Public communication activities within the Commonwealth government sector are diverse and include advertising campaigns, information campaigns, non-campaign advertising, and a variety of other media, information and marketing activities. These include the provision of support for ministerial communication activities, media liaison, public relations, social media activity and official publications. Accountable authorities have wide discretion in managing and resourcing such activities and many entities have established specific internal capability for this purpose.
The Ministerial and Executive Coordination and Communication (MECC) Division, which is located within the Department of Defence’s (Defence) Associate Secretary’s Group, provides whole-of-department media and communications services, as well as coordination of parliamentary and Cabinet processes. The Division’s Media and Communications Branch (MCB) provides a range of communication support and media services for Defence, including:
- planned activities such as corporate events, Australian Defence Force exercises and general events; and
- business-as-usual (routine) activities such as responding to media enquiries and issuing media releases, producing newspapers and magazines published by Defence, managing internet and departmental social media sites, writing speeches, and providing interviews or imagery to news and entertainment media.
In December 2016, Defence developed the Defence Communication Manual as the policy framework to guide its public communications and media activities. The manual was replaced with the Media and Communication Policy in July 2019, which ‘provides a framework that helps Defence promote and support the policy agenda of the Government of the day, its ministers and the department’.
The objective of the audit was to examine the effectiveness and appropriateness of the Department of Defence’s management of its public communications and media activities.
The audit found that Defence’s arrangements for the appropriate management of its public communications and media activities remain in transition and are not fully effective. While Defence has largely established a policy and management framework for these activities, it has not clearly articulated its overarching objectives or expected outcomes for undertaking them and internal reporting is primarily focused on outputs.