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Wednesday, 27 May 1998
Page: 3205

Senator BROWN —My question is to the Minister for Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts who seems to be making a welter of pressure on the ABC in recent times. Is the minister aware of threats to the ABC of legal action by mining or logging corporations—

Senator Abetz —Hope so.

Senator BROWN —The senator opposite says, `Hope so.' I hope not to the government—including threats involving intimidation with a view to achieving censored or biased reporting? What has been the cost to the ABC and the public purse of meeting such corporate threats? Moreover, what competitions, prizes or other incentives to listeners have been used by ABC radio commentators in Tasmania or elsewhere to foster the interests of industrial logging? Are such promotions consistent with an unbiased ABC?

Senator ALSTON (Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts) —I am sure Senator Brown has got a fevered knowledge of these issues, but they have not been brought to my attention. They certainly were not canvassed with me by the ABC, either at any time prior to my meeting with the board this morning or during the course of that meeting. To ask whether there is any cost to the taxpayer or the budget as a result of measures that the ABC has to take to somehow ensure that it is not subject to pressure from mining and logging interests, all I can say is that assumes that such pressure is there and that the ABC is actually responding in the way that Senator Brown suggests. So I have no knowledge of any threats. Nothing has been brought to my attention. If there is something happening in the bowels of Tasmania that has got Senator Brown excited then I assume that he will probably bring it to my attention in due course.

Senator BROWN —I ask a supplementary question, Madam President. I ask the minister: will he investigate whether the ABC has been subject to such threats by mining and logging corporations, what action has been taken and what the cost of meeting those threats has been? Secondly, will he investigate whether there have been incentives given to listeners in the promotion of industrial forestry in Tasmania or elsewhere?

Senator ALSTON (Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts) —One of the joys of being an Independent senator or a senator from a minority party is that you have absolutely no prospect of ever having formal responsibility, but maybe Senator Brown could have a trial run.

Senator Brown —I rise on a point of order, Madam President. As Senator Alston knows full well, I am not an Independent senator. I represent the Australian Greens, Madam President.

The PRESIDENT —He did refer to Independents or minor parties.

Senator Abetz —I rise on a point of order, Madam President. Senator Brown has just misled the Senate because on the Tasmanian ballot paper he was registered as a Tasmanian Green, yet whenever he comes up here he tries to parade himself as an Australian Green. You had better make up your mind.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator ALSTON —Madam President, we may be accused of many things but I do not think we can do much to help resolve Senator Brown's identity crisis. If he does want intensive counselling then I am sure there are plenty of people available to help him. Can I simply suggest that if he wants a dry run as a minister, what he ought to do is actually sit down and write a letter to the ABC, or even pick up a telephone, and ask them what the facts are.

Senator Brown —Why don't you?

Senator ALSTON —Because no-one has brought it to my attention. If you think I am going to proceed on the basis of what you say in this place somehow constitutes a factual statement, then I can assure you that I have better things to do with my time. If you ascertain the facts and you present them—

Senator Forshaw interjecting

Senator ALSTON —I will tell you shortly—you may then be in a position to say that there is a requirement for further action to be taken in a formal sense. But do your homework first, get hold of the facts, see if there really is an issue, and then we might be able to help you later. (Time expired)