Last Friday the Liberals Shadow Treasurer, Peter Gutwein, knocked out a media release thundering about how the Liberals could cut $128.7 million by slashing “Labor’s waste in areas like the army of ministerial staff, travel and government advertising and spin.” The advantage of cuts like these, Gutwein argued, was that “we can make these savings without sacking people or cutting services.” But the Liberals are all for “government advertising and spin” when they think it is in the interests of the logging industry.
A week earlier the Liberals released their Supporting Sustainable Forestry and Forestry Workers policy. In it they promised that they would spend $200,000 on “an informed and rational debate” aimed at promoting “the sustainable nature of the forest industry in Tasmania and interstate”. The Liberals claim that the expenditure is justified on the basis that “politically-motivated misinformation about the forest industry has affected Tasmania’s reputation interstate and internationally.” (The Liberals policy doesn’t state whether the $200,000 is proposed to be spent over one year or over a number of years).
But in the world of advertising and spin, $200k is small potatoes for a campagn, let alone for one aimed at reversing the toxic reputation of the Tasmanian logging industry. The Liberals claim that they will encourage “other stakeholders in the industry to also provide support” but it is hard to imagine that an industry in financial freefall is going to stump up much hard cash. Just imagine the reaction Gutwein would get if he went knocking on the door of Gunns or Forest Enterprises Australia asking for a spare few hundred thousand right now.
In return for wanting to squeeze some cash out of the industry, the Liberals want the parameters of the “rational debate” to be determined “with stakeholders and the industry”. The campaign, the Liberals state, will feature “educational material which emphasizes the environmental practices in the industry.” (‘Stakeholders’ is one of those much abused terms that implies all-inclusiveness when it is so often used to describe farcical consultation exercises intended to marginalise dissenting opinions. The Liberals use of the term makes it clear that only ‘stakeholders’ supporting the forestry status quo will be involved in designing the campaign).
The reality is that the Liberals proposed $200,000 pro-logging propaganda campaign will be a waste of public funds that will achieve little. If the Liberals manage to form a minority government, the odds are that they would be under pressure from the logging industry to spend far, far more than the promised $200,000 to make any inroads to the Tasmanian logging industry’s credibility problems.
There is a broader problem in the Liberals position too. Hodgman’s support for a spin campaign to rehabilitate the Tasmanian logging industry exposes his opposition to Bartlett’s advertising campaigns as hypocritical. Having decried Labor’s “government advertising and spin” campaigns in opposition, the Liberals are now signaling that they are willing to fund them if they get to sit on the government benches. Having proposed an advertising campaign to support the logging industry, it is hard to believe that the Liberals wouldn’t come to embrace big-spending PR campaigns to help defend other controversial policies and projects too.