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Monday, 24 May 1965


Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) .- The Senate is now dealing with a Bill to amend the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942-1964. One of the reasons for this amending Bill is that some of the provisions in the original Act have been found to be unworkable, particularly the provision that the Government made in relation to the control of ownership of television stations. I have listened with interest to the very fine speech in relation to this matter made by Senator McClelland. The honorable senator certainly had some sound facts on which to base his arguments. But I cannot agree with his contention that the report of the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television has had no effect up to date.

I do not know from the amendment moved by Senator McClelland just what he seeks to bring forward. Everything that is suggested in the amendment put forward by the honorable senator is already known and is reflected in the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board for 1963-64.


Senator Wright - Is the honorable senator attributing futility to all select committees just because the Government ignores their reports?


Senator WEBSTER - No. The amendment moved is -

That the fallowing words be added to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time - " but the Senate is of opinion that a Senate Select Committee should be appointed to inquire into and report upon shareholding, networks and control of Companies holding and operating Broadcasting and Television licences.".

If Senator Wright likes, I will read the provisions governing those matters to him. It will save him the time. Those provisions are already printed in the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942-1964. An amendment along the lines of deciding what should be done in the event of discovering that there were already monopolistic controls in the industry might be of some benefit.

If we look at the original Act, we could imagine that the provisions contained in it had sufficient strength not to warrant the introduction of the amendments with which we are. now dealing. This Bill would not be necessary. The actual difference between this Bill and the Act which is being amended is that the word " control " was used in most instances in the original Act seeking a means whereby licences should come under some control. The definition of " control " is found in section 91 (2.) of the original Act, which reads -

In this division, " control " includes control as a result of, or by means of, trust, agreement, arrangements, understanding and practices, whether or not having legal or equitable force and whether or not based on legal or equitable rights.

Section 92 of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942-1964 provides - (1.) A person shall not be in a position to exercise control, either directly or indirectly, of -

(a)   licences in respect of more than one commercial television station within a Territory or more than one commercial television station within a radius of 30 miles from the General Post Office in the capital city of a State; or

(b)   more than two licences in respect of commercial television stations in Australia.

Penalty: One thousand pounds, and One hundred pounds for every day on which the offence continues.

One would have thought that there was sufficient material in that section to indicate the will of the Government. I agree that the pity in relation to what has happened is the weakness of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board which has not sought satisfaction, prior to the granting of a licence to a telveision company, as to who would have ownership of that particular company.

The amending Bill seeks to go about this matter in a different way. In clause 7 we find that proposed section 91 (2.) provides -

For the purposes of this Division, a person has a prescribed interest in a licence if he is - (a) the holder of the licence;

(b)   in a position to exercise control, either directly or indirectly, of the licence;

(c)   in a position to exercise control of more than five per centum of the maximum number of votes that could be cast on a poll at, or arising out of, a general meeting of the company holding the licence . . .

(d)   the holder of interests in the company holding the licence exceeding in amount five per centum of the total of the amounts of all the interests in that company that would exist if sections ninety-one A and ninety-one B of this Act had not been enacted -

Proposed sections 91a and 91b relate to an interpretation of this Division -

(e)   the holder of shareholding interests in the company holding the licence exceeding in amount five per centum of the total of the amounts paid on all shares in that company.

Paragraph (e) covers the situation which provided a means whereby the original intentions of this Act were overcome by television companies. That is to say, companies intending to keep within the limits of the original Act altered their Articles of Association so that they would keep within the prescribed ownership defined. So, proposed section 91 (2.) (e) is probably as important as any other proposed section because it defines what is a " prescribed interest ".

In clause 7 we also find proposed new section 92 which prescribes - (1.) Subject to this section, a person contravenes this section if, and so long as, he has a prescribed interest in -

(a)   each of three or more licences;

(b)   each of two or more licences for stations in a Territory; or

(c)   each of two or more licences for stations in a State and within a radius of thirty miles of the General Post Office of the capital city of the State.

In short, here we have an alteration of what was intended by " control " of a television station. This provides now that a person having a prescribed interest and who contravenes this provision is not entitled to obtain a licence.

I congratulate the Government and, indeed, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme), for bringing these amendments before the Parliament. A determined effort is undoubtedly being made through these amendments to improve the Act and to strengthen the original proposals of the Government in relation to the ownership of television stations. This Bill has a number of provisions which I will mention in a moment. But in relation to the position of ownership, I think it is to be regretted that in the second reading speech by the PostmasterGeneral in another place it was stated that the provisions of this Bill would not apply to any agreements or arrangements that were made prior to 17th December 1964. I do not for the life of me think that it is sound to say that this action would upset a great number of shareholders. Indeed, the suggestion was that it would throw the share market almost into chaos because of the volume of shares that would be put to the market. The individuals who are likely to be holding the shares undoubtedly will hold many of them. But the value of the shares now is probably so high above their nominal value that the sale price they would command on the share market would not be detrimental to the interests of the shareholders. Indeed, I do not doubt that the public would be most anxious to obtain a shareholding in companies which, in some instances, are paying up to 40 per cent, by way of dividend.

Again, I draw the attention of the Senate to a comment of the Postmaster-General in another place when he said -

However, it a person or company who has acquired excess interests prior to 17th December 1964 subsequently divests himself or itself of such interests, he or it will not thereafter be entitled to recapture those excess holdings, although he or it will be able to participate in any new issue of shares which may be made.

I believe that this is a wise provision because it provides that if a shareholder in a company sells his shareholding - and that share holding had been acquired prior to 17th December 1964 - that shareholder is not entitled to participate in any new issues of shares which may be made. The Minister said that he will be able to participate in any new issues of shares which may be made.

Debate interrupted.







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