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Friday, 19 October 1984
Page: 2066

Senator MACKLIN(12.37) —It will not come as any surprise to the Government that we will be voting in an identical fashion to that which we did on 16 December 1982 in relation to the Broadcasting and Television Amendment Bill, the Broadcasting Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill and the Television Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill. At that time the Australian Labor Party, in opposition, sought to move amendments and the Australian Democrats voted with the Government. Essentially the item that has been raised by Senator Peter Baume concerns supplementary licences. In the debate on the Bills on 16 December 1982 Senator Chipp said:

It is a contradiction against the whole spirit of the Bill, the basic purpose of which is to create supplementary licences. By definition, a supplementary licence is a licence which is supplementary to the one already owned.

If that is the case we are talking about a situation in which a new licence cannot be granted. We are talking then, by and large, about regional areas, areas in which there is not enough financial return to justify a new licence. Of course, we must also bear in mind that under the Broadcasting and Television Act it is possible, even during a hearing for a supplementary licence, for a person to intervene in that hearing to seek a new licence. So if somebody feels, even at that late stage, that a new licence is viable he may intervene in the hearing of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal on the granting of a supplementary licence. In this respect we are talking about very limited areas, by and large country or regional television areas. It seems to us that we should not look at the notion of concentration of ownership in the way the Government has proposed. The very real reason for that is necessarily we will have a concentration of ownership. There is absolutely no way around it, because in fact, it is a supplementary licence. A supplementary licence is given to a person who already has one.

I think that the Government is well aware of the views of the Australian Democrats in terms of guarding against monopoly ownership in Australia. We have opposed it. We oppose it in all its forms. We believe it is one of the worst aspects of the Australian media organisation that there are so few, particularly in the area of newspapers, ultimate owners. However, we do not wish to support the proposition that the Government has brought forward because we believe that it will indeed militate against supplementary licences and the granting of supplementary licences. Our position on the Bills stems from the concern that nothing be put in the way of the granting of supplementary licences. We wish to promote the granting of supplementary licences as far as possible to give some variety and some alternatives in areas where there is no commercially viable alternative.

So we are not so much arguing about who the owner will be as asking that the people in those regions at least be given the chance to be able to view, say, another television station or to listen to another radio station. That seems to us to be an important aspect that we do not want to lose. Hence, we feel that the Government's proposal on the aggregation of licence fees could have that very effect. It could militate against the seeking of supplementary licences because of the additional costs that would be involved to those interested firms .

Senator Peter Baume —It would be cheaper to take them separately, would it not?

Senator MACKLIN —They would probably seek to take them separately. But we are talking about areas where there is no commercial viability for an ordinary licence, areas in which there would be only supplementary licences. Hence, we are talking about a very restrictive framework. Within that framework it does not seem to be fair to say to those interested companies: 'Seek a supplementary licence. Give the community an additional channel or radio station and at the same time you will pay more dearly for it'. It seems to be reasonable that the television or radio companies should pay the normal fees that would be due if they were separate.

The Australian Democrats support the proposals in the Bill in relation to the progressive commencement of transmission facilities. That seems to be a very reasonable proposition, which I would think would promote the granting of supplementary licences. We support the Government on this proposal because it is an incentive rather than a disincentive. We will support the proposal relating to ownership or control loopholes. We will also support the conduct of inquiries by the Australia Broadcasting Tribunal and the recommendations of the Administrative Review Council relating to those inquiries. I say in brief that our views have been determined with regard to the fact that we wish to promote more supplementary licences in Australia for television and radio stations. We believe that the provisions that are currently contained in the Act which are to be changed by this Bill will militate against the granting of supplementary licences and hence do not have our support.

Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 12.43 to 2 p.m.