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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr BOWDEN (Gippsland) (3:29 AM) . - I was one of the signatories of the minority report, and I had some share in its compilation. I challenge the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) to compare the minority and majority reports with the evidence sub,mitted to the committee, and then say whether he can justify some of the statements he has. just made.

It was amusing to hear the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Bryson), who is a member of the Broadcasting. Committee, talking of biased press reports. In all my experience, nothing more biased than the majority report of the committee has ever come to my notice. It completely violates every principle which should be observed in assessing the value of evidence. The one redeeming feature of the majority report is that one of the four members who signed it actually blushed when they had to do so, because they knew they were, violating their own conscience and offering a gratuitous insult to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, whose responsibility it is to advise the committee. The commission was established to take charge of broadcasting, and a manager was appointed. That body has been divested of all power and authority, but it is expected to do its job in the interests .of broadcasting and of the people.' The Broadcasting Committee .has deliberately ignored 95 per cent, of the evidence submitted in favour of the agreement. I do not support the agreement at all. The committee had to consider the agreement which had already been determined between the commission, the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association ' and the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner, covering a trial period of twelve months. The Broadcasting . Committee asked members of the commission to give evidence regarding it, and it also invited the news editor of the commission to express his views. One of the employees, Mr. Dixon, is the infallible gentleman about whom we have heard a great deal.

The members of the commission gave their evidence in a painstaking way. Neither1 the chairman nor the manager was adverse to a direct news-gathering service, but, as they had to ask for more revenue to enable 'the service to be instituted, they were not willing to commit themselves to a known expenditure up to £200,000. They asked for a year in which to examine the position. A desperate effort has been made by supporters of the Government to justify the unjustifiable, by casting aspersions on persons such as the chairman of the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association. Mr. Henderson' did not give evidence before the committee as the representative of the Sydney Morning Herald, but on behalf of the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association. It is not playing cricket to besmirch the characters of witnesses because they give evidence fearlessly. I sat back and enjoyed Mr. Henderson's evidence. I like to hear a man speak as fearlessly as he did. Some members of the committee felt uncomfortable in his presence. A characteristic pastime of honorable members oposite is to besmirch the reputations of newspaper proprietors in order to excuse what they cannot justify by reason or logic. What relation had the speech of the honorable member for Parkes to the report of the Broadcasting Committee ?

The ramifications of the bill, which has been brought down in the dying hours of a dying parliament, are so wide that at least a week should be allowed for investigation of the matters under discussion, before we shall be competent to express an opinion on them. The Government is rushing the measure through the House because it is afraid to act decently by postponing consideration of the bill until after the general elections. The reputation of witnesses has been sullied, because they hold opinions contrary to those of the shamefaced majority of the Broadcasting Committee, who are still conscious-stricken over their action. I have great respect for Mr. Dixon, whom I regard as a capable officer. The chairman and general manager of the commission, I think, will both agree on that. The committee assessed the value of his evidence before leaving Sydney, and decided that the evidence with regard to news services should be put on one side for a year. Despite what the honorable member for Bourke has said, Mr. Hanlon did agree with the rest of the commission. He had a contrary opinion which he expressed to the commission, but he said that as the majority had reached an agreement, he as a democrat would not oppose the opinion of the others.

Mr Haylen - A journalist of 40 years' experience would not make a statement of that kind and then repudiate what he had said. The honorable member has put him in a false light.

Mr BOWDEN - He said that he had expressed a contrary view, but as the majority of the commission was against him he concurred in their decision.

Mr Haylen - He was not in' favour of the agreement.

Mr BOWDEN - Mr. Dixon'sevidence was incomplete. When the committee questioned him, he and every other witness admitted that it was impracticable for the commission to establish a worldwide news gathering organization, as it was quite beyond its capacity to foot the bill, but he said that the commission would also get news from agencies. I asked him deliberately whether those agency sources would be available, and he replied, " I do not know ". When he was asked the' cost of providing the service, he said that he did not know.

Mr Haylen - Would npt the Australian Broadcasting Commission have its London office? Would, not the newstapes running there be available to tap the news which the commission wanted, and would it not have a chance to change agencies ?

Mr BOWDEN - The honorable member may be a journalist, but he is not a member of the Broadcasting Committee. Mr. Dixon said that Reuters' newsagency, from which he hoped to get news, would probably not be available to him, but he stated that American agencies were likely to be available. Whether he was right or wrong, a majority of the committee gave a verdict in his favour, and completely ignored the whole of the commission's evidence. The people who are to be responsible for carrying out the provision for the establishment of this service were completely ignored by the majority of the committee. That is condoned by the Government in thisbill. How does it expect to hold the commission together? In commissions, as in the Army, when politics interferes with management, chaos results. The provisions relating to the news are based on recommendations made by the majority of the committee that were based on the evidence of people who did not know the facts, because the only authenticevidence about cost came from the very much despised Mr. Henderson. Because he controls a leading daily newspaper, he has a knowledge of thecost of gathering news, and he said that it would cost the commission to gather news not so much as it cost a daily newspaper, but that he estimated that the cost would be anything from £100,000 to £110,000 a year. That will be the outlay on a news service of a commission' that has just asked us for more money to enable it to meet its commitments. Iinvite the honorable member for Parkes to note the irony of the following recommendation of the majority of the members of the Broadcasting Committee, on which clause 5 is based -

The act should be amended to provide that the Commission shall -

(a)   establish its own independent service in respect of Australian news;

The humour of that, after everything that the commission had to say in evidence before the committee has been utterly ignored ! The recommendation continues -

(b   ) procure its overseas news direct, through its staff board, from such overseas agencies as the Commission deems fit,

Deems fit ! What does it matter what the commission deems fit when its evidence is ignored ? It disgusts me that the Government should enforce its will on the Parliament; to condone such shabby treatment of one of its instrumentalities. I am sorry to be associated with such a deplorable action. I am one of the minority, but I will back our view before any tribunal as a truer indication of the position than the biased majority report on which the Government excuses bringing down this monstrosityfor our consideration in the dying hours of the Parliament. The recommendation proceeds - as well as from such independent sources as the Commission deems it desirable to use;

We have no objection to that part.I come now to clause 18 the piece de resistance. I have asked for an explanationof that clause, and two or three have told me that it means something about network control, whereas not one syllable of it refers to that subject. I do not blame the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) for suggesting that it is one of those sneaky little clauses that give the Government control over something that, when the bill is brought down, the public is not aware of. I know of several acts that contain sections that are undesirable from the point of view of every one except the Government. Clause 18 which applies to commercial broadcasting stations, reads -

Section one hundred and seven of the Principal Act is amended by omitting all the words after the words " and in particular " and inserting in their stead the following paragraphs: - " - (a) for varying or adding to the conditions governing the erectionor operation of commercial broadcasting stations or an appliance for which a broadcast listener's licence is required to be held; and

Paragraph a is understandable, because the Parliament al ready wields powers of that kind. But listen to what follows: -

(b)   for prescribing matters relating to the making of agreements or arrangements by licensees of commercial broadcasting stations for the provision of programmes or the broadcasting of advertisements, or relating to such agreements or arrangements so made."

Not one syllable of that could be recognized as having any relation to the explanation that I have been given as to the meaning of the paragraph. I submitted it to a prominent King's Counsel who- said, " It is wide open. A3 far as the law is concerned, they can do anything ". In substance, he said, " The Government can control every activity of the commercial broadcasting stations ". That . may not be the intention of the proposed new provision, but that is the interpretation placed upon it. The Minister has to explain it. That is all I have to say, except that the bill should not have been brought down in these circumstances. We should at least have time to consider it. I deplore the desperate excuses offered for it by not only .members of the Broadcasting Committee but also other supporters of the Government, who feel guilty about such a bill having been introduced in spite of the advice of members of an instrumentality created by the Commonwealth Parliament.

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