Tax-payer funded advertising used to promote the Rudd government’s asylum seeker policy within Australia has drawn criticism from opposition MPs, who claim that using public funds to promote government policy during an election campaign was a breach of convention.
Last month, the Rudd government launched an advertising campaign designed to explain reforms to Australia’s refugee policy and deter asylum seekers from seeking out the services of people smuggling in an attempt to enter the country. The multifaceted campaign includes general advertising in Australia, domestic advertisements targeted at specific ethnic groups and advertising in vulnerable overseas markets.
Immigration Minister Tony Burke announced late last week that the Rudd government intended to continue its advertising campaign throughout the election in order to maintain pressure on people smuggling operations within the region. The Coalition has argued that this is a breach of election convention, which would preclude a government utilising public funds to promote its own political position.
Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis called the Labor Party’s continuation of the advertising campaign “a scandal” and insisted that the party paid for the advertisements themselves for the duration of the campaign. Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison also criticised the Rudd government’s decision, suggesting that it was directed at “vote people… (not) boat people.”
Mr Burke argued that the continuation of the advertising campaign was vital in the government’s campaign to disrupt people smuggling operations, citing previous occasions in which people smugglers had used Australia’s internal political instability to bolster their illicit businesses.
Mr Burke said: “I don’t want the calling of an election to be the next trigger that people smugglers use to try to tell people, now’s your last chance … I don’t want there to be a situation where people are lied to and have their lives put at risk.”
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie joined the Coalition in criticising the Rudd government’s decision, releasing a statement in which he described the continuation of the advertising campaign as “cynical”. He questioned the role played by domestic advertising in disrupting international people smuggling networks, suggesting that domestic advertising was tantamount to political campaigning.
Mr Wilkie said: “Labor’s decision to continue taxpayer-funded ads in the Australian media about their inhumane PNG asylum policy is hardly surprising. Running these ads in Australia was always about trying to win votes. The line that ads are needed in Australian media to communicate with locals involved in people smuggling is nothing more than a flimsy excuse.”
In a statement released earlier this week, the Coalition agreed to support the continued roll-out of advertising in international markets. Rudd government Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said that the continuation of the campaign in its entirety was “in the interests of national security.”