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Treasurer promises more transparency in Govt ad spending after reporting dries up

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Treasurer Rob Lucas says he will review reporting guidelines for State Government marketing and advertising campaigns after it was revealed the committee in charge of overseeing government communications – which he chairs – had only published one evaluation report in 12 months.

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The pledge came after InDaily asked the State Government why the committee overseeing government marketing and advertising had stopped monthly reporting on campaigns’ cost and effectiveness.

Guidelines for the Government Communications Advisory Committee (GCAC) say the body must publish the total cost and an “evaluation summary” for each communications initiative worth more than $50,000 on the Department of the Premier and Cabinet website.

However, public reporting has largely ended after the GCAC was formed last July, with a public servant telling a parliamentary committee last month that the Treasurer himself was responsible for approving the publication of evaluation reports.

In the previous financial year, DPC published monthly reports on communication activities including, in many cases, the cost.

However, since its formation, GCAC has only published one report – on the SA Tourism Commission’s $1.3 million advertising campaign for the 2020 Tour Down Under which was completed in January.

That report was published only in June this year. No other reports appeared on the DPC website in the past financial year, despite the Government undertaking numerous advertising and marketing campaigns in that period.

Lucas said that InDaily’s questions had prompted him to consider whether the Government’s processes were adequate.

He said he would revise guidelines that suggest reports on the cost and effectiveness of campaigns will be published on their completion, given that many campaigns are ongoing.

“I don’t think that’s transparent enough,” he said.

“I am intending to review the guidelines (in order to address) what I think is a deficiency in the guidelines. We are going to have to cater for circumstances when you have ongoing campaigns.”

Details of the GCAC process were explored at a Parliamentary committee last month, including the lack of publicly available reporting over the past year.

The SATC report was published three days after the hearing.

In response to questions from InDaily, a DPC spokesperson said: “When GCAC was established, commencing in July 2019, the published Marketing Communications Guidelines made it clear that the total cost and an evaluation summary for each communications initiative (above $50,000 ex GST) will be published on the DPC website.

“As campaign activities are completed, and subsequently evaluated, these reports will be made publicly available.”

DPC executive director, Communities and Corporate, Steven Woolhouse, told Parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee last month that approval for publishing reports sat with the Treasurer, in his role as chair of GCAC.

He said reports on advertising campaigns were “with the Treasurer”, waiting for his authorisation to publish publicly.

“We are waiting for the approval release so we can do so,” he said.

Following the committee hearing, DPC published a report on SATC’s Tour Down Under advertising campaign, which can be found here.

Woolhouse also confirmed that GCAC’s membership was dominated by political advisers – a position first revealed by InDaily last year when the committee was formed.

As well as Lucas as chair, Woolhouse said the committee included Ashton Hurn,  the Premier’s Director of Media and Communications,  Belinda Heggen, “senior media adviser in the Office of the Premier”, Paul Armanas, the Premier’s deputy chief of staff and policy and cabinet director, and two public servants – Jehad Ali, DPC communications director, and Rachel Walsh, Director of Place and Marketing for Renewal SA.

Budget and Finance Committee chair, Labor’s Kyam Maher, described the make-up of the GCAC as “heavily weighted”, to which Woolhouse responded: “Well, previously it was done by one person: the executive director of communications in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.”

Under the previous Labor Government, that position was held by Rik Morris, Woolhouse said.

Morris works as an adviser to Labor leader Peter Malinauskas and was Labor’s candidate for the seat of Florey at the 2018 state election.

Labor’s spokesperson on government accountability, Tom Koutsantonis, said Labor in government proactively disclosed details of advertising and marketing campaigns and he called on the Marshall Government to do the same.

“My view is there’s no excuse for not proactively disclosing all the information about these campaigns on an ongoing basis,” he said.

“I think the Government has something to hide here.

“The real intent of these advertising campaigns is to promote the Government – by not disclosing, they are attempting to hide that.”

When GCAC was formed last July, Lucas insisted it would increase accountability.

“We’re trying to cut down on ministers and premiers having their photos in government-paid advertising,” he told InDaily.

“Ultimately, rightly, governments are held to account in relation to money being spent on taxpayer-funded government advertising [and] we made clear commitments in relation to trying to reduce the extent and level of it, and keeping politicians, including premiers and ministers, out of TV and radio commercials…

“It’s not unreasonable that there be some political decision-making.”

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