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SA's community sector caught in "political" advertising controversy


Some of South Australia’s biggest community sector organisations have been caught up in controversy following revelations that the state’s taxpayers funded a $750,000 campaign against the Federal Government in the lead-up to last year’s federal election.

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Documents released to the Opposition under freedom of information laws, and first reported last night by Channel Seven’s Today Tonight, show the Department of the Premier and Cabinet took just one day to  approve a $757,500 grant to “One Community SA” – a group whose membership includes Anglicare SA, SACOSS, Uniting Communities and Community Centres SA.

The funding was to support advertising and community campaigning – including at polling stations – in the four weeks leading up to the election under the banner, “Learn to Grow“. The campaign was designed to create “grassroots and multi-sector” opposition to Federal Government education cuts.

Anglicare SA CEO Peter Sandeman, also the chairperson of One Community SA, strongly defended the campaign when contacted by InDaily today.

He said the community sector wanted to support the primary and secondary school principals’ associations in their campaign to have full Gonski funding delivering to South Australia, because it viewed education as a bulwark against poverty.

“It was certainly a campaign to put Gonski squarely on the agenda and it’s a continuing campaign,” Sandeman said.

He insisted the campaign wasn’t an attempt to secure the defeat of the government, but was rather designed to “influence the political debate”.

“In fact, we were successful in changing the position of Xenophon’s party in deciding to strongly support Gonski,” he said.

He said it was the role of community organisations to deliver services, but also to act as advocates. The funding, to his knowledge, did not come from the State Government’s welfare budget.

One Community’s Matt Osborn, a lead organiser of the campaign, told ABC Adelaide this morning that he was a convenor of his local ALP branch, but insisted the campaigning last year was not targeted at a particular political party.

“What we did is we highlighted the extraordinarily harmful cuts that would be occurring in 2018 and 2019 to the tune of $335 million in South Australian schools,” Osborn said. “We were seeking to raise this issue, explain what this meant on a school by school basis and we were advocating that voters, if they thought that education was important and they wanted to place the future of our kids up to the top of the priority list, that they would vote for a party that would be investing in education.”

The Government’s links to One Community appear to be deep. Another organiser for One Community is Brad Chilcott – a former community engagement adviser to Premier Jay Weatherill.

Osborn’s defence of the campaign as apolitical has been rejected by Opposition treasury spokesman Rob Lucas, who has written to Auditor-General Andrew Richardson requesting an investigation into the grant.

In a letter to Richardson, Lucas says the grant should be examined to see if it is in breach of the Government’s advertising guidelines.

“You will also note what I believe is the extraordinary process supposedly revealed by the exchange of letters in agreeing to the grant,” the letter says, before going on to highlight the role of departmental employee Paul Flanagan in the process.

“On 6 May 2016 Mr Paul Flanagan (a former staffer to Premier Rann) receives the submission for $757,500. On the same day supposedly a letter is signed by Mr Flanagan giving government approval for the grant.

“In all my time in politics I don’t believe I have ever seen such a process for a grant of $757,500.

“You of course have the power to establish the facts behind this grant and if required to take evidence from key people on oath.”

Sandeman said the Government’s decision to fund the campaign did not happen over 24 hours, but the formal exchange of letters came after “weeks or months” of discussions between One Community SA and officers of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.

The State Government has admitted the grant was given to campaign against the Federal Government, but insists it was “non-partisan”.

“In 2014, the Federal Government outlined $80 billion in cuts to schools and hospitals which will have disastrous consequences for South Australia,” said a spokesperson for the government.

“The State Government provided $757,000 to support One Community’s non-partisan campaign against these cuts.

“These funds were provided in accordance with usual practice. The State Government will never shy away from doing everything possible to ensure South Australia gets its fair share of funding for schools and hospitals.”


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