Workplace reform campaign most expensive in Australian history

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A senior Australian advertising executive says the Federal Government's campaign to promote its workplace changes is the most costly in Australian history. Harold Mitchell from Mitchell and Partners says the Howard Government spent $26 million on TV advertising in October. The figure is more than any other entity including retailing giant Coles Myer.

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In October, 11,000 commercials were part of the campaign to sell its Industrial Relations (IR) reforms. Mr Mitchell said he could not recall a larger single monthly spending spree in Australian advertising history.

"There's never been a campaign in history as big as that," he said. "It followed of course the ACTU campaign which was something like, maybe one fifth of that size."

He said the Government was the second biggest advertiser in Australia this year, having spent an estimated $117 million from January to the end of October. Only the supermarket and department store group Coles Myer has spent more in the same period – $156 million. Coles Myer spent $19 million last month.

Of the Government's October advertising bill, $15 million went on TV ads, a 168 per cent increase on the bill for October 2004. The advertising blitz followed the ACTU campaign against the changes, which Mr Mitchell says came in at about one-fifth of the government's bill.

The Nielsen Media Research spokesman said the figures are estimates of the cost of placing the advertisements and did not include their production.

On top of the TV spots, the Federal government spent more than $20 million on outdoor and print advertising. Plus another $4 million to $5 million on a nationwide pamphlet mail-out.

At the current rate spending will overtake the record $211 million spent selling the Goods and Services Tax (GST) over four years, and leaves all Australian company spending on advertising in the shade. The Government has earmarked $55 million to the IR campaign.

The professor of marketing at Australian Graduate School of Management, John Roberts, said the intensity of the advertising had become counterproductive. He said people who disagreed with the policy simply had their feelings reinforced by the endless advertising, while others had become "habituated" by the deluge and ignored the ads.

"It's hard to believe they have done any research on this," he said. "There is this naive belief you get sometimes in management that if a campaign is not working properly you simply open the spigot a bit more, but it doesn't work that way."

Business groups have launched their own campaign supporting the changes too. Yet despite the spending on advertising, two polls this week attributed a sharp drop in the popularity of the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Government, to the planned IR (WorkChoice) changes.

Australian Democrats workplace relations spokesman Andrew Murray "You just shouldn't as a government be advertising prior to legislation before the Senate. It's immoral," Senator Murray said.

Opposition public accountability spokesman Kelvin Thomson said the campaign had cost taxpayers $1.7 million a day but had flopped, with Australians unconvinced that they would be better off under the changes. "It is an obscene waste of $55 million of public money used to fund a highly political flop," Mr Thomson said.

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