'Thinly disguised political research' paid for by taxpayers shared with Morrison's office

Katharine Murphy Political editor
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has confirmed that it has shared the results of taxpayer-funded tracking surveys and research undertaken by Jim Reed, a long-term researcher for the Liberal party pollster Crosby Textor, with Scott Morrison’s office.

Reed, who now runs his own agency, Resolve Strategic, was awarded a contract by limited tender in April to undertake market research related to Covid-19 for the prime minister’s department.

While the contents of the substantial research project is unknown because it has not been released publicly, or to any committee scrutinising the government’s management of the pandemic, Labor has raised the alarm about “thinly disguised political research” being funded by taxpayers rather than by the Liberal party, as would be the convention.

Officials have previously described the three-month research project, which cost taxpayers $541,750, as “tracking surveys and qualitative research to guide the development of targeted communications aligned with business and community information needs as the pandemic progressed”.

In answers to questions on notice, officials said: “Resolve Strategic was contracted to conduct market research with the community and business to inform whole of government communications on social and community responses to the Covid-19 pandemic – particularly during the period of social restrictions.”

The research contract was originally entered into by the Covid coordination commission run by the former Fortescue chief Nev Power when the whole-of-government communications function for the pandemic was managed out of the advisory body, but the research went to Morrison’s department.

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Officials from PMC were asked at Senate estimates this week who had received a copy of that research. Stephanie Foster, a deputy secretary of PMC, said the contract was “with the department”.

“So the research would have certainly I think come back to our communications area,” Foster said.

The Labor senator Tim Ayres asked whether the taxpayer-funded research had also been shared with the prime minister’s office.

Gerard Martin, first assistant secretary of PMC’s ministerial support division, said twice: “I don’t believe so, senator.”

Martin agreed to take the question on notice.

The next morning officials from PMC answered questions on notice put to them by members of the Senate’s select committee on Covid-19, including a question about the Resolve Strategic market research.

In those answers, officials from Morrison’s department confirmed the results had been shared with “key government departments to inform targeted and effective whole-of-government communications, and were provided to the prime minister’s office”.

Ayres told the officials from Morrison’s department that the government needed to be transparent about the research.

He noted that the select committee monitoring the government’s response to the pandemic had “requested a copy of the research”.

“That’s been refused.”

Ayres said the chair of the select committee, Katy Gallagher, had also requested a copy. “That was refused as well.”

He said the research should be shared with the oversight committee.

After the supplementary answers were supplied by Morrison’s department, Ayres told Guardian Australia he was concerned that “thinly disguised political research” funded by taxpayers had been sent “straight to the prime minister’s office”.

“It is a disgrace the department is refusing to provide it,” he said.

Reed has another substantial market research project with Treasury. The value of that contract has been upgraded to $554,675.