Government advertising may be legal, but it’s corrupting our electoral process


Joo-Cheong Tham, University of Melbourne

The Coalition government’s use of taxpayer money for political advertising – as much as A$136 million since January, according to Labor figures – is far from an aberration in Australia. It is part of a sordid history in which public resources have routinely been abused for electoral advantage.

For example, the Coalition governments of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull spent at least A$84.5 million on four major advertising campaigns to promote their policies and initiatives with voters. The ALP governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard spent A$20 million on advertising to promote the Gonski school funding changes and another A$70 million on a carbon tax campaign. Going further back, the Coalition government under John Howard spent A$100 million on its WorkChoices and GST campaigns.




Read more:
The difference between government advertising and political advertising


This is also a history in which hypocrisy is not hard to find.

When in opposition, Rudd condemned partisan government advertising as “a cancer on our democracy”. His government, however, exempted its A$38 million ad campaign on the mining super profits tax from the government guidelines put in place two years earlier.

In 2010, while an opposition MP, Scott Morrison decried such spending as “outrageous”. In 2019, his government may be presiding over the most expensive pre-election government advertising blitz in recent history.

Few restrictions on government advertising

All of this is perfectly legal.

The High Court in Combet v Commonwealth made clear that legislation authorising government spending (appropriation statutes) imposes virtually no legal control over spending for government advertising, because of its broad wording.

In the absence of effective statutory regulations, there are government guidelines that prohibit overtly partisan advertising with government funds, such as “negative” ads and advertising that mentions party slogans and names of political parties, candidates, ministers and parliamentarians.

These guidelines nevertheless provide ample room for promotion of government policies under the guise of information campaigns – what Justice Michael McHugh in Combet described as “feelgood” advertisements. They permit advertising campaigns such as the Coalition government’s “Building a better tax system for hardworking Australians” (which essentially promotes the government’s tax cuts) and “Small business, big future” (which burnishes its “small business” credentials).

The government advertising campaign spruiking its tax reform measures.

Crucially, the guidelines fail to address the proximity of such taxpayer-funded advertising campaigns to federal elections. They fail to recognise what is obvious – the closer we get to the elections, the stronger the governing party’s impulse to seek re-election, the greater the likelihood that “information” campaigns become the vehicle for reinforcing positive images of the incumbent party.

This risk is clearly recognised by the caretaker conventions, which mandate that once the “caretaker” period begins with the dissolution of the House of Representatives:

…campaigns that highlight the role of particular Ministers or address issues that are a matter of contention between the parties are normally discontinued, to avoid the use of Commonwealth resources in a manner to advantage a particular party

The conventions further state:

Agencies should avoid active distribution of material during the caretaker period if it promotes Government policies or emphasises the achievements of the Government or a Minister

The problem with these conventions, however, is that they kick in too late. By the time the House of Representatives is dissolved prior to an election, the major parties’ campaigns have usually been in high gear for months.




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Eight ways to clean up money in Australian politics


A form of institutional corruption

A pseudo-notion of fairness tends to operate in the minds of incumbent political parties when it comes to taxpayer-funded advertising.

When she was prime minister, Gillard defended her use of government advertising by pointing that the Howard government had spent more. And now, the Morrison government has sought to deflect criticisms of its current campaign by drawing attention to ALP’s use of government advertising when it was last in power.

Our children are taught to be better than this – two wrongs do not make a right.

Indeed, government advertising for electioneering is a form of corruption. Corruption can be understood as the use of power for improper gain. It includes individual corruption where the improper gain is personal (for instance, bribery) but also what philosopher, Dennis Thompson, has described as institutional corruption, where the use of power results in a political gain.

Government advertising to reinforce positive impressions of the incumbent party is a form of institutional corruption – it is the use of public funds for the illegitimate purpose of electioneering. Its illegitimacy stems from the fact that it undermines the democratic ideal of fair elections by providing the incumbent party with an undue advantage.




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Election explainer: what are the rules governing political advertising?


It is an instance of what the High Court in McCloy v NSW considered “war-chest” corruption – a form of corruption that arises when “the power of money … pose(s) a threat to the electoral process itself”.

A longer government advertising ban?

I propose a ban on federal government advertising in the period leading up to federal elections.

Such bans are already in place in NSW, which prohibits government advertising during roughly two months before state elections, and the ACT, which bans government advertising 37 days before territory elections. To take into account the longer campaign period at the federal level, a federal ban should operate for at least three months before each federal election.

The absence of fixed terms in the federal parliament is not a barrier to adopting such a ban. With an average of two and a half years between federal elections, a three-month ban of sorts could take effect from two years and three months after the previous election until polling day of the next election.

By dealing with government advertising for electioneering, this ban will improve the integrity of federal elections.The Conversation

Joo-Cheong Tham, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park


Evicted from one site and denied others, unregistered congregation resorts to open air.

LOS ANGELES, April 7 (CDN) — One of the largest unregistered Protestant churches in Beijing plans to risk arrest by worshipping in the open air this Sunday (April 10) after eviction from the restaurant where they have met for the past year.

The owner of the Old Story Club restaurant issued repeated requests for the Shouwang Church to find another worship venue, and authorities have pressured other prospective landlords to close their facilities to the 1,000-member congregation, sources said. Unwilling to subject themselves to the controls and restrictions of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the congregation has held three services each Sunday in the restaurant for more than a year.

Church members have said they are not opposed to the government and are not politically active, but they fear authorities could find their open-air worship threatening.

“Normal” (state-sanctioned) religious assembly outdoors is legal in China, and even unregistered church activity is usually tolerated if no more than 50 people gather, especially if the people are related and can cite the gathering as a family get-together, said a source in China who requested anonymity. Although the congregation technically risks arrest as an unregistered church, the primary danger is being viewed as politically active, the source said.

“For a larger group of Christians to meet in any ‘unregistered’ location led by an ‘unregistered’ leader is illegal,” he said. “The sensitivity of meeting in a park is not being illegal, but being so highly visible. Being ‘visible’ ends up giving an impression of being a political ‘protest.’”

The congregation believes China’s Department of Religious Affairs has overstepped its jurisdiction in issuing regulations limiting unregistered church activity, according to a statement church leaders issued this week.

“Out of respect for both the Chinese Constitution [whose Article 36 stipulates freedom of worship] and Christian conscience, we cannot actively endorse and submit to the regulations which bid us to cease all Sunday worship activities outside of [the] ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement’ – the only state-sanctioned church,” according to the statement. “Of course, we still must follow the teachings of the Bible, which is for everyone to submit to and respect the governing authorities. We are willing to submit to the regulations with passivity and all the while shoulder all the consequences which . . . continuing to worship outside of what is sanctioned by these regulations will bring us.”

The church decided to resort to open-air worship after a prospective landlord backed out of a contractual agreement to allow the congregation to meet at the Xihua Business Hotel, the church said in its statement.

“They had signed another rental contract with another property facility and announced during the March 22 service that they were to move in two weeks,” the source said. “In spite of the fact that they had signed a formal contract, the new landlord suddenly called them on March 22 and refused to let them use the facility.”

The landlord offered various excuses for reneging on the contract, according to church leaders, and that disappointment came after 15 months of trying to obtain the key to another property the church had purchased.

“The space in Daheng New Epoch Technology building, which the church had spent over 27.5 million RMB [US$4.2 million] to purchase, has failed to hand the key over to the church for the past year and three months because of government intervention,” the church said in its statement. “For the past year, our church has not had a settled meeting place.”

Beginning as a house church in 1993, the Shouwang Church has been evicted from several rented locations. It also met outside after its last displacement in 2009. The congregation does not believe its calling is to split up into smaller units.

“For the past several years the church has been given a vision from God to be ‘the city on a hill,’” the source said. “Especially since 2009, when they officially began the church building purchase, they have been trying to become a more officially established status. At this point, they feel that they have not completed the journey in obedience to God.”

The number of Protestant house church Christians is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute. Yu and others have concluded that house churches are a positive influence on society, but the government is wary of such influence.

Yu estimated another 18 to 30 million people attend government-approved churches – potentially putting the number of Christians higher than that of Communist Party members, which number around 74 million.

The government-commissioned study by Yu and associates suggested that officials should seek to integrate house churches and no longer regard them as enemies of the state. The study employed a combination of interviews, field surveys and policy reviews to gather information on house churches in several provinces from October 2007 to November 2008.

Yu’s team found that most house or “family” churches fit into one of three broad categories: traditional house churches, open house churches or urban emerging churches. Traditional house churches were generally smaller, family-based churches, meeting in relative secrecy. Though not a Christian himself, Yu attended some of these meetings and noted that the focus was not on democracy or human rights but rather on spiritual life and community.

The “open” house churches were less secretive and had more members, sometimes advertising their services and holding public gatherings, he found. Urban emerging churches functioned openly but independently of TSPM churches. In some provinces such as Wenzhou, these churches had constructed their own buildings and operated without interference from local officials.

While some house churches actively seek registration with authorities to avoid arrests and harassment, they would like the option of registering outside the government-approved TSPM structure, as they disagree with TSPM beliefs and controls. Many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members or fear that it will control sermon content.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Belarus: Church fined for activity "not according to its statute"


A registered Protestant congregation in western Belarus has been fined for activity which officials claim was “not according to its statute,” local Protestants told Forum 18 News Service.

The church held a special prayer service in its registered building, which church members insist was within its statute. Trouble for the New Generation Church began when Baranovichi local Ideology Department officials saw posters in the town advertising the service.

One official and two “witnesses” arrived at the church 30 minutes before the service, but left 10 minutes before it began without witnessing it. The official, Sergei Puzikov of the Ideology Department, refused to explain to Forum 18 what activity was outside the church’s statute, as did the Department’s head.

In defiance of international human rights standards, Belarus bans all unregistered religious activity – including both unregistered communities and unregistered activity by registered communities. Religious activity is kept under close surveillance by the KGB secret police, and officials often issue warnings for activity they claim is illegal. Two such warnings can lead to a religious organisation being closed down.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

THIS WEEK’S FUNNY COMMERCIAL BREAK – John West


I thought I’d lighten up a little from time to time and bring you something to laugh at. So for a little bit I thought I might post a commercial or two a week to give you a bit of a laugh.

This week I’m posting a number of commercials advertising John West products. Here they are below:

 

A Current Affair – Hypocrites


Here in Australia we have a TV show known as ‘The Chaser’s War on Everything.’ It is a satirical look at events from an Australian perspective. It can often be quite crude and more than a little bit silly. Still, it is certainly an ‘Australian’ type show.

In a recent episode, one of the boys followed a mobile advertising bill board on the back of a truck while in their own truck having a go at mobile advertising bill boards. In this ‘skit’ they followed the mobile billboard around Sydney.

A couple of days later another Australian show on a rival network, ‘A Current Affair,’ took a pot shot at ‘The Chaser’s War on Everything’ for dangerous driving, stalking, harassing the drivers, etc.

Now interestingly, ‘A Current Affair’ has just run a story on council members on a junket, spending tax payers money to have a junket. In doing the story, the reporter for the show followed council members around for several days, including some while they were driving – now call be a few sandwiches short of a picnic if you like, but isn’t that the same thing that they had a go at ‘The Chaser’s War on Everything?’ Isn’t this known as hypocrisy?

Maybe this particular TV network is jealous of ‘The Chaser’s War on Everything’ because their own show, ‘The Nation,’ is so very, very lame and is failing? Could this be the reason – they have tried to cash in on ‘The Chaser’s War on Everything’ and their success, by doing a bit of ‘similar’ comedy and satire – sadly for them the show stinks and is really quite useless.

Perhaps ‘A Current Affair’ should just concentrate on its own poor performance and return to real news and current affairs, rather than reporting on stories like women who buy three shoes a week, men who wear hats, etc… OK, not quite that useless, but not far off it.