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Thursday, 26 November 1959

Mr DAVIDSON (Dawson) (PostmasterGeneral) . - I have been listening with interest to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) to try to find a real basis for the Opposition's action in attempting to disallow these regulations. I must confess that it has been difficult indeed to find any real basis for it because on several occasions during his speech the honorable member has, in effect, proved that the action that has been taken under these regulations has been justified. He seems to be concerned only with what he describes as a justifiable fear by the men employed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission of possible future victimization - some vague fear that there may be victimization under these amended regulations. I shall show that there is no justification for these fears. The amended regulations, as they stand, simply bring the old regulations which, frankly, were out of date, into accord with present-day practice and the increased development and responsibilities of the commission.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that he approved the principal feature of the amendments, that is to say, the delegation to other officials of much of the authority, which until now has been exercised by the general manager alone. If that were the only object of the regulation, apparently the honorable member would have nothing of which to complain. I can assure him that not only is it the only objective of the proposal, but also that it is the result which will be achieved. The possibility of victimization, which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition professes to see, does not reside in the proposed amendments.

He has requested, first, some explanation of the commission's reason for making these amendments, and secondly, an undertaking on some of the matters which he has mentioned. The strange feature about the Opposition's move is that on 26th October, only a few weeks ago, the Opposition's press, radio and television committee had a conference with the Australian Broadcasting Commission which, I understand, lasted for a couple of hours. In a round-table discussion with members of the commission, including the chairman, Sir Richard Boyer, a great many features of the commission's work were discussed in a very frank and friendly manner. I understand that the discussion covered such matters as the news service provided by the A.B.C., the suggestion that the A.B.C. should publish a newspaper - a suggestion, incidentally, which was advanced not by the A.B.C. but by the committee - the further development of Radio Australia, and the possibility of the production of news films. Strangely enough, the Opposition committee made no reference to the regulations, of which it was then fully aware, at a time when it could have obtained whatever information it desired about the commission's intentions.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That was not the function of the committee at all. When facilities are given to such committees, the Minister should not twist-

Mr DAVIDSON - I am not twisting anything. I am pointing out that this committee which, no doubt, reports to the Labour caucus, was having a discussion with members of the commission, but failed to take advantage of that splendid opportunity o discuss this particular matter, and so place itself in possession of the full facts. If the committee had done so, its members would have been completely satisfied about he reasons for the commission's action.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is dangerous to have talks with the commission if they are to be twisted in this way.

Mr DAVIDSON - I am not twisting anything. I am merely making the statement that the committee had an opportunity to discuss this matter with members of the commission.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Mr DAVIDSON - Mr. Speaker,I want, now, to deal quite briefly with the reasons and the justification for the amendments of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (Staff) Regulations. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said this morning that I had apparently failed to appreciate the effect of the amendments on the whole structure of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I challenge that statement. These amended regulations were submitted to me for my approval, and I took the trouble to inquire into them fairly thoroughly. I am perfectly satisfied that they are justified, and that, indeed, they are essential to the effective working of the commission.

Let us realize, Mr. Speaker, that the existing regulations were promulgated in 1947 - twelve years ago. Since then, there has been a very large expansion in the duties, responsibilities and staff of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. For example, at 31st October, 1947, the staff numbered 1,130. At 9th October last, it was 2,401. It has more than doubled. At 31st October, 1947, the commission controlled 41 broadcasting stations. It now administers 70 radio stations and three television stations. So, it will be obvious, without my going into details of expansion of other kinds, that there ought to be a considerable expansion in staff to cope with the increased duties and responsibilities.

The present regulations, which, as I have indicated, were promulgated in 1947, were based on the then existing structure. No provision was made for any expanded duties or responsibilities, and, consequently, they were quite inflexible. Constant amendment would have been necessary in order to keep them up to date with development. As the services provided by the A.B.C. have expanded, it has become essential to do something about these regulations. Care has been taken, in altering them, to ensure that far greater flexibility is provided than existed previously. That is why the amended regulations are in more general terms, and not in such definite terms as before.

Because of the development of the commission's activities, it applied itself in 1957 to the problem of amending the regulations. However, the general manager was then due to go overseas, and the commission decided that it would be preferable to wait until his return before finalizing the proposed amendments of these regulations in order to allow him, while overseas for some time, to have a look at the arrangements in various other countries so that he could give the commission the benefit of the information so gained. As a result, a final decision regarding the amendments to the regulations was not made until early this year.

An interesting point relating to the need for the alteration of the regulations, Sir, is that, during the hearing of claims by the Australian Broadcasting Commission Senior Officers Association in 1958, the Assistant Public Service Arbitrator directed the commission's attention to the fact that the allocation of duties and responsibilities as between certain officers which had been accepted for several years was at the time inconsistent with the then existing provisions of the staff regulations. That pronouncement by the Assistant Arbitrator shows that action had to be taken to bring the regulations into conformity with present-day practice.

Under the previous structure, which had really been outgrown, the General Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission had, for many years, only one immediate assistant - the Assistant General Manager. With the growth of the commission's activities, an increasing number of departmental and section heads have been working directly under the General Manager's office, the number at present being fourteen. That does not include the State managers. So it will be seen that the direct responsibility for all these developing departments and branches was concentrating more and more in the hands of one person - the General Manager - and, obviously, he was becoming over-worked. Not only that, but also he was getting into a position in which he had more and more direct control over all the officers, the organization and the work. The amendments to the regulations, instead of increasing his authority, as has been suggested, have the effect of breaking down his authority by bringing about decentralization and the delegation of powers.

In order to cope with the situation, Sir, the commission has decided, in brief, that it will follow the practice which is adopted in all large organizations, whether in the Public Service field or in private enterprise - the practice of having a chief executive officer with, under him, shall I say, a line of senior assistants each of whom is responsible for a particular activity or group of activities in the general scheme of things. Each assistant has definite responsibilities, and definite authority is delegated to him. He is, of course, responsible to the chief executive - in this instance, the General Manager - for the operation of his particular department, division or section, but the General Manager is not concerned with all the day-to-day details of these activities.

Mr Duthie - Did the Minister suggest all this to the commission, or did it decide on it for itself?

Mr DAVIDSON - The commission is completely empowered, under the Broadcasting and Television Act, to do all these things. It is a statutory body and it has authority to take all the measures that it has put into effect by means of the amended regulations. So there is no question as to whether I drafted them. I certainly did not, because it is not my function to do so. But I did approve them when they had been drafted.

I should like to point out that, under the amendments to the regulations, there is, in my opinion, some limitation of the powers of the commission which is not evident in the act itself. Let us have a quick look at the actual amendments. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition dealt with them earlier. Regulation 5, in its original form, provided -

(1)   In these Regulations, unless the contrary intention appears: " Branch Manager " means a manager of a branch of the Commission; "Controller of a Division" means the officer in charge of the Programme Division or the Administrative Division of the Commission, or the officer in charge of any other Division of the Commission; " Director of a Department " means the officer in charge of any of the following Departments of the Commission: - . . .

The regulation then goes on to specify certain definite departments and provides for the bringing in of other departments, in these terms - and, if the Commission so determines, the officer in charge of any other Department of the Commission; . . .

The amended regulation simply states - (1.) In these Regulations, unless the contrary intention appears: " Branch Manager " means a manager of a branch of the Commission; . . .

That is plain enough. It does not put into the hands of the General Manager any more power than he previously had, but it allows a flexibility in this matter which is necessary.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition complained that it was not necessary to go so far as to remove the definition of " Controller of a Division " which appeared in the original regulation, because the original definition contained the words " or the officer in charge of any other Division of the Commission ". The honorable member said that the necessary authority was given in those words, and he asked why we needed to vary the regulation. I direct his attention to the fact that that provision is overborne, shall I say, by regulation 20, which, as will no doubt have been noted, provides -

The service of the Commission shall consist of four Divisions as follows:

Then the four divisions are specified. They are the only four divisions which are, in strict terms, legal under these regulations.

The commission, as a result of the extension of its activities, particularly into television, has had to develop other divisions, particularly an engineering division. Officers have been appointed in that division for which no provision exists in the present regulations. Then there is another amendment to the original regulation 5 which reads, at present - "Senior officer" means -

(a)   Assistant General Manager;

(b)   Controller of a Division;

(c)   Branch Manager;

(d)   Director of a Department; any other officer determined by the Commission to be a senior officer for the purposes of these regulations.

The amended regulation simply says - " Senior officer " means any officer determined by the Commission to be a senior officer for the purpose of these Regulations;

I ask honorable members to note that these words are similar to the concluding words of the original regulation. It is a much simpler provision, although the power is not limited.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It takes away the statutory protection from those four or five main officers.

Mr DAVIDSON - No. How can it? lt embraces any officer deemed by the commission to be a senior officer. From time to time the commission specifies in a list those who constitute senior officers.

The Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) has reminded me of a point which I was going to make later on. Several times the Deputy l eader of the Opposition said that the staff association had not been consulted. These regulations apply to the senior officers of the organization. The staff association is an organization of those below the level of senior officer. They are not directly affected by these regulations. It may be argued, of course, that, later on, when they get promotion, they will come within the scope of these regulations. But at present they do not. In addition to the staff organization to which the honorable member referred there is an Australian Broadcasting Commission senior officers association which was consulted before these regulations were promulgated. The amendments were discussed by the General Manager with the executive of that association before being put into effect and were accepted by the executive without reservation. I have seen that statement in the transcript of the proceedings before the Arbitrator who heard the case. It was stated before him that the senior officers' organization had been consulted.

I know where all the information which honorable members opposite are putting up has come from. We all know its origin. I want to point out that there are other aspects of this matter which have not been properly discussed.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about regulation 10?

Mr DAVIDSON - Regulation 10, as it stands, provides -

(1)   A Branch Manager shall be responsible to the General Manager for the proper and efficient working of his Branch.

(2)   A Controller of a Division of the Commission shall be responsible to the General Manager for the proper supervision of his Division.

(3)   A Director of a Department of the Commission shall be responsible to the appropriate Controller of a Division for the proper supervision of his Department.

We say, in the amended regulation -

A senior officer shall perform such duties and have such responsibilities as the General Manager determines.

In other words, there has been no real change in the position except that instead of specifying that a branch manager, controller of a division and a director of a department shall be responsible for the proper supervision of a branch, division or department respectively, that provision has been included in the one sentence. It is much simpler.

It has been said that the re-organization will affect the position of Mr. Finlay, the Assistant General Manager, and that he has been pushed to one side. I think that I would not mind very much being pushed to one side for a salary of £4,450 which is about £1,000 higher than that of those who are supposed to be displacing him.

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