The Morrison government is spending more than $31m on an advertising campaign claiming Australia is “making positive energy” under its leadership and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
A Senate estimates hearing on Monday was told a second stage of the advertising campaign, which began in December and runs until April, will cost $17.9m (plus GST). It follows $12.9m spent on the first stage which started last September.
The campaign, which includes advertisements across the web, billboards and broadcast, print and social media, says “it’s a fact” that “we’ve made good progress in reducing emissions and switching to renewable energy” and “we’ve got big plans for the future”.
Its central claim – that the Australian government has a plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 – is widely disputed. The government plan released before the Cop26 climate summit last year included no new policies, largely relied on unproven technology and did not actually map a path to the mid-century goal.
Labor Senator Jenny McAllister asked departmental officials why the advertising did not explicitly mention climate change.
Jo Evans, a deputy secretary from the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, said the absence “wasn’t deliberate on our part or any others. I don’t think there’s anything in that.”
McAllister asked if the energy and emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, had any communication with the department about using the phrase “climate change”. Evans replied: “Not that I recall.”
Helen Bennett, also from the department, told the hearing that spending on the program included $67,000 on focus group research to understand how people responded to the advertising. She suggested the results of the focus groups could not be released as they were part of a document before a cabinet subcommittee.
Chris Bowen, Labor’s climate and energy spokesman, said the advertising campaign was evidence of the government “using taxpayer money as their own election campaign slush fund again”.
“This time [it is] more than $30m on pre-election greenwash to advertise the success of renewables policies they tried to abolish,” he said.
Bowen said the amount spent on advertising dwarfed the sum paid to consultants McKinsey & Company to model the impact of the Coalition net zero emissions plan, which estimates heard was about $6m.
Taylor’s office was asked for a response.
The ads claim that Australia is “rolling out rooftop solar at record levels”, “investing billions into projects like EV charging stations” and that national emissions are 20% below 2005 levels.
All are true statements, but critics say the government has reduced support for renewable energy, backed fossil fuel expansion as part of its promised gas-fired recovery from the pandemic and offered less support for EVs than state governments. Government data shows the bulk of the national emissions reductions since 2005 happened when federal Labor was in power between 2007 and 2013, and was largely due to changes in forest and land clearing overseen by state governments.
The hearings were also told that officials had revised the expected emissions from the development of the Beetaloo gas basin in the Northern Territory – backed by both the Coalition and Labor – since the last hearing four months ago.
Then, it was 0.1m tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030. Last year’s national emissions projections increased the expected total to 4.9m tonnes between 2025 and 2030 as the basin is expanded with taxpayer support, with more expected beyond that date.
The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, said it equated to the government admitting a 5,000% increase in expected emissions from fracking in the NT by 2030, with more to come after that date.
“Neither the Coalition or Labor have accounted for Beetaloo emissions in their climate plans, despite both voting together to give public money to gas companies to subsidize this emissions bomb,” he said.