Thursday, February 09, 2012

Loony tunes. The quickly-assembled carbon price guide

Who says the government doesn't move quickly

The 20-page colour booklet "What a Carbon Price Means for You" mailed out to to 10 million households in August may become something of a collectors item.

The Audit Office has found the Climate Change Department used it to make 99 claims about the carbon tax, 32 of which it was unable to fully back up in the accompanying documentation.

Typical was the claim that “9 in 10 households will receive some combination of tax cuts and increased payments to help them with the cost of living impact of the carbon price”.

The Audit Office found the department relied on a document which stated less emphatically that “about” 9 in 10 households would receive the assistance.

The booklet said over four million households would get assistance “at least” 20 per cent more than the average price impact of the carbon tax, whereas the source document said the assistance would be “around” 20 per cent more than the price impact.

The Department set up a fact-checking matrix.. enabling it to allow back up each of the 142 claims made in the radio, television, print and mail-out advertisements, but when actually checked by Audit Office, 52 of the claims made were found not to be backed up in the way the matrix said they had.

The booklet said by the end of the decade the carbon pricing package would cut emissions by the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road, but the matrix said nothing about an equivalent number of cars.

The radio and television advertisements spoke about the carbon tax as if it had been decided, whereas at the time the legalisation had not been passed.

In its response to the audit released late yesterday the Department of Climate Change pleaded “difficult circumstances” and a “complex policy package”. It said each of the claims in the advertising could be supported by evidence. But the Audit Office found much of that evidence had to be assembled later after its inquiries and did not form part of the matrix meant to back up the campaign.

It found the $2.7 million tender for printing the booklet was conducted within a “severely compressed” time frame of approximately one-and-a-half days.

In addition “a last-minute variation to the scope of the tender - which gave firms approximately 90 minutes to quote on the cost of printing the booklet in A4 size as well as A5 size - had the effect of further limiting the number of suppliers likely to submit satisfactory quotes,” the report says.

The $1.7 million mail-out distribution contract was approved verbally by one departmental officer and recorded in the department’s systems later as having been approved by another. A further six spending proposals were approved after the agreements had been entered into.

The Office says the time frame for buying television advertising was sometimes less than a week, making it hard to get advertisements on the best programs at the best times.

Coalition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said the report found the department had both breached its rules and failed to effectively sell its message.

He called on the prime minister to pull the plug on the forthcoming $10 million campaign to sell the carbon tax in the lead up its introduction on July 1.

In today's Canberra Times, Sydney Morning Herald and Age

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