Democrat Andrew Bartlett looks at an equally distressing part of the government plan; the use of tax dollars to sell the proposed IR changes. As he rightly argues, "there will always be a grey area between what constitutes legitimate government advertising to inform the public and what is just blatant party political propaganda." Moreover, in this case the government is trying to sell a policy, not a new law. The law is forthcoming, to be sure, but it does not yet exist.
Bartlett writes that the mainstream media, "often marvel about what a clever and skilful politician John Howard is, and there is undoubtedly some truth to that. But if I had twenty million dollars to spend every time I wanted to build public support for an idea of mine or to counter criticism by others, I think I could make myself look pretty good too."
The MP says the mainstream media should refuse to run the advertisements. It's a bold call, and could set a dangerous precedent. Who should be making this decision? And who could be next? Having said that, Bartlett rightly says that the program is akin to being an accomplice to stolen goods.
Can we imagine the mainstream media working together to reject the Howard government's almost pathological addiction to advertise itself? The Sydney Morning Herald's Alan Ramsey offered some perspective in May: "John Howard's Government spends more money on advertising than Coles Myer, Holden, McDonald's and Coca-Cola. It is now Australia's biggest advertiser, far bigger than these corporate giants." Since coming to power in 1996, advertising expenditure exceeds $1 billion.