Showing their helping hand: The selective promotion of government assistance

by David Baker

Although Australia has a long tradition of providing welfare support, in recent times the promotion of available support has been at best selective. In recent years, campaigns to raise awareness have focused on promoting new forms of assistance, often those that are initiatives of the current government. The Education Tax Refund (ETR) is an example of the way priority is given to promoting new forms of government assistance.

The advertising campaign for the ETR was allocated $9.3 million in the 2008-09 Budget. The funding for refund claims in the same budget was $1,015 million. That is, the government was willing to spend one dollar promoting the new initiative for every $109 that the government allocated for refunds. However, the ‘lower than expected’ take-up in 2009-10 meant that this promotional budget actually only delivered $66 in claims for every dollar spent. It appears that low income families, particularly those not required to lodge a tax return may be more likely to miss out.

In launching the ETR, the government recognised the importance of promoting the refund to maximise take-up. This recognition is evident in the funding ratio to which the government committed for promoting the initiative, and in documents obtained under Freedom of Information. Unfortunately this recognition is not widely extended to existing forms of government assistance. Indeed, performance measures reported annually by Centrelink have a target threshold for delivering payments to four out of five people who qualify for assistance.

Based on the funding provided for the ETR and estimates of the number of people missing out on assistance, the government should be spending an estimated $47 million to equally promote existing forms of government assistance. The government has not allocated funding anywhere near this amount. To maximise take-up, it is beholden upon the government to equally fund promotion of all forms of available assistance.

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