The government is spending $450,000 on a new two-month communications campaign for its industry growth centres after a survey found there was a “low awareness” of the initiative, despite the centres launching more than three years ago with $200 million in funding.
Shadow innovation minister Kim Carr questioned the new spend during a senate estimates hearing late last week, following revelations in March that the government had spent $250,000 on building a Facebook page for the industry growth centres along with a new “overarching initiative”.
The $200 million Industry Growth Centres were launched in 2014 by the government in an effort to drive “innovation, productivity and competitiveness by focusing on areas of competitive strength and strategic priority”. There are now six centres, each focusing on a specific centre: advanced manufacturing, cyber security, food and agribusiness, medical technologies and pharmaceuticals, mining equipment, technology and services and oil, gas and energy resources.
Earlier this year, a survey of businesses commissioned by the department found there is a “low recognition and awareness” of the initiative and the opportunities to engage with the individual growth centres”.
The low awareness comes despite the government already chipping in $120 million to the centres, and them being in operation for three years.
“So after three years there’s a low awareness. We’re not talking about men and women in the street, we’re talking about other companies and businesses. These are the people that these centres are supposed to have been set up to benefit and they don’t know about them after three years and $120 million,” Senator Carr said during estimates.
To combat this lack of awareness, the department is set to launch a $450,000 communications strategy for the centres, focusing on social media, a range of media buys, partnerships through media outlets and four podcasts featuring interviews with businesses that have gone through the growth centres.
The campaign will be rolling out during this month and July. The opposition has slammed the timing of the spend, labelling it a “pre-election advertising blitz” in the lead-up to five by-elections in late July. But department representatives said the communications spend has been in the works since late last year.
“After three years and $120 million spent on the program, this admission is extraordinary, especially given at least one of the growth centre’s CEOs is on the salary of $485,000 per annum. The evidence provided today exposes just how desperate this government is – throwing endless taxpayer dollars away in an attempt to convince the public that they have an industry plan,” Senator Carr said.
“The Turnbull Liberals are champions of masterly inactivity when it comes to Australian industry policy and jobs. But Australians see through this expensive facade – only Labor can be trusted when it comes to Aussie jobs.”
It was revealed earlier this year that the industry department had paid PR firm Porter Novelli Australia nearly $250,000 in November to play a “coordinating role” in launching a single Facebook page for the six industry growth senates.
This process took four months to go live, and the Facebook page currently only has 782 likes.
When questioned by Senator Carr, industry department general manager of the growth centres policy brand David Lawrence said the page had been successful, with its post displayed to 83,000 users, and 6500 users “directly interacting” with the content.
He also said that the contract wasn’t just for the creation of the single Facebook page.
“It does involve developing new branding, which involves video and audio content for the whole project. It also involves developing a series of four podcasts to engage with SMEs – they’re going into product and should be released throughout June and July, to accompany the media and advertising to go with that,” Mr Lawrence said.