Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been making a committed effort to boost his profile on social media, but the effect may be transient now that it’s been revealed he’s spent almost $800,00 of taxpayer funds doing so.
Victorian parliament’s Accounts and Estimates Committee has confirmed $158,000 was spent on Facebook alone between 2019-20.
There is no data available on what was spent on other social media platforms, and while the Premier has tried to justify the spending as ‘putting out special messages during Covid-19’ many believe it’s more to do with painting himself in a positive light, one going so far as to say his “vanity is out of control”.
Information versus marketing
Politicians using social media as a way of communicating with a wider audience is certainly not new.
But a brief look at the Daniel Andrews Facebook page shows an emphasis on personal matters including pictures of himself and his family, and posts which promote his handling of Covid-19.
To many, the page looks like a ‘personal account’ rather than an official government account used for imparting critical information.
Currently, the Victorian Premier has just shy of 1 million followers – many more than Prime Minister Scott Morrison, or New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
And there are questions around whether using taxpayer funds on ‘likes’ and ‘boosts’ is necessary or even justifiable, given that mainstream media outlets gave the Premier daily access to their platforms, in order to communicate information about Covid.
Was it necessary to spend taxpayer funds on social media?
During the height of the pandemic last year, Mr Andrews provided daily press conferences through the mainstream media – famously clocking up 120 in a row – in order to impart information without cost to taxpayers.
But Mr Andrews has defended the spending, saying it’s “a fraction” of what the Government spends on other, traditional media outlets.
To many, this misses the point entirely – that spending taxpayer funds must be justified, whether it’s on social media, mainstream media or anything else.
Impact of Covid
Victoria was the Australian jurisdiction to be hardest hit by Covid-19.
As a consequence of the extended lockdowns, many Victorians are now out of work, and many businesses are struggling or have shut down entirely.
Last month, the Victorian Government asked hundreds of small businesses to pay back Covid grants due to an administrative error.
The grants were given to thousands of hospitality businesses affected by the state’s prolonged lockdown, as part of the $251 million Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund.
But $3.1 million worth of grants were incorrectly paid to 293 licensed venues that applied for support, and the government has made clear that these “scarce” funds need to be repaid.
A business survey conducted by the National Australia Bank (NAB) earlier this year found that while retail is beginning to bounce back in Victoria, there remains a lag in the construction recreation and services sectors – which include cafes and restaurants, as well as education services.
And many businesses across all sectors are still reliant on the Federal Government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy, which will end on 28 March 2021.
There are concerns the end of the subsidy could also mean the end of many struggling businesses.
On top of the macro-economic cost, Covid-19 has affected many people in a very serious way – decimating their personal finances and relationships which will have a long-term effect on mental health and wellbeing that still needs to be acknowledged and addressed.