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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1456


Senator SHEIL(3.58) —I rise to take note of the Government's response to the report of the Senate Select Committee on Television Equalisation. Unfortunately I cannot do it with the same force and eloquence as Senator Puplick, but I do have a modest contribution to make. This is a most precipitate response to such a complicated report. The Government banged this legislation through the House of Representatives and brought it to the Senate. We had a debate on it and it was obvious that there was much more to the legislation than could be handled with an ordinary debate. So a select committee was formed, and I was a member of it. We considered a mountain of evidence, heard many witnesses, read lots of submissions, distilled it all and finally came up with a report which was split evenly between the members of the Committee. The majority report was brought in, of course, on the Chairman's casting vote.

Now, within a matter of a few days, the Government has considered all of this evidence that was distilled and brought forward in the Committee's report, and has responded hastily. The way it was presented to the Senate was most inept. I have a suspicion that the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) tried to slip the Government's response in during Question Time so that there would not be any debate at all on it. Those opposite were hoping to get away with it but fortunately it has been picked up. So we are now debating the matter. Undoubtedly, the Government has a predetermined attitude as to what the legislation is intended to be. It has dreamt up this policy of having three commercial stations in an aggregated area. It will stick to that. It looks as though the whole Senate inquiry and the report have been a sham and the Government will go ahead willy-nilly, whether it wins or is defeated, to bring in this remarkable legislation.

The Government's course of action is to aggregate television stations and equalise the number of viewing stations in an area. Whether this is good or bad, the Government intends to press on with it. Those opposite suggested that there would be other ways of getting to the Government's end. If the regional stations chose those ways there would be a couple of poison pills they would have to take to force them down the Government's track. One of the features of the whole history of this saga has been that even before the Select Committee got together to hear the evidence there were mass transfers of ownership amongst the various forms of media in anticipation of the legislation. One can only wonder just how big an effect these transfers have had on the Government's desire to get ahead and push through this legislation.

I will speak more on this matter when the legislation is brought forward. I am particularly concerned about the situation not only for Tasmania, but also for Geelong, Mildura, Griffith and especially for Cairns in my State which has been left completely out in the cold. This is a situation we cannot possibly let rest. The Government's reaction is precipitate; the presentation of the report, to say the least, has been inept; and the Government is determined to press on with its course. The whole inquiry was merely a smokescreen and an exercise which I hope will not have been wasted because of the enormous amount of work that went into it and the enormous amount of good that can come out of it. It is obvious that this reorganisation of regional television throughout Australia will have spin off effects, not only for networks in the city but also for remote commercial services. It is not the sort of reorganisation that should be undertaken lightly under any circumstances.