As communications consultants with a significant government client list, there are two main things we must all be aware during the current pre-election period, and as we enter caretaker mode:

1. Rules around advertising

2. Rules around online communications

Caretaker mode is the period leading up to an election, where the day-to-day role of government is restricted to core business only. For the NSW State Election, this kicks off Friday, 1 March 2019. As a general rule, no significant new decisions or initiatives, appointments, or contracts should be made during the caretaker period. Routine government business, however, should proceed as usual.

1. Rules around advertising

Although the caretaker period does not formally start for another few weeks, there are a range of pre-election arrangements currently in force.

One of these is the quarantine on NSW Government advertising, which has been in force since 26 January.

What does the pre-election quarantine on NSW Government advertising mean?

It means most types of government advertising are banned. This does not mean political advertising (which is banned at all times from agencies), but a range of activities communications consultants will regularly undertake on behalf of their clients.

What counts as government advertising?

A ‘government advertising campaign’ is defined as:

“ the dissemination to members of the public of information about a government program, policy or initiative, or about any public health or safety or other matter, that:

(a) is funded by or on behalf of a government agency, and

(b) is disseminated under a commercial advertising distribution agreement by means of radio, television, the Internet, newspapers, billboards, cinemas or other media."

The guidelines state that other media may include, but is not limited to, internet search marketing, mobile device marketing (text, audio and video), posters, mobile billboards and signage on buses, trains, boats, aircraft and taxis. This includes social media boosting of posts, and ‘advertorials’ in print media.

While most government advertising campaigns cannot be carried out after 26 January 2019, the following are allowed:

• Campaigns relating public health or safety matters

• Service announcements, including those containing electoral information

• Notices required to be published under a law

• Job advertisements

• Tender advertising

2. Rules around online communications

Below are a few of the main things to be aware of, particularly when working on behalf on an agency:

• Agency websites and social media pages cannot contain material that could be seen to compromise the neutrality of the public service or would involve agency resources being used for electioneering or partisan political purposes.

• Agencies should generally not add new material to their websites or social media pages during the caretaker period (unless it is clearly in the public interest and there is no risk that the material could be interpreted as promoting a particular party or its policies).

• Where an agency is engaging online (discussion groups, Facebook comments etc), it is appropriate to remove political material. You might like to put a note on the website letting people know.

• Ministers should request their media releases or other material be published on agency or agency-maintained Ministerial websites or social media pages.

• This does not prevent releases or notices being published on matters of administration or operational information that is time-sensitive and in the public interest.