01 May 2015
by Kaye Lee

The sequel to the Little Book of Big Labor Waste

When Jamie Briggs penned The Little Book of Big Labor Waste in the lead up to the last election he really nailed Julia Gillard for her sinful waste.

He drew our attention to the fact that “the proceeds of the carbon tax are being used to pay for expensive dinners” when “a dozen climate change bureaucrats left taxpayers with a $1,700 dinner bill after a night out at a posh Italian restaurant in Melbourne.”

Comparatively, those guys were lightweights. Attorney-General George Brandis racked up an $1100 dinner bill on taxpayers during a visit to London and he only had three guests. When Christopher Pyne took his wife on a $30,000 European tour, it included taxpayers being billed $1352 for Mr Pyne to “day let” a room at a swish London hotel before he and his wife, Carolyn, flew back to Australia later that day, and more than $2000 for VIP services at Heathrow Airport. That also pales into insignificance compared to Joe Hockey’s $50,000 gastronomic extravaganza for about 60 financial ministers and central bank governors in Washington just before he delivered the last budget.

Jamie seemed particularly upset with “climate change bureaucrats”, going on to say “Julia Gillard’s Clean Energy Regulator, better known as the carbon cop, has spent $467,570 to improve its ‘customer image’. Instead of spending half a million dollars on PR, Labor should scrap the carbon tax and end this type of wasteful spending.”

So I wonder how he feels about NBNco who, after “6 months of hard work with meetings and interviews with 400 staff”, paid $700,000 to a marketing company who came up with the brilliant idea to change their name to NBN and to take on the motto “nbn: bring it on”.

NBN Co executive general manager of brand and insights Kent Heffernan said “The new brand positioning is modern, inspiring and aspirational – it shows how the nbn network will help harness the full potential of everyone in Australia.”

Those profligate carbon cops were also criticised for spending “$1.03 million researching the effectiveness of Julia Gillard’s taxpayer funded carbon tax advertising campaign. This follows revelations that Labor has installed a secret spin team charged with selling the carbon tax at a cost of $1 million a year.”

Speaking of secret spin teams, Tony Abbott established a covert political hit squad called the Coalition Advisory Service which supplies Government backbenchers with media information and ammunition to aim at the Labor Opposition. It has offices in Parliament House and is run by Simon Berger, the former Woolworths executive who left the company after organising the auction of a “chaff-bag jacket” at a September 2012 Young Liberal fundraising dinner addressed by Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones.

Under CAS, Mr Berger has a staff of at least six but a potential allocation of 10. They are paid from $75,000 to $175,000 a year and have been issued laptops and mobile telephones worth a total of close to $22,000. It operates under the Government Whip who, as he’s not a minister, does not have his spending examined at Estimates grillings.

Jamie was also incensed by Labor spending money on advertising.
“Labor has billed taxpayers for full page advertisements in the Herald Sun and the Age trumpeting its health funding back-flip in Victoria while patients around the country see beds close and elective surgery cancelled. This is nothing more than an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money and an insult to patients and hospital staff suffering because of Labor’s botched handling of hospital funding.”

Ignoring the comparisons about “botched hospital funding”, it seems the Coalition have overcome their objections to using our money to sell their policies.

Despite new rules for government advertising being implemented five weeks earlier which require campaigns to be examined first by an independent, three-person committee, the government launched a campaign to sell its Intergenerational Report without referring it for approval. Their excuse was they had decided to do it before the rules came into place.

A public service-focused website, The Mandarin, estimated this month that eight contracts related to the campaign, which covered market research, publicity, branding and web design, totalled about $2.7 million. Treasury said it would publish its expenses when the campaign ended.

And then there is Christopher Pyne’s taxpayer-funded advertising blitz to sell his proposed higher education changes even though the Senate have rejected them. Late last year, the government forked out $395,000 to research company Orima Research to conduct more focus groups on university reforms on top of an earlier $163,000 contract. In typical Pyne fashion, he has declined to provide an estimate of the cost of the latest advertising campaign.

Many of Jamie’s complaints refer to media monitoring.

“Labor has spent $110,000 in six months on media monitoring for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, while at the same time cutting vital funds from frontline border protection services.”

So one might assume that the Coalition is against such waste, except that the facts show otherwise.

The Department of Defence spent $2.2 million on market research in 2013-14. It also recently signed an $825,000 contract for media monitoring between November 2014 and August 2015. The Department of Environment plans to spend $400,000 on monitoring between September 2014 and June 2015. The Department of Employment will also spend $315,000 on market research early this year to evaluate Work for the Dole. Elsewhere, the health, industry, education, employment, defence and foreign affairs departments shelled out more than $1.43 million on media monitoring between July and October 2014.

The government’s latest media monitoring deal came into force on New Year’s Day – a $170,000, six-month contract to monitor news for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection – a 55% increase on what Jamie was lambasting Labor for spending. Oops.

While Jamie tells us that “Labor’s focus on spin over substance is coming at a huge cost to the taxpayer”, under the Coalition, the health, human services, industry, education, employment, veterans affairs and foreign affairs and trade departments employ 217 spin doctors, event organisers, graphic designers and public relations experts.

The total of those seven major departments only just exceeds the mini-army of 197 permanent, part-time or “ongoing” PR staff employed by Defence.

Throughout the ‘document’, Briggs adopts a tone more reminiscent of a vindictive petulant child than a prospective government minister.

“Kevin Rudd spent $1.2 million on overseas travel in his first twelve months as Foreign Minister, after being dumped as Prime Minister. It was obvious Julia Gillard preferred Kevin Rudd out of the country, but it came at a huge cost to taxpayers.”

In the first six months of 2014, Julie Bishop claimed $522,642.53 for travel related expenses. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly after all the trips to weddings and sporting events were exposed, the Abbott government is now refusing to release documents detailing the cost and purpose of overseas travel by Coalition ministers, claiming they could “cause damage to Australia’s international relations” if made public.

Briggs also took the opportunity to have a go at those pesky Independents.

“$1 million was wasted on holding a tax forum demanded by Independent Rob Oakeshott, another talkfest that delivered no results.”

Considering the government is spending $30 million on a national awareness campaign to stop domestic violence whilst slashing funding for frontline services, they are hardly in a position to talk about ineffectual talkfests.

Another complaint was that “The Department of Parliamentary Services has spent about $2.4 million on “staff related and training” purposes – up $475,000 on the previous year. The Department’s annual report reveals the classes include advice on “getting a good night’s sleep”.

Fairfax media recently revealed government agencies are spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars a year on training programs covering topics including “lean thinking” and “clear conversations” which are obviously more important than getting a good night’s sleep.

Somewhat surprisingly, Jamie bemoaned the “$1.8 million Fair Work Australia has so far spent on outside legal and accounting advice for its investigation into the rorting of HSU funds.”

Considering the Royal Commission into Trade Unions is costing $61 million, Briggs must be apopletic. This does not include the cost of the court cases against Craig Thomson and Michael Williamson.

Of the 60 examples of waste listed by Jamie Briggs, I think my favourite was No. 56.

“The Gillard Labor Government has been appointing a raft of former Labor Premiers and Ministers to boards over the last two years. These include former Premiers John Brumby, Anna Bligh, Mike Rann and Geoff Gallop. If there is one thing Julia Gillard has implemented successfully, it is an employment program for her Labor mates. Labor should be focused on creating jobs for Australia, not for ex-Labor Premiers and Ministers.”

Never fear Jamie. The Abbott/Credlin decree to sack all Labor appointees has taken care of that. Come on down Downer and full steam ahead for Submarine Sophie!