party policies and agendas. This is not what taxpayers’ money is meant to be there for; there are rules and regulations already in place that the government continues to ignore, continues to scoff at. It seems that every year the Auditor-General comes up with some finding in regard to this area, saying that the government is behaving inappropriately.
For me, the most stark example is the government’s current energy plan. The government itself has budgeted money to advertise its plan in addition to the $550 million of taxpayers’ money that it wants to spend on its plan, a plan to fix the problems the government itself has created. This whole issue of government advertising is disgraceful. I believe it is $2.6 million that the government has budgeted to advertise its energy plan, $2.6 million of taxpayers’ money that could very well be spent in far better ways on behalf of the taxpayer.
How many community groups, how many interest groups, how many other areas of policy would benefit from $2.6 million of expenditure going towards their programs and interests and the positive things they need? Remember, this advertising the government pursues is on top of the media coverage that already exists. The media spends an enormous amount of time delving into, sharing information about, asking questions about, and sometimes supporting or sometimes not supporting government positions, government policies, government expenditure.
Why on earth is there a need for the government to be spending—outside of rules and regulations that already exist—taxpayers’ money to promote its agenda, as well? The answer to that is very straightforward. When the government advertises, it puts only the government’s side of the story forward. The government is not being questioned by journalists, its members are not in an interview, live on radio, with someone from the opposition with a range of perspectives being put forward, being questioned. When the government does its own advertising that is just it, it gets to shamelessly pump out its own message using other people’s money.
As the member for Morialta pointed out, we are seeing, quite sensibly, restrictions on expenditure going to elections in South Australia because that is an environment where, again, there is a level playing field. All political parties, all candidates, can spend up to a cap to promote their cause with regard to trying to get elected. The government is quite happy to participate in capping expenditure to promote a government cause when it is in the confines of a level playing field, yet when it is not a level playing field, when it is in government, when only the government has access to taxpayers’ money to spend, it does not want any caps at all.
The government does not want any rules. It does not want anything whatsoever to bind it. They want to be able to spend as much money as they possibly can, putting their view forward. This is a very shameless thing. There are rules and regulations in place about when a member of parliament, particularly a member of the government, can have their image or their voice or their name used in any way in regard to advertising. The Auditor-General regularly says that the government is flouting those rules, yet the government continues to do it.
So where are we at? The member for Bragg, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, has put this bill forward so that we can address this and bring another layer of regulation, rule-setting and law-making into this parliament which the government then might abide by. It is in stark contrast to what the government wants to do which is just to continue to break all the rules. We are bringing this in very fairly and in a very open-minded way so that, regardless of who is successful at the next election, the government would be bound by these rules that we bring in.
We are not silly. We understand that if we are elected next time around, we would be bound by this legislation which we bring forward now. It is not only about trying to give the government a hard time and trying to close a government loophole and trying to stop them from wasting taxpayers’ money, but hypothetically if we were elected, we would continue to do it. No, absolutely not. It is nothing like that. We are saying that if we were elected, we would also stick with these sorts of guidelines and rules, and that is why the opposition is bringing this forward. We believe it is what is best for South Australia. We believe it is what is best for South Australians and their money.
Keep in mind that every single cent that this government spends, whether it is on their own advertising or whether it is over half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money to fix the electricity crisis that the government itself created, in all these types of expenditure the government is spending other people’s money. The government is spending South Australian taxpayers’ money. We on this side of the house are all about trying to reduce the cost of living burden that this government has forced on South Australians over the past 16 years.
We want people to have more money in their pockets and for the tax they are obliged to pay to the government to be spent wisely by the government. This is very much about making sure that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and that as little money as possible is taxed on South Australians. I guarantee that you could ask any South Australian in any corner of the state—go from the Adelaide GPO all the way to any of the New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Northern Territory or Western Australian borders—not one person would say, ‘Yes, I am happy for the government to charge me taxes and then to use that money to advertise the government’s own agenda.’ You will not find a person who thinks it is a good idea.
People understand that their tax money needs to go to government programs, whether it is a very positive program in a portfolio or whether it is on energy, as it is at the moment with the government spending half a billion dollars to fix its own stuff-ups. People understand that their tax will go to government programs. They do not want their money to be spent by government, Liberal or Labor, on promoting its own agenda. They are fed up, sick and tired with the state government having done that for 16 years and getting bolder and giving less regard to the rules that already exist every day and every month that goes on, as this current government is doing.
This is a very good bill. It would be absolutely shameless of the government to refuse to allow this to come to a vote. If the government honestly believed that spending so much taxpayers’ money on the government advertising its own agenda was the right way to go, then the government should allow this bill to come to a vote and they should put themselves on the record, member by member, saying that they actually believe this is the right way to spend taxpayers’ money. If they do not believe that it is the right way to spend taxpayers’ money, then they should allow it to come to a vote as well.
The most shameless thing the government could do would be to try to push it off, kick the can down the road and hope that this can all be avoided, that it disappears and does not have to be dealt with before the next election so that they are not on the record as having to say, ‘Yes, we support it because we accept that what the opposition is proposing is the right thing to do,’ just as much as they do not want to be on the record saying, ‘No, we do not support it,’ because they do not really want to be on the record anywhere clearly articulating that they think that what they do is right when they know what they do is wrong.