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Estimates: Education and Employment Legislation Committee (Department of Education and Training)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 25 Feb 2015

Senator RHIANNON: You said earlier, Ms Paul, I think it was on 25 November, that it was determined that the planned advertising campaign complied with guidelines. Principle 4 of the department's guidelines for expenditure on advertising state that they should be 'instigated on the basis of a demonstrated need…' Other than the government's desperation to pass its legislation, what was the demonstrated need for the advertising campaign?

Ms Paul : I would actually like to cover that in outcome 3. I need the higher education people here. They are not here for cross portfolio. The need goes back to the open days, et cetera, and the content of what the department found there and so on. So if that is okay, I think we will have the right people to give you a comprehensive answer.

Senator RHIANNON: So you do not want to comment on it?

Ms Paul : I am happy to comment, but I think it would be useful to have the people who actually attended the open days and so on. So I would suggest that that would be a good discussion for outcome 3.

Senator RHIANNON: About the guidelines and how it fits in with the guidelines?

Ms Paul : Yes, that is fine.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the campaign been evaluated to determine its effectiveness?

Ms Paul : There has been an initial evaluation, I think.

Senator RHIANNON: When was that undertaken?

Ms Gleeson : The formal evaluation for the campaign is currently underway. The campaign was completed on 14 February. It will be some weeks.

Senator RHIANNON: I thought that Ms Paul said that there was a preliminary evaluation.

Ms Gleeson : We had some top line results from the first part of the campaign.

Senator RHIANNON: And what were they, please?

Ms Gleeson : They are preliminary indicative results, which are still subject to a formal evaluation of the whole campaign. This is from the first two weeks of the campaign. They seemed to suggest some decreases in the prevalence of myths and misconceptions about the higher education system and also some slight increases in awareness of the reforms. Further, campaign activity shows to be positively correlated to a correction in audiences misconceptions of the reforms. There was an increased awareness of government support for higher education and the mechanisms that will remain in place into the future and some increases in perceptions that the reforms will be beneficial to Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: How was that measured? Is it quantitative or based on focus groups? What sort of research did you undertake?

Ms Paul : I assume that it was qualitative.

Ms Gleeson : It was. I think it was online tracking. I do not have the details here. The methodology for that—

Ms Paul : Why don't we get that for the discussion this evening in outcome 3.

Senator RHIANNON: If you could explain the research. Is it an online survey that you pick up? There are a whole range of metrics these days. It would be useful to know.

Ms Paul : It is quite important to put it in context and we can do that.

Senator RHIANNON: You may have said this earlier. I Just popped out at one point. What was the objectives of the advertising campaign?

Ms Paul : Broadly, it was to address misconceptions that were found to be out in the public from the market research and from our visits from the open days. But we can go into the fine detail of that under outcome 3, if you like. Because some of that goes to—

Senator RHIANNON: I think that it would be useful for us to know the objective for when you run through your assessment. When you do your assessments, is it against your objectives? Is that how you work it?

Ms Paul : It is not us doing the evaluation. It is another company.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, but you set it out and put a job description to this company.

Ms Paul : Based on the market research, that is right. That is how it works.

Senator RHIANNON: So you are using your objectives and asking them to measure against the objectives. Is that the case?

Ms Paul : That is right. It is based on the market research.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you go through the objectives now, please?

Ms Gleeson : Of course, these were in accordance with principle 1 of the short-term interim guidelines on information and advertising campaigns by Australian government departments and agencies. The campaign objectives of phase 1 were to counter myths and misconceptions about the current higher education system; to raise awareness of government support for higher education and the mechanisms that will remain in place into the future; to set the scene for the reforms; and to encourage audiences to seek further information about current government resources, assistance and financial support for Australian higher education.

Ms Paul : I think we may have already taken that on notice for Senator Carr. But we will take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, for when we come back to outcome 3.

Ms Paul : Just those objectives?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Ms Paul : Sure. We will have to extract them but we will bring that back to outcome 3.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, is it common for governments to run advertising campaigns for policies that have not gone through the parliament? They are effectively party policies because the bill has not been approved.

Senator Birmingham: I do believe that the previous government did that at some length in a number of ways, including in relation to the schools campaign.

Senator RHIANNON: Does that make it right? Does that make it correct, Minister?

Senator Birmingham: It certainly is not unusual for governments to seek to ensure that the public understands what is occurring, especially in this case where there were concerns coming into the university year this year that students and families were being misled as a result of the public misinformation campaign being run by opponents to these reforms, including yourself, Senator Rhiannon, into thinking that somehow up-front fees would be applied. So it was felt important to make sure that students were reassured that there would be no up-front fees as a result of the reforms that the government was undertaking—that in fact we were expanding access in many ways. So, Senator Rhiannon, firstly to your direct question: no it is not unprecedented by any means. There are definitely examples in relation to other governments. Secondly, in terms of the need for it, there was absolutely a need to try to address some of the misconceptions that existed—even yours. I can quote from your speech on 29 October 2014. You said:

By raising university fees the Liberals and the Nationals are slamming the door on opportunity for millions of Australians. Coalition policy is about keeping the world as a place with haves and have-nots.

All of that of course is creating the perception that somehow people would have to pay up-front fees, which is just completely untrue, Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: You do need to be accurate. I did not say that. You are now verballing us. I did not say that. I was very accurate.

Senator Birmingham: You are welcome to explain how the change that does not involve any up-front fees slams the door on opportunity for people to attend—

CHAIR: Point of order, Senator O'Neill.

Senator O'NEILL: I thought that the job we were doing was asking the questions of the minister and the department. It is extraordinary to have the minister now asking for an explanation of a senator to justify—

Senator Birmingham: Senator Rhiannon said that I was verballing her—

CHAIR: Minister! Senator O'Neill has the call.

Senator O'NEILL: I can only put it down to the aggressive defensive capacity within the minister at this point of time.

CHAIR: There is no point of order, Senator O'Neill.

Senator Birmingham: There is no aggressive defensive capacity, Senator O'Neill. It is all done with a smile.

CHAIR: Minister! That is not helpful.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Senator Birmingham interjecting

Senator Lines interjecting

CHAIR: Senator Lines!

Senator LINES: You can waste time defending the indefensible.

Senator Birmingham: Senator Lines, if you would like to debate the issues we can have a debate of the issues.

Senator Kim Carr interjecting

CHAIR: Senators and Minister! There is going to be plenty of time to talk about it. There is going to be plenty of time across the chamber for 'He said; she said' and about $100,000 degrees. Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, are you aware that at no time the government or anybody has disputed the information that was put on the website www.whatwillmydegreecost.com.au? It got one million hits. Half a million people did the calculations. It provided a resource for the public to understand in the early days just after the budget the implications of this legislation, when your government, your minister, was not revealing to the public and to students and their families getting ready to come to university in 2015 what the real cost of their degree would be. Now, we have been quite clear and accurate at all times.

CHAIR: Do you have a question, Senator?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. I am asking him if he was aware that at no time was that information ever challenged as incorrect? We have been the ones informing the public—

CHAIR: Sorry, the question is?

Senator RHIANNON: Was he aware that at no time the data that we provided publicly has been challenged?

Senator Birmingham: Senator Rhiannon, most of what I have seen from you has been misinformation rather than information.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you identify where?

CHAIR: Ms Paul looked like she had something to contribute.

Ms Paul : I am not sure whether I dare, really. I have two points. One is the technical answer to your first question about whether a campaign is allowed when the legislation hasn't been passed or enacted. The answer is yes, it is allowed. These guidelines allow it. Past guidelines have allowed it. I have certified such campaigns before. The interim guidelines say a cabinet decision which is intended to be implemented during the current parliament. That is the cover there. In terms of the Greens website, actually the department did find many flaws with it. We did have a discussion along these lines in the budget estimates of 2014. We could revisit those, although we would have to do it under outcome 3 because I would need people here. We did actually have a conversation and I think it is fair to refer to that.

Senator RHIANNON: Not specifically. So if the minister and Ms Paul can put on the record where it was inaccurate. You have said that I have misrepresented the legislation. You need to be accurate when you make those serious accusations.

Senator Birmingham: Senator Rhiannon, I have quoted you. But beyond that, if you would like us to go through errors in the Greens' figures, we can certainly attempt to do that tonight. I am also happy to take it on notice and come back with further evidence in relation to how the Greens have used figures misleadingly. I think that Mr Norton has said that your figures are misleading. I think if you look at the facts of what the UWA—

Senator RHIANNON: You need to say where.

Senator Birmingham: I will happily seek a quote, Senator Rhiannon. As I said, we can discuss the misleading Greens campaign in outcome 3 tonight at length. And I will also take it on notice for us to provide information about where it is misleading.

Senator RHIANNON: Excellent. Thank you, Chair.

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