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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1815


Mr ANTHONY —I direct my question to the Minister for Communications. I draw the Minister's attention to Press reports in Brisbane on Sunday quoting the Queensland Secretary of the Australian Labor Party as saying that a member of his Party had complained to the Minister's office that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation news service in Queensland was giving equal time to the three major parties contesting the State election. Is the Minister aware that following that call the ABC management instructed its journalists in Brisbane to give the Labor Party almost twice as much coverage as either the National Party or the Liberal Party? Is the Minister also aware that following that directive ABC journalists in Brisbane met and carried a resolution objecting to it, describing it as interference and saying that it threatened the integrity and the independence of the news department? Has the Leader of the Opposition in Queensland or any of his colleagues or party officials contacted the Minister or his staff on this matter? What guidelines now apply to ABC news coverage of the Queensland elections, in Queensland and elsewhere? Can the Minister assure the House that neither he nor anyone under his authority had any part in this attempt at political interference in the ABC news service?

Government members interjecting-


Mr ANTHONY —I do not know why they are so sensitive, Mr Speaker.


Mr DUFFY —I answer the last part of the question first by indicating to the Leader of the National Party that there has not been, nor will there be, any interference in the independence of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I have read the Press reports to which the Leader of the National Party referred. Two figures in the Queensland National Party were mentioned-Sir Robert Sparkes and Mr Evans. They are reported to have alleged that an Australian Labor Party person or persons contacted me to complain about the allocation of broadcasting time available to the ALP in Queensland and that, in response to that, I took steps to pressure the ABC to alter its current policy in order that the ALP be favoured. That allegation is a baseless and disgraceful lie. No person whatsoever had spoken to me about anything remotely connected with this allegation until Monday last, 17 October, when the Press reports to which I refer were brought to my attention.

I made inquiries of my staff. They advised me that none of them was asked by anyone to request, direct or otherwise influence the ABC to change its current policy concerning the allocation of broadcasting time. They have further advised me that none of them has spoken to the ABC on any matter connected in any way with the Queensland elections. Further, my Department has advised me that the Board of the ABC, at its August meeting-I stress, August meeting-determined that the Labor, National and Liberal parties should be granted 60, 40 and 40 minutes respectively of free time for election announcements in the forthcoming election . My Department has also advised me that it is the ABC's policy that the proportions of ABC news coverage of the election, by party, will reflect those for the allocation of free time; that is, that the duration of news coverage be, as close as is practicable, in a ratio of 3:2:2 for the respective parties.

There has been no interference by this Government in the Board's decisions. There will be no interference by this Government in the Board's decisions. Those decisions are completely and properly for the ABC to determine pursuant to its Act. The independence of the ABC is a matter that the Opposition has failed to understand for a long while. I know that conservative politicians in Queensland are attracted to the notion of governing without a parliament. May I suggest that this is a double-edged sword for the National Party in that these sorts of offensive libels are unable to be clothed in parliamentary privilege. Accordingly, I am instructing my solicitors to issue defamation proceedings immediately.


Mr McVeigh —Mr Speaker, I ask that the Minister table the document.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! Was the Minister for Communications quoting from a document?


Mr McVeigh —He read it. He read his whole answer.

Government members interjecting-


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order. Honourable members on my right are not assisting me in getting on with Question Time. I inform the Minister that there is a request under the Standing Orders for him to table a document. I am required to ask you whether you were quoting from a document.


Mr DUFFY —I was speaking from notes, Mr Speaker. I am not at all concerned about tabling those notes.


Mr SPEAKER —You have now answered.