If you have have lived in Victoria anytime over the past two years, this cloud motif should be very familiar to you.
The Victorian Transport Plan (9.5mb .PDF file) was launched by the state Labor government under John Brumby in December 2008, and included $38 billion of promises for new transport projects – the majority of which were unfunded.
Government transport plans come and go, with this one killed off in January 2011 by the incoming Liberal government headed by Ted Baillieu. At least for the VTP, the taxpayer funded propaganda blitz used to promote the plan will be remembered for some years. In the two years of the plan being in place, $6.6 million of taxpayer money was spent advertising the plan: across television, radio, newspaper, online, and outdoor billboards.
Advertising even appeared on the new trains themselves – “Our 100th VLocity carriage” (December 2009)
Additional propaganda also appeared all over the railway network, promoting what the government was currently up to.
Regional Rail Link was one of the first big projects to start, and actually got Federal Government funding due to the supposed “shovel ready” nature. In August 2009 fences all around Southern Cross Station were covered with banners spruiking “Victoria’s newest railway line starts here”, ready for the politicians to turn up for a sod turning.
“A new railway station for Coolaroo” wasn’t a VTP project, but one already underway when the plan was launched.
By January 2010 the banners were looking tatty as construction work dragged on, after it was discovered contractors had built the platforms too low. The station didn’t open until June 2010. Construction of the station should have been part of the Craigieburn Electrification Project (completed in 2007) but was bumped for cost reasons. This decision backfired, due to the increased costs of attempting to build something in the middle of an operating suburban railway!
Also in January 2010, “The Footscray Renewal is taking shape” with a new footbridge at Footscray railway station.
The bridge was opened to pedestrians by July 2010, but the finishing touches were still being carried out to the station forecourt during March 2011. Despite the amount of time taken, the poorly designed roof can’t keep out rain, and due to a lack of future planning, the northern end of the bridge will need to be rebuilt when the new Regional Rail Link platforms are built at the station.
“Returning services to Maryborough” might have been something to plaster onto the side of a VLocity, but the $50 million spent on it only bought one return train service per day.
The first train ran in July 2010, with only 558 passengers using the train in the first week, or 40 per service. The pork barrelling was bad enough, but the crippling of track capacity on the Ballarat – Maryborough route is the real crime, delaying rail freight services that can actually make money. At least the Labor member Joe Helper retained the local seat of Ripon…
Electrification to Sunbury is another idea that has been around for years, only to be dusted off and slipped into the pages of the Victorian Transport Plan. At least this time funds were actually allocated to complete the project, work started in early 2010 with a total cost of $270 million.
By June 2010 the amount of advertising kicked up another notch, with the leadup to the state election in November. This billboard at Southern Cross Station is conveniently placed to remind commuters that “More trains, more services” are on the way, and which political party is doing it.
As well as the billboards all over the network, advertisements like this one screened on local TV. This advert is from March 2010 – in the 10 months from December 2008 VTP advertisements had screened 2182 times on Melbourne’s commercial TV channels – or 7 times a day.
The song featured in the TV commercials is the 2007 track We Get Around by Sydney hip hop artist Tim Levinson, who performs under the name “Urthboy”. At least living up north he never had to suffer through the advertisements!
The song was licensed for use in the adverts, without any restrictions on how it would be used in the marketing companions track. In January 2010 he said to The Age:
I believe in the public transport system and am happy to have my music associated with its promotion, but I don’t want my music to be associated with a propaganda campaign.
Unfortunately propaganda is what he is associated with.
Senior writer from The Age, John Watson, wrote an article about the government propaganda, and described the large billboard at Southern Cross as follows:
For such a big advertisement, the content is minimal — two sentences against a lightly clouded blue sky. The visual meaning? Your guess is as good as mine.
Our Government is obviously altogether more benign, but surely something is rotten in the state of Victoria when it produces Stalinist-style propaganda without a shred of irony, humour or even clear acknowledgement of the depth of a problem — aside from the choice of subject itself.
The advertising Watson saw might have had minimal content, but this piece of directional signage at Footscray won’t go down without a fight.
I’m glad to know that it is “Authorised and published by the Victorian Government, 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne”.
I hope I am not the only one seeing subliminal messages up in the clouds.