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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1069

Mr LLOYD(8.29) —One thing is obvious regarding the Senate's amendments; that is, the Government does not have the numbers in the Senate. Therefore, one of two things has to happen. The Government can agree to what I believe are correct amendments that the Opposition proposes to provide a completely independent complaints procedure; that is, a complaints procedure for which the personnel are appointed from outside the ABC, outside the influence of the ABC and answerable to the people of Australia rather than to the ABC. I believe this is the correct path to follow. It follows the path of the United Kingdom and the complaints procedure that is adopted there so that justice appears to be done as well as being done. I cannot understand why the Government did not accept and include that procedure in this Australian Broadcasting Corporation Bill. I believe that in the long run it will regret it. The ABC certainly regrets it because it is very much aware that it must be answerable to the people of Australia, not just to the government of the day when the legislation is passed.

The Government did not accept the only arrangement for complaints against the ABC that will stand the test of time; it accepted a deal with the Australian Democrats. The Democrats are in a curious position. One could possibly say that they are always in a curious position. When we introduced the legislation to create an independent Australian Broadcasting Corporation last year the Democrats were the strongest supporters and pushers for an independent complaints procedure. That was a matter of high and holy principle to them. Now, by a remarkable about-face, the Democrats have come back to accepting community affairs officers. In spite of the minor amendments that the Government has accepted from the Democrats, basically those community affairs officers belong to and are part of the ABC because the advisory councils in each State are part of the greater ABC network.

What have the Democrats got in return and what has the Government got in return from this deal? First of all, the Government will have the passage of this legislation virtually unchanged. That, from the Government's point of view, is a highly desirable position. The Democrats have some short term recognition because they have stated that they believe there should be some sort of parliamentary seal of approval for the new Board of Directors for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. So the Government has offered them a committee comprising three Government members including the Minister for Communications as Chairman, with the casting vote-two Opposition members and one Democrat.

That committee will not actually appoint the Board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It will look at a short list provided by the Minister. I and others would like the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) to tell us tonight what he is able to do about the procedures for this committee-when it is likely to meet, what deadlines there will be, et cetera. There is a fairly short time scale for the appointment of the new Board. It is important for those who will be on the committee that they have some idea as quickly as possible of when the committee is likely to meet so that the necessary arrangements can be made. The committee will look at a short list provided by the Minister-not provided by everybody who may have an interest in the subject-and the Government will have the majority on the committee. So the Democrats have gained their short term recognition without any real power to influence events or appointments.

The amendment proposed is very superficial because it does not really change anything to any degree. The fundamental issue is whether we will have an independent procedure or one within the ABC. If one looks back at the performance of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) of this country and the attack he has made on the ABC-one of the far-reaching attacks that he has made in the last two weeks, with comments about putting people into countries as part of multinational defence forces among other things-that shows more than ever the need for an independent situation.

Mr Steele Hall —Protection from the political process.

Mr LLOYD —That is right, and I think it is more obvious than ever from the way we have seen the Deputy Prime Minister of this country carry on inside and outside this House in the last two weeks. I acknowledge that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) has accepted the invitation from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) for two members of the Opposition to be on that committee. I will be one of those members and Senator Peter Baume will be the other. Hence, in order to make our arrangements it is important for all of us to know as quickly as possible details of meetings, et cetera and what the rules and possibilities will be. The Government has now made the decision to have some sort of informal parliamentary checking system or affirming system for appointments to the Board of the new Corporation. Within the next month four of the seven members of the Special Broadcasting Service Commission will lose their appointments; their time will expire. Thus, within the next month-I would like the Minister to listen to this--

Mr Dawkins —You are bunging it on a bit, Bruce, aren't you?

Mr LLOYD —I am just asking for the Minister's attention, which I know he is prepared to give if the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) will leave him alone.

Mr Dawkins —He is very clever. He can do more than two things at once.

Mr LLOYD —This Government has shown so far that it cannot do half a thing at once. Let us concentrate on one thing at once for a change. That is not being critical of the Minister for Communications but it is a fair comment about the Minister for Finance at present. I am putting to the Minister that, at the same time that the Government is changing the membership of those who control the ABC with a completely new Corporation, four of the seven members of the Special Broadcasting Service Commission-they are in a similar situation; the controlling majority of the Special Broadcasting Service-will lose their positions because their time will expire. Therefore, I ask the Minister to extend the reference of this committee to include also the Special Broadcasting Service appointments. The Government has said that it is sincere, that it has chosen a particular road and that it has not just given in to some deal with the Democrats. It says that it is sincere in believing that there should be some sort of parliamentary committee to confirm the membership of this Corporation. If the Government is sincere, genuine and legitimate it should extend the powers and the reference of that committee to include the appointments to the Special Broadcasting Service. The Opposition does not oppose this amendment.