Revealed: Waka Kotahi spends millions promoting Government policy
Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency) has spent $4,737,200 on the first two television advertisements promoting the Government's Road to Zero strategy, reveals the Taxpayers' Union.
The spending is separate from the $2.4 million recently spent on the infamous 'Safe Limits' television ad.
In February, the Government officially launched its 'Road to Zero' public awareness campaign promoting its target of zero deaths and serious injuries on New Zealand's roads by 2050. Waka Kotahi has been allocated $14.7 million in new funding for the campaign but has told the Union it plans to spend as much as $197 million on Road to Zero promotions and educational activities.
The first Road to Zero ad shows a holidaying family stopped at a toll booth by a woman in a wig, who looks at the family's youngest child and says the toll will be "just the little one today." Horror music is played before we are told, "It's time we stopped paying the road toll. We have a vision to reach zero deaths by 2050."
The second ad shows a family crashing into a road barrier. One by one, mechanics, road workers and police officers emerge from the car explaining how they all helped to stop the crash from being worse. The ad cuts to "It takes everyone to get to no one."
Neither ad actually encourages drivers to change their behaviour – instead, Waka Kotahi is using its massive advertising budget to promote a Government initiative.
Released under the Official information Act, an update from officials to the Waka Kotahi board confirms our suspicions that the campaign is about influencing public opinion to support Government policies. Officials write:
To create the social licence for the interventions required for Road to Zero to be successful, we require public awareness, understanding and ultimately acceptance of the Road to Zero strategy and the philosophy and approach that underpin it.
The campaign's explicit aim to warm up the public for policy changes clearly breaches section 5(b) of the Government's own advertising guidelines: material should be free from partisan promotion of government policy and political argument.
These ads cynically exploit fear without providing viewers any useful information on specific policy changes or consultation processes being advanced by the Government.
The Department of Internal Affairs recently pulled the plug on its biased $4 million Three Waters advertising campaign after a warning from the Public Service Commissioner. Waka Kotahi needs to do the same with its manipulative Road to Zero ads.
Informing the public about policy changes and promoting road safety messages is sometimes necessary. But taxpayer-funded adverts intended to soften the public up for lower speed limits are not acceptable. Debates around ideal speed limits and acceptable trade-offs of risk on our roads have valid points on both sides – the Government shouldn't be using taxpayer money to tip the scale.
The Taxpayers' Union has written to the Public Service Commissioner asking for a judgment on Waka Kotahi's ads before the the spending gets even further out of control.