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Despite repeated requests the Tasmanian Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPAC) is refusing to reveal how much it paid the Labor Party’s PR firm, Hawker Britton, for several hours “media training” of Premier David Bartlett.

Back in September 2009 Bartlett jetted up to Sydney for the day for some media training and a couple of other appointments. In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPAC) has advised that all up the costs of the trip cost over $10,000.

But, despite specifically requesting details of the costs and other details of the multi-hour session at the offices of Hawker Britton under the FOI Act, the department has ignored the request. The refusal of the department to respond to this and other aspects of the FOI request is now subject to a review by the Tasmanian Ombudsman. (See The Premier’s Department’s bold bid for a document-free FOI)

The refusal of the Premier’s department to release records relating to the Bartlett’s media training session with Hawker Britton is indefensible but understandable. For the last four state election campaigns Hawker Britton have been one of the key players in the Labor election campaign strategy team. For lobbyists, working for a political party has the spin off benefit—if they work for the winners—of ensuring a steady flow of clients seeking their services. For ultimately, it is the high-paying corporate clients that butter the bread of lobbyists. Back in 2008 Hawker Britton’s co-founder and Managing Director, Bruce Hawker, boasted on the firm’s website that “we work with businesses to get government to work with them. Experience is our calling card. Getting results for business is our business.”

In Tasmania, Hawker Britton is registered as working for ten clients, including Bunnings, the Gaming Technologies Association, Free TV Australia and Medibank Private.

The session with Hawker Britton was followed by a couple of hours with Image Media Services, a PR firm which specialises in media training. The purpose of the media training, wrote DPAC Secretary Rhys Edwards, was “voice training, vocal exercises, interview techniques, auto cue training and guidance on presentations through speeches and addresses.” Edwards also advised that there were “some scenario exercises in which the Premier was observed, his performance rated and feedback provided.” For this, Tasmanian taxpayers paid $1650.

Then there was the ““Premier’s Leadership dinner” at the Commonwealth Club organised by the Sydney PR and lobbying firm Profile, Ray & Berndston. Bartlett was one of the presenters that evening, along with Kevin Rudd, to discuss the rollout of the National Broadband Network with various business representatives. For the function “including expenses for presenters” Jody Fassina and Ian Knop from Profile, Ray & Berndston, the government shelled out $3,413.

On top of that there was $992 for the Premier’s airfare to Sydney and back and another $320 for his accommodation. Then there was close to another $4000 for the airfares and accommodation for three of his staff who accompanied him on the trip, Terry Field, Vanessa Fabris and Jane Lonergan. At the time, Field was Bartlett’s chief of staff, Fabris his media officer and Lonergan the Director of Communications in the Premiers Office.

All up, $10,367 on a trip for four to Sydney for the day before the quartet flew back early the next day.

Bartlett_Syd_Expenses_Schedule.pdf

Bob Burton is a Hobart-based freelance journalist. He is author of Inside Spin: the dark underbelly of the public relations industry (Allen & Unwin, 2007).

Earlier, and related articles:

David Bartlett’s appointments diary: making time for the makeover merchants
Who gets to meet Premier David Bartlett?
David Bartlett’s Appointments Diary: A Close Encounter with the Freedom of Information Act
David Bartlett’s Appointments Diary: Meeting with the Loggers