Sunday, 20 January 2008

How to Spin a $47m Whitewash. By Labour.

It's been revealed the Labour-led government spent a whopping $47 million dollars on "spin doctors" over the last 5 years (to July '07). Government communications staff increased to a massive 448 workers (including 37 ministerial staff).

The Sunday Star-Times points out this is more new staff hirings than all the journos at TVNZ, Radio NZ, Sunday Star-Times, and the Dom Post put together! (And that's without including the many thousands of new "public servants" employed in the Capital at great expense by Labour over the last few terms.)

Gerry Brownlee, National's State Services spokesman, believes Labour is planning to use the massive publicity machine they've created in this year's re-election campaign. "This is an extraordinary expansion of the government's ability to deliver its message. This must make Labour the most spun government in history," he said.

The Electoral Finance Bill limits advertising by political parties and spending by "third parties", but puts no restrictions on communications spending by Government departments.

Labour's Duty Minister of the moment, Rick Barker, was too busy to be interviewed by the SST newspaper, getting one of his many "spokespeople" to respond for him.

Top of the list for spin-doctors was the Ministry of Social Development (under the wing of MP David Benson-Pope), with 54 communications staff and contractors. 159 people earn over $160,000 a year (just 6 people were paid that much in 2002), and 21 earn more than $200,000.
(The SST notes that makes it bigger than Radio New Zealand's entire reporting staff). The organisation has tried to justify the large number, by pointing out that the Ministry is the "biggest government department, with 10,000 staff" (Ouch!?!)

Less surprising is that the biggest spender in pure financial terms was the Ministry of Education, which spent $6.6 million (with 70% on contractors).

National's Katherine Rich recently raised concerns about out of control salary spending at the Ministry of Education. As of last July, there were 46 employees earning more than $130,000 a year (just 13 were paid that much in 2002).
The number of staff earning between $110,000-$120,000 at the Ministry of Education also tripled over the same 3 year period, without any improvement in the country's education system.

Head of Journalism at Canterbury University, Jim Tully, said the number of PR staff was growing as newsrooms were shrinking. "The growth is indicative of a much greater determination to put the best possible spin and to influence the media generally," he said.

* Sunday Star Times: Spinning govt yarn costs $47m
* Scoop: MSD top-band salaries increase more than 546%
* Scoop: Labour 'most spun' Government ever

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