Friday, February 26, 2016

Government propaganda on the TPPA

Having signed a "trade deal" in secret with no public mandate, the government is now compounding its abuse by spending $500,000 on "promoting" it to the public:

Figures released to ONE News by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade reveal officials have budgeted $495,000 for a series of 16 roadshows and hui across the country.

It works out at $23,750 per meeting and MFAT says that will cover venue hire, accommodation, transport and other costs. The remaining cash will cover other communications about the TPP.

MFAT says it is preparing to accommodate several hundred guests in the Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington events. It said registrations "are tracking well" but didn't respond to a request for exact numbers.

But what's the purpose of these roadshows? The TPPA doesn't impose new obligations on citizens, or make us eligible for new entitlements. And to the extent that it does - for example around extended copyright terms, or reduced access to pharmaceuticals - those changes will of course be the subject of their own advertising campaigns when they occur. Instead, this money is being spent to convince voters that signing the TPPA was a good idea, that the government made a good political choice, and that we shouldn't hold National accountable at the ballot box for it. And that's not "raising awareness"; its government propaganda!

Its also of questionable legality. The guidelines for government advertising are spelled out in the Cabinet Manual. The short verison:
Government advertising should deal with matters in which the government has direct responsibility. The objective of the advertising may be to:
(a) inform the public of proposed/new/revised/existing government policies;
(b) inform the public of government services available to them;
(c) advise the public of new/revised/existing entitlements or responsibilities;
(d) encourage the public to adopt certain kinds of social behaviour generally regarded as being in the public interest (eg road safety advertising)

The only one of these objectives this campaign might fit is (a), and that's tenuous; instead, as noted above, it seems to be primarily about political justification, which is not an acceptable use of public funds. The Auditor-General should investigate, and no money should be spent until it has their approval.