Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 26 November 1959

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I preface my remarks by saying that, in relation to the amount of money expended and the size of the staff employed, the Australian Broadcasting Commission is largely ineffective in this community. In terms of its impact upon the public, the Australian Broadcasting Commission simply does not fulfil the function for which it was established. Embittered by their failures to capture a reasonable share of public attention, far too many Australian Broadcasting Commission executives have retired into their cultural ivory towers and are sheltering there without going out and doing the job of making the national broadcasting service the effective instrument that it ought to be. I should like to make it plain that no personal reference is intended to the General Manager, Mr. Moses, nor to any other member, personally, of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I admire the very high qualities possessed by Mr. Moses although I differ very considerably from him on some of the administrative methods which he has adopted. But I have a very strong impression, built up over some years, that fear is a very potent factor in the administration of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, in a way which does not exist in the Public Service or in any other Commonwealth instrumentality.

Mr Osborne - That is a reflection on the commission.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a reflection certainly. It is a serious reflection on every one who allows such a condition to exist. If you care to associate with senior officers of the Australian Broadcasting Commission I suggest that you will not be left long in doubt that fear does affect the administration, almost to the extent of paralysing many of its activities.

Mr Roberton - You cannot praise them and blame them.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not praising them and blaming them; I am blaming them, but I am saying that I am not making a personal reflection on any individual official.

Mr Osborne - There must be somebody who makes them afraid.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. It is a serious error in the performance of his administrative duty. But there is no personal reflection.

Mr Osborne - Who is he?

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It applies to the commission - to the General Manager and to all those top-level administrators of the Australian Broadcasting Commission who allow this condition to go on. Senior officers are in a state of constant apprehension that the ground will be cut from under their feet. They never know, when they take a stand on any issue for the purpose of performing their duty for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, at what point support will be completely withdrawn from them. I do not know whether that has been the experience of the honorable member for Gwydir, but it has been the experience of many of those who were formerly his colleagues on the Australian Broadcasting Commission's staff. We have had experience of this in this Parliament. The staff of the Australian Broadcasting Commission cannot depend on the administrative heads of the commission for support in any stand that they take as officers of the commission. They do not know when they will be left high and dry or out on a limb. I notice the honorable member for Gwydir nods his head in apparent approval of what I am saying. As a result of the state of affairs to which I have referred, members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission's staff have learnt from experience that it is unwise for them to exercise their individual judgment. They have learnt that it is not wise to display initiative; that it is wiser to do nothing wherever possible and to pass the buck in every conceivable instance on to some other officer or some other department of the commission. That atmosphere, which has existed in the A.B.C. for a long time now, is entirely injurious to the service which the commission ought to be rendering to the public. It produces discouragement and cynicism in the commission's staff and, in fact, it means that while the A.B.C. is, of course, producing some magnificent programmes, as we will all agree, on the whole it is unimaginative and cautious in the extreme and has created a position in which only a very small minority of listeners and viewers in Australia tune in to its programmes.

Mr Cope - That cannot be refuted.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so, and I am very sorry that it cannot be refuted. I think it is a national disaster.

Mr Osborne - Have these regulations anything to do with that?

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am going to show that these regulations will greatly increase the effects of which I am speaking. It is a disaster, because it is clear to those who are familiar with commercial radio and commercial television, that the national interest requires that a large percentage - I would say at least 50 per cent. - of the radio and television audiences should be taking the national service at all times. But, in fact, only about 15 per cent, appears to be the present figure.

Mr Bury - It is a very important 15 per cent.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a very important 15 per cent. Of course, any minority is important, but in a democracy the majority also is very important. It is this attitude of getting back into your ivory tower and saying, " We are catering for a very small but important minority " which is destroying the effectiveness of the A.B.C. in broadcasting television and radio programmes to-day.

This state of affairs will be intensified if the amending regulations now under review are not disallowed. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, the amendments to these regulations remove the statutory protection at present provided for the staff, as laid down in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Broadcasting and as approved by this Parliament. The standing committee, in its seventh report, provided that statutory protection for members of the staff. Parliament endorsed and adopted that report and this amendment of these regulations, if not disallowed by Parliament, will take that statutory protection away entirely.

Mr Bland - The seventh report repealed what had been provided before.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I agree with the substance of what the honorable member says. I would not consider it an exaggeration to say that with the adoption of these amendments there could develop a virtual reign of terror inside the A.B.C. I will substantiate what I say by an examination of these regulations. A state of affairs could develop in which any man who dared to stand up for his rights could find that, overnight, despite any ruling given in his favour by an arbitrator, his status and his position in the organization of the A.B.C. could be drastically reduced or completely destroyed at the whim or decision of the general manager, thus completely destroying the benefit of any arbitration decision that he had dared to seek and obtain in his own favour.

The Minister has said that the delegation of authority is the only object of the amendment and that it will have that effect.

He added that the fear that victimization could result is entirely baseless. How could the Minister say that if he really has an understanding of what is involved in these regulations? The Minister has dealt first of all with regulation 5. As pointed out by the staff association, there is no need whatever to amend the regulations to add various additional controllers because they already provide for " any other officer in charge of any other division" to be designated a controller. The Minister has answered that by saying that regulation 20 restricts the number of divisions to four. Would not the simple thing to do have been to alter regulation 20 if there were not some other purpose involved?

Mr Davidson - It would have been much simpler. !ยป.1r. ALLAN FRASER- Yes. This proposal takes away from these people the statutory protection they have. That would not have been done if the Minister had simply adopted the obvious course of amending regulation 20. Where it refers to -'Sectors of departments it specifies directors for seven programme departments and provides that any other officer in charge of any other department shall be designated ps a director. So, again I say, there is therefore no need to amend that definition unless there is some other purpose in amending these regulations.

The commission has power to add any number of directors if they are directors of any other department of the commission, in the correct sense of that term. We are dealing with senior officers, and the Minister has pointed out that senior officers are specified as assistant general manager, controller of a division, a branch manager, a director of a department and any other officer determined by the commission to be a senior officer for the purpose of these regulations. The amendment strikes out these particular specified officers and specifies - " Senior officer " means - Any officer determined by the commission to be a senior officer for the purposes of these regulations.

The Minister says that that should, in no way, be feared; it does no harm to any existing officer of the commission. I point out that it does. The Minister simply seems to be unable to recognize this point. It withdraws from the assistant general manager, a controller of a division, a branch manager and a director of a department the particular statutory protection which an earlier parliament wisely considered it was necessary for them to have. This is now taken away from them completely. Secondly, the Minister says that this is not the affair of the staff association; it concerns only senior officers, and the senior officers' association has been consulted and has agreed to the amendments.

I will make two comments. First, we can imagine the type of conference which took place between the senior officers and the top brass of the A.B.C. Which senior officer would have dared, knowing the set-up which exists in the commission, to stand up and express his opposition to the amendment which the general manager had expressed himself to favour? Secondly, it is suggested that members of the staff association are not senior officers. The whole point is that from now on, a " senior officer " simply means not a holder of a particular position but any officer whom the commission, for its own purpose, determines to be a senior officer; and therefore the designation could apply to many members of the staff association.

Mr Ward - The determination need not be made even by the commission; it would be made by the general manager.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I accept that correction. Any one whom the general manager determines is a senior officer, from that moment is a senior officer until the general manager, at his whim or his will, decides he is not a senior officer any more. Of course, the staff association ought to be concerned about that. Anybody who is concerned with industrial organizations or with the rights of employees in this country ought to be concerned about a position like that being allowed to develop in a most important government instrumentality.

But let us turn to regulation 10 to which I directed the attention of the Minister while he was speaking. I feel that the PostmasterGeneral and the Minister for Air who is also at the table, will agree that the effect of this is that in future, duties and responsibilities may be varied at the whim or will of the general manager, acting on his own whim or on such advice as he is prepared to take. From now on, not one member of the staff association of the A.B.C, high or low, can feel safe in the performance of his duties. With or without reasons being supplied to him, he knows that overnight, at a moment's notice, the whole of his duties and responsibilities, his position and his appointment can be changed by the general manager.

Mr Ward - That would affect his status as a senior officer.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would affect his status completely. That is why I say the acceptance of these amendments by the Parliament could establish virtually a reign of terror in the A.B.C. Who, except a man who completely disregards his own interests and the interests of his family, will dare to be active in the affairs of the staff association, or active in the promotion of the industrial rights of the officers of the A.B.C, knowing that whatever the arbitration tribunal may decide the general manager has the power completely to cut the ground from under his feet by changing overnight, and completely, the duties and responsibilities that the officer has to undertake?

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has already pointed out that the General Manager's advocacy in the recent senior officers case was seriously discredited by the Public Service Arbitrator in his determination.

Mr Osborne - That has nothing to do with it.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It has quite a lot to do with it. The Minister may say it has nothing to do with it, but the adoption of these intimidatory tactics - because that is what they were - by Australian Broadcasting Commission executives in the hearing of this case is an example to every member of the A.B.C. staff who may dare in future to stand up for his industrial rights or those of his colleagues. In particular, this form of intimidation can now be practised without limit, because of the power to be conferred on the General Manager to vary, at a moment's notice, the position, the duties and the responsibilities of any one at all in the employment of the commission. I suggest that it requires little imagination to see how hopeless the position of the staff could be under these amended regulations, as has already been shown by the fact that the statutory conferences are largely abortive. Arbitration has had to be undertaken at considerable financial cost, and those who take part in it are subject to the personal attack of the General Manager and the senior officers of the A.B.C. The General Manager is able from now onwards to take the position of saying to an employee, " You had better take what I think you are worth in the job to which I appoint you, because if you choose to go over my head to arbitration I can completely defeat the effects of that arbitration by altering your duties and responsibilities immediately the arbitration decision has been given ".

Regulation 10, as it is now to be amended, sets out that the duties and responsibilities of senior officers in their positions shall be in accordance with instructions issued by the General Manager from time to time. That will have one other effect - that of creating continual chaos in this very unhappy organization, the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It will destroy almost every remaining settled line of authority in the service which was established by statute, and replace it with what you could call a catch-as-catch-can arrangement, under which no one will really know from day to day where he stands as between one decision of the General Manager or the commission and the next decision of the General Manager or the commission. It was Parliament that established the relationship and the responsibilities of senior officers as between one and the other, and it would be most unfortunate now if Parliament itself destroyed the relationshipwhich it created or endorsed. I suggest to the House that the effect of the amendment now before us will certainly be to destroy that relationship.

Before I close I want to refer to two letters. The Minister will remember that he suggested that a committee of the Parliamentary Labour Party which recently interviewed the commission could have taken up this matter with the commissionand received a satisfactory answer from it at the time. I suggest that the Minister has dug a hole into which he has himself fallen, because I intend to quote, as a complete answer to his suggestion, from twoletters, one written by the Minister himself and the other by Sir Richard Boyer,. chairman of the commission, agreeing to meet that party committee. The Minister's letter refers to a proposed discussion between the committee and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. He states in the letter that he would give his permission on the understanding that the chairman would avoid expressing any opinions or views to the committee or disclosing any information which is confidential on matters relating to the business or other private affairs of the broadcasting and television services. Sir Richard Boyer, as chairman of the commission, in writing to Mr. Stewart, who had written to him on behalf of the committee, said, " I feel sure- "

Suggest corrections