The extent of the Abbott Government’s willingness to use taxpayers’ money to fund a party-political advertising campaign on its unfair higher education changes has been exposed.
In a letter to Shadow Higher Education Minister Kim Carr, the Auditor-General, Mr Ian McPhee, stated that $14.6 million, exclusive of GST, had been allocated to the campaign.
That is nearly double the amount previously reported in the media.
“It is appalling that it took a request to the Auditor-General to gain full transparency on this shameful misuse of taxpayer’s funds,” Senator Carr said.
“I asked about a planned advertising campaign during a Senate estimates hearing last year, and only got evasive answers from the Education Department.
“When the campaign was launched, I wrote to the Secretary of the Finance Department, Jane Halton, setting out why I believe the campaign violates the Short-term Interim Guidelines on Information and Advertising Campaigns.
“Ms Halton referred the letter to the Secretary of the Education Department, Lisa Paul, for response, but to date I have had no reply.
“It is only now, after writing to Mr McPhee, that the truth is known.
“We now know the budget for the advertising campaign and we know that early this year the Government will decide on the timing and focus for a second round.
“And it will all be to promote changes to higher education that the Parliament has already rejected once and which Christopher Pyne claims he is still revising in the hope of winning over crossbench Senators.
“It’s blatant and misleading political advertising and it won’t work. Nothing is going to persuade voters that uncapped fees leading to $100,000 degrees and crippling student debt is a good thing.”
Senator Carr said it was disappointing that the Auditor-General’s reply to his letter had sidestepped the central issue of false advertising in the advertising campaign.
“The ads we’ve already seen claim that the Government will pay around 50 per cent of a student’s course costs if university fees are deregulated. That’s simply not true.
“Deregulation would allow universities to set whatever fees they want. The Government’s contribution would be a fixed-dollar amount, so its share of course costs could vary widely.”
In his letter to Senator Carr, Mr McPhee said the Government established the advertising guidelines, which had been flexibly drafted over the years and could be amended at its discretion.