The federal government spends far more on advertising than supermarket giants


Three in four Australians think the Auditor-General should review federal government advertising to ensure it meets the needs of the community.

The Australia Institute is using a poll to back its calls for federal government advertising reform, which the think tank says is outpacing spending at Coles, Woolworths and McDonald’s.

Canberra spent $145.3 million on advertising in 2020-21, more than corporate giants like Coca-Cola, Amazon, Pepsi and Qantas in the past.

The comparisons are based on outdated ad spend figures from private companies like Woolworths, which spent $118 million on ads in 2019.

McDonald’s spent $83 million that year and Amazon $51 million.

Meanwhile, Canberra spent about $140 million on ads in 2018-19 and more than $120 million in 2019-20.

Lead researcher at Australia Institute Bill Browne said Australians were shocked that the federal government spends more on advertising than private companies.

“Current rules have not prevented shady and controversial advertising campaigns from being funded that cost millions of dollars in public funds,” Browne said.

“Reform is needed and should focus on finding a role for the Auditor-General in regulating proposed campaigns, rather than just reviewing their administration after the fact.”

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The Australia Institute said Australian governments, including states and territories, spent $610 million on advertising in 2021.

But the think tank says much of that $610 million bill would have been coronavirus-related advertising.

The lowest federal government spending on advertising over the past decade, based on Treasury Department figures, was in 2016-17, when it spent $100 million.

In the fiscal years leading up to and following this year, Canberra has had record spending on advertising, with nearly $180 million in 2015-16 and nearly $160 million in 2017-18.

In 2017, Qantas spent between $25 million and $30 million on local advertising.

Calls for advertising reform come as Crossbench senators, along with the Australia Institute, drew up a wish-list of changes they want in Canberra, including a federal ICAC, truth in political advertising laws and a ban on party fundraisers in Parliament House.


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