Confusion surrounds the involvement of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a new advertising campaign that has started suddenly in and around South East Asian refugee camps and nearby boat harbours.
The campaign includes massive billboards, newspaper advertisements and street posters with imagery including Australian swimwear model Lara Bingle (main picture) similar to the controversial 2006 ad campaign run by Tourism Australia when Mr Morrison was its managing director.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told The Bug Mr Morrison had “absolutely nothing to do with the campaign — zero, zilch involvement”.
“It’s been started by Tourism Australia and we had absolutely nothing to do with it,” he said.
“In fact, the Prime Minister would be absolutely appalled if he saw footage of just one refugee drowning at sea as a result of this campaign.”
But Tourism Australia director of international marketing, Chuck Ashrimp, told The Bug the new campaign had been rushed into the market at the request of the Prime Minister.
“As a federal government agency we do as directed by the government and someone from the Prime Minister’s Office rang earlier this week and told us in no uncertain terms that the Prime Minister himself had designed the campaign based on his previous experience and he wanted it to be run urgently in the South East Asian localities his office listed to us,” Mr Ashrimp said.
When The Bug again contacted the Prime Minister’s Office and repeated what Mr Ashrimp had said, Mr Morrison’s spokesperson said: “I’ll get back to you shortly.”
Several hours later over the phone, the spokesperson said: “It’s possible but highly unlikely that some junior staffer in the Prime Minister’s Office could have unilaterally signed off on this campaign without letting anyone else know.
“If that turns out to be the case, severe disciplinary action will be taken, obviously. We’ll find out how this junior staffer managed to create, develop and then order such a campaign without the upper echelon of the PMO ever knowing about it and we’ll make damn sure it never happens again.
“The last thing we need is to get a reputation like the Home Affairs Department where minister Peter Dutton doesn’t have a fucking clue what’s going on in his portfolio.”
Labor Party leader Bill Shorten said the new campaign was another waste of taxpayers’ money but he was not worried about its potential impact.
“Nobody came to Australia when Scott Morrison ran this campaign a dozen years ago and I’m sure the new campaign will have the same effect,” he said.