Labor will ask the Auditor-General to decide whether the Abbott Government’s $8 million advertising campaign promoting the deregulation of university fees and other proposed changes to higher education complies with official guidelines.
Shadow Higher Education Minister Kim Carr wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Finance, Jane Halton, in December, stating that the advertisements made demonstrably untrue claims, were intended to serve a political purpose, and that in his view they were in breach of the Short-term Interim Guidelines on Information and Advertising Campaigns.
Ms Halton referred the letter to the Secretary of the Department of Education, Lisa Paul, for response but no reply has been received. Ms Paul signed the initial certification stating that the campaign was compliant with the guidelines, and media reports today state that the department stands by the accuracy of the advertisements.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has also asked the Auditor-General to investigate the advertising campaign.
“We’ll take the matter to the Auditor-General and ask the Education Department to explain itself to a Senate committee,” Senator Carr said.
“These ads are blatant party-political advertising. The proposed changes to changes to higher education haven’t been legislated yet so this is hardly a factual information campaign.”
Senator Carr said that even Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s former adviser Andrew Norton had acknowledged that the ads were misleading.
“The ads state that the Government would pay 50 per cent of the cost of a student’s education under the proposed changes,” Senator Carr said. “But as Mr Norton has pointed out, the legislation would allow universities to set whatever fees they wish, whereas the Government’s contribution would be a fixed-dollar amount. The Government’s share of costs could vary widely.
“The Government’s claims are illogical – there is a fundamental contradiction between the principles of deregulation and the assertion that 50 per cent of a course fee would be covered by Government support.
“And, ultimately the ad campaign is a total waste of taxpayers’ money. It isn’t going to persuade anyone that uncapped fees and an average cut of 20 per cent in funds for student places will lead to anything other than $100,000 degrees and crippling student debt.”