Public servants or partisan dirt diggers? Inside the Government Members Secretariat

Wayne Errington, Peter Van Onselen

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    Abstract

    The concept of the public relations (PR) state was introduced to Australia by Ion Ward in an article in the Australian joumal of Communication (2003). Ward described the increasing resources being devoted to a whole-ofgovernment approach to communications strategy. The Government Members Secretariat (GMS) was established in 1996 when the Howard govemment came to power. The purpose of the GMS is to assist government MPs to run their offices and disseminate government and party information to them. Responsibility for the GMS was transferred in 1998 from the Department of Finance and Administration to the Chief Whip's Office, effectively making it unaccountable to the parliament. The GMS came under public scrutiny in 2004 when the opposition alleged that it played a role in govemment 'dirt digging' on the opposition. This episode brought unprecedented and unwanted attention to this small but important cog in the government's PR infrastructure. The allegations of dirt digging, however, are a distraction from the real influence of the GMS. Its importance lies in the way it connects the govemment's national communications strategy with individual members of parliament, most notably those members in marginal seats. This allows govemment policy releases, advertising, and other communication on behalf of the executive to be made timely and relevant to the grassroots House of Representatives campaigns that help win elections. The GMS is a prime example of the way that government and party communication strategies have become inextricably linked.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)25-39
    Number of pages15
    JournalAustralian Journal of Communication
    Volume32
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2005

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