New Zealanders saw right through the adverts which were pasted all over our TV’s showing how badly our water systems have been managed. There have been two polls one which showed 47.7% of people were against the 3 Waters reforms. The other was 56%. The number of people against the reforms in Christchurch was 58%.
Not only have New Zealanders been not sucked in but neither has the State Services Commission. The commission ruled that the ads breached public service guidelines. These state, to meet the guidelines, first published in 1989:
Taxpayer-funded campaigns must:
- · be accurate, factual, truthful, fair, honest, and impartial.
- · use unbiased and objective language that is free from partisan promotion of government policy or political argument.
- · be undertaken only where there is an identified and justifiable need for information
In an article labelled three-waters-tv-ad-evaporates-after-commission-warning.pdf the author Nakitin Sallee wrote:
The Three Waters television ad campaign that used taxpayers’ money to influence the opinions of ratepayers was cut short after intervention by the Public Service Commission, BusinessDesk has learned.
When the first of the adverts was aired around the middle of the year, the commission “raised concerns” with the sponsoring Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) on “how the government advertising guidelines had been considered”, the commission said in a statement.
The guidelines require publicly funded campaigns to be accurate, factual and unbiased, but the cartoon-style adverts are notable for their lack of factual information. They portray a dystopian future in which taps run dry or are full of sludge. As if by magic, a smiling cartoon plumber – presumably the alter ego of a post-reform three waters agency – fixes problematic pipes with a single tap of his spanner.
The commission said the DIA three waters unit made some changes to the second ad in the series after concern was expressed. Unlike the fact-free first advert, the follow-up ad contains some real information: in five of its 30 seconds it shows a map of New Zealand with the boundaries of the proposed new water agencies, adding that “we’re grouping it [water infrastructure] together”.
The commission said a third intended advert was axed after it advised the three waters unit of “significant risks” that it “could be viewed as straying into advocating government policy rather than explaining policy”
In an additional article the same author wrote under the headline Three Waters ad campaign was based on secret report:
Three Waters Reform Programme officials are keeping secret both the advice that led to its controversial television advertising campaign and the identity of its author.
In response to an Official Information Act (OIA) request, the three waters unit within the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) redacted the marketing and communications proposal and its source. This was done “to protect the intellectual property of, and to avoid unreasonably prejudicing the commercial positions of the entity who supplied the proposal”.
The decision to withhold both the recommendations and the consultant’s identity “appears strange”, said Leo Donnelly of Chen Palmer, who dealt with OIA matters during 32 years in the Office of the Ombudsman. “
“There is no magic cloak of secrecy because you have a commercial position. If you want to remain hidden from legitimate public and media scrutiny, then don’t contract with government,” he said
The author went on to say:
In its OIA release, the three waters programme directorate deleted several paragraphs summarising the proposed campaign, an appendix with the full proposal, and the identity of its author. The anonymous supplier is described in the paper both as “an independent marketing and communications consultant”, and “an independent consultancy firm“.
The redactions are dubious, Donnelly said. “The public and the media are always entitled to ask ‘who, what and why?’ when policy decisions are made … “
“Consultants working with agencies subject to the OIA have to accept that they cannot generally have any expectation of anonymity. If you are going to give advice that seeks to influence a government decision-maker on a matter of significant policy, the public and the media should be able to know who the consultant is. “That has been the prevailing practice under the OIA for over 30 years,” he said
What day is it? Donnelly said it was also “not acceptable” that it took 50 working days for the three waters programme to decide not to release the advice and its author. This comprised the statutory 20 working days allowed under the OIA, a 15-day extension (also allowed), and another 15 working days without a deadline extension. “The statutory obligation is to respond to a request for official information as soon as reasonably practicable,” Donnelly said.
Here’s a link to the article three-waters-ad-campaign-was-based-on-secret-report.pdf.
It is worth noting that the staff member responsible for the 3 Waters reforms in Internal Affairs, Allan Pragnell, has been moved to work for the Ministry of Transport. Changing the senior staff member during a project seems an odd sort of decision.