The Auditor-General responded on 26 April 2019 to correspondence from Dr Kerryn Phelps AM, MP and co-signatories dated 10 April 2019, requesting that the Auditor-General conduct an investigation to examine campaign advertising. 

Auditor-General's response

Dr Kerryn Phelps AM MP
Federal Member for Wentworth
287-289 New South Head Road
Edgecliff NSW 2027

By email: kerrynphelps.com.au

Dear Dr Phelps


Government advertising—performance audit

I am writing in response to your letter of 10 April 2019 requesting that I conduct an audit of advertising expenditures by the Australian Government.

I commenced a performance audit of government advertising on 25 September 2018. The objective of the audit is to assess the effectiveness of the Department of Finance’s and selected entities’ implementation of the Australian Government’s campaign advertising framework.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) is reviewing the following campaigns as part of the audit:

  • Department of the Environment and Energy— Energy for the Future campaign (also known as Powering Forward);
  • Department of Education and Training— National Child Care Reforms campaign; and
  • Department of Health— Physical Activity for Young Women campaign.

The audit report is anticipated to table in July 2019. Further information is available from the ANAO website at: https://www.anao.gov.au/work/performance-audit/government-advertising.

Previous performance audits of government advertising have reported on campaign advertising expenditure on both a financial year and monthly basis, to illustrate trends over time. The most recent report, Auditor-General Report No. 22 2016-17 Government Advertising: March 2013 to June 2015, is available from the ANAO website at:
https://www.anao.gov.au/work/performance-audit/government-advertising-march-2013-june-2015. Expenditure information can be found at pages 32-34 of the report.

The report also included a comparison between the Australian Government’s campaign advertising framework and similar international and state frameworks at the time the audit was undertaken. That information can be found at pages 31-32 of the report.

The matters you have raised will be considered in the context of the current audit.

I have copied this letter to the co-signatories of your correspondence, Mr Adam Bandt MP, Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP, and Ms Julia Banks MP.

Yours sincerely

Grant Hehir
Auditor-General

Correspondence from Dr Kerryn Phelps AM, MP and co-signatories

.Request for audit from Dr Kerryn Phelps AM, MP regarding government advertising, page 1

Request for audit from Dr Kerryn Phelps AM, MP regarding government advertising, page 2

Transcript of letter from Dr Kerryn Phelps AM, MP and co-signatories

Grant Hehir
Auditor-General of Australia
GPO BOX 707
Canberra ACT 2600

10 April 2019

Dear Mr Hehir

Government Advertising

We urge you to conduct an audit of advertising expenditures by the Federal Government.

The purpose of government advertising should be to communicate information about policies, programs, and services to the public. However, we understand there are no statutory regulations on the amount of spending for government advertising.

While there are government guidelines that provide the framework for the conduct of government advertising, there is no mention of a limit to the use of public funds for advertising campaigns. This means that the political party in power is able to spend taxpayer money to any extent it wishes, as long as the content of the advertising falls under the guidelines.

According to a Government Advertising audit done by your office from March 2013 to June 2015, campaign advertising expenditure totalled over $1.3 billion from the years 2008 to 2015. Over the course of these seven financial years, an average of $186 million was spent yearly on campaign advertising.

Additionally, in two of the campaigns evaluated in the same audit, the overall effectiveness of the campaigns was unable to be determined due to the Departments not setting specific outcome measures.

When substantial public funds are spent with no assessment of effectiveness, it begs the question: Is this really an appropriate use of taxpayer money?

Furthermore, the amount spent on government advertising increases as elections draw near. Since January 2019, the Federal Government has spent $136 million on government advertising. Therefore, it would appear that the goal here is not to inform the public about programs and services, but rather for the Government to promote their electoral agenda.

In New South Wales, government advertising is prohibited approximately two months before the state election. Would your office advise whether this could be implemented at a federal level?

We request your office investigate government advertising and determine if taxpayer money has been used appropriately, and whether guidelines can be strengthened.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Kerryn Phelps AM MP
Adam Bandt MP
Rebekah Sharkie MP
Julia Banks MP