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Wednesday, 7 September 1983
Page: 524


Mr SAUNDERSON(7.20) —It is quite interesting to rise to speak to the Broadcasting Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill 1983 and the Television Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill 1983 after having heard the two speeches from the Opposition benches. We have been accused of being perhaps sneaky and coming in round the back door. It seems surprising that those terms have been used when, as the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) pointed out in his opening address when he moved the second reading of the Bill, quite clearly it was the intention to raise the level of contribution of broadcasting and television stations to overall Commonwealth revenues. That was our intention. We made that clear from the beginning. As we clearly pointed out, it was a very modest increase in terms of asking those who can afford to pay to help to contribute to the resolution of the economic mess in which the Opposition had left us. The increase is only about 5 per cent, and it applies only to those stations that earn in excess of $9m in their gross earnings.

We are talking about one radio station out of about 134. If one asked the other 133 stations whether they would like to be in a situation in which they were earning in excess of $9m a year, I am sure that one would find that they would like that and would not mind having to pay the tax if they were earning that much. The same applies to television stations. The honourable member for O' Connor (Mr Tucker) mentioned that we are applying the provisions to only 16 stations and that soon it would be 40. If one could identify those other 24 stations and let them know, I am sure that they would be extremely happy to know that they will be earning in excess of $9m and could be involved in paying this tax.

Let us look at the situation. What are we talking about? Members of the previous Government seem to be indicating that we are putting on these stations some great impost. They are asking why are we imposing this tax. They did nothing when it was at 5 per cent, in terms of radio stations, and we have simply raised it to 5 1/2 per cent. They did nothing when it was 7 1/2 per cent for television stations. Even under the previous Government it applied to gross earnings, but they are not too concerned about that. We have simply raised it by 0.5 per cent to 8 per cent. They are talking about the great impost in terms of cost. For radio stations, we are simply talking about the impact of the 0.5 per cent, which is only $40,000. It is very little. For the television stations it is just under $2.4m, out of a total raising of $10.9m.

All of these increases fall within the concepts that the Government has spelt out clearly. We have been faced with an enormous economic mess. We went through the National Economic Summit Conference, at which were represented all the various levels of the community. What was the decision made at that Summit? Was it: 'Yes, some people will have to help to share the burden of bringing about Australia's recovery'? It has already been carried out by the trade union movement. The trade union movement has been through some loss of income, due to having no salary increases over the previous 12 months; but that has not applied to the industries in which very large profits have been made. However, the trade union movement has accepted that. The employer groups attended the Summit. Other representatives from the media and the community were all saying: 'Yes, we should all share the burden'. What do we find when we apply a very small impost on one of those areas which can well afford to pay? We find a bleating from the Opposition, a crying about how we shall send the stations broke and drive out industry. Members of the Opposition claim that we have not examined the matter to see whether these people can afford to pay.

What was the profit increase between the financial years 1980-81 and 1981-82 just for radio stations? Their annual gross earnings increased by 17.8 per cent over that period. Licence fees rose by only 16 per cent. But what were the declared profits of those radio companies? With an increase in annual gross earnings of only 17.8 per cent, what was the profit? It was an increase of 75 per cent over 12 months. Are members of the Opposition saying that these are the companies that cannot afford to pay this increase? It has certainly not applied to salary earners and wage earners. They were the people that the Opposition was saying could afford to carry the burden and pay the cost. They were the people who were carrying the effects of the previous Government's economic decisions. We are saying that there are plenty of people in the community, and the radio and television people are some of those, who have been making good profits. They are in the communications industry, which is one of the developing industries in which there are large profts to be made. There is no reason to suggest that they should simply miss out on carrying some of the extra burden which all of us are now carrying because of the economic disaster that was left to us by the mismanagement of the previous Government.

It is interesting that the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) said that we had not looked at the question of ability to pay. He then criticised us because we have placed an additional cost of $100m to Telecom Australia, which he admitted was perhaps the most profitable and most efficient public enterprise. So, there we are. When we find an organisation that has the ability to pay and we ask it to pay a bit extra, the Opposition criticises us. It is the same here concerning the radio and television companies in private enterprise. They can afford to pay. As soon as we ask them to pay a bit, members of the Opposition want to get into us to persuade us not to. Who does the honourable member for O' Connor suggest ought to pay? He is going crook at the trade union movement.


Mr Milton —He always does.


Mr SAUNDERSON —That is right. He was telling us how the Telecom unions are so bad.


Mr Milton —They want to stop the satellite.


Mr SAUNDERSON —That is right. The honourable member for O'Connor talks about how the unions control all the power that they have, how they have this industrial dispute, and their strength. What we should really look at is what brought about those disputes. It was the previous Government. Because the previous Government was opposed to the trade union movement, it was not prepared to listen to reason , so it caused disputes that were much worse than they would otherwise have been . But eventually those disputes were resolved. They were resolved because the previous Government was removed from the scene. Those disputes were settled through arbitration. If people wish to chase up the records they will find that on the issues that the Telecom trade unions were taking up, the unions were vindicated in every case, and the previous Government was shown to be totally incorrect in its attitude and stance. The Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the other forums in which the disputes were resolved vindicated the trade unions and clearly showed that they had just cause.

It is good to see that the Opposition has realised the error of its ways. It has become very concerned about Telecom. Both Opposition speakers this evening have told us about this $100m impost that we have put on Telecom, this additional tax. They seem to forget that it was their Government, not so long ago, that applied exactly the same charge-$100m. It was all right for that Government, but for us it is wrong. What else does the Opposition say about Telecom? Members opposite think that it is a wonderful organisation. The honourable member for O'Connor was saying how vital it is for the area in which he lives and how the people look to it. But what did his Government do? It had the Davidson inquiry, the Public Inquiry into Telecommunications Services in Australia. The previous Government was going to carve up Telecom. It was going to sell off profitable parts to its private industry mates, who are now bleating about having to pay a little extra for their television and radio licences. What was Davidson recommending for the country people that the honourable member for O'Connor claims to represent? He was recommending that their fees should rise by nine times the current charge-$1,800. That is how he was looking after the country people. That was the previous Governent's attitude towards Telecom.

We heard concern about Australia Post. We had the Bradley inquiry, the Committee of Inquiry into the Monopoly Position of the Australian Postal Commission. What was the previous Government going to do with Australian Post? It was going to carve that up, too. Now we hear the bleating of the Opposition and how it is really concerned about this wonderful public enterprise and how it was really going to look after it.

Debate interrupted.