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Thursday, 6 October 1983
Page: 1472

Mr LLOYD(4.45) —The area of responsibility of the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) is suffering at present from a rash of strikes. I refer to the Canberra mail strike, now several weeks old; the Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalists' strike-there has been a series of rolling strikes in sectors of the ABC recently; and the Overseas Telecommunications Commission restrictions that have resulted in a backlog of overseas communications. In drawing the Minister's attention to these strikes I am not criticising him. But I draw his attention to the fact that some of the problems to which these strikes give rise relate not only to interfering with the public and their right to continuous access to mail, ABC news, or overseas communications, but also to the question of Government policy in relation to strikes in statutory authorities, those organisations sometimes referred to as quangos.

With regard to the ABC strike, the Minister said yesterday, in reply to a question from me, that he had made no contact with the ABC, nor had the ABC management made any contact with him in relation to the journalists' strike and the question of the ABC assisting a journalist in his litigation against the Premier of New South Wales. With regard to the Canberra mail strike, an article in the Canberra Times this morning states that the Government has intervened; that there has been contact between the Government and Australia Post on the question of refusing to provide payment to postal workers for those days when they were on strike. The Opposition certainly supports the action of the Government in intervening in the postal strike in Canberra by saying that workers should not receive payment for those days when they are on strike.

Let us compare the attitude of the Government to those strikes with its attitude to the pilots' strike over the last two days. There was publicity about the very active intervention by the Government and threats of government action against the pilots. What was the difference between this strike and the others? Statutory corporations, including Trans Australia Airlines, are involved in all of those strikes. Why such a low key approach to the Canberra mail strike, no contact at all over the ABC strike, but very public and very threatening action over the pilots' strike? Is it perhaps because the pilots are not seen to be supporters of the Australian Labor Party, but it is hoped that some of the ABC people and particularly the Canberra postal workers could be supporters of the ALP? Will two standards of intervention be applied by this Government with regard to strikes affecting the public?

I believe it is impossible for the Government to say that there was a greater threat to the orderly process of government and to people going about their business with the pilots' strike than with the mail strike. The mail strike in Canberra is threatening the nerve centre of government in this country. It has certainly seriously affected the operations of government and of individual members of parliament. All of us are well aware of complaints by people contacting us from our electorates saying: 'What happened to the reply to the letter I sent to you?'. People have not been able to obtain a response from us. We have not been able to receive their mail and carry out our duties as members of parliament. I commend the statements and the action by the Opposition spokesman on the Australian Capital Territory, the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock), with regard to the mail strike.

One has to ask the Minister and the Government: At what stage does an ABC strike rate government intervention? If the Australia Post strike rated intervention, will this be done as a matter of principle or is there a strike period beyond which the Government feels that it has to intervene? I believe that the Government has some very serious questions to answer with regard to its separate policies and separate attitudes to intervention with the ABC, Australia Post, the pilots, et cetera.

The second matter I raise is the concern that all of those associated with Domsat-the domestic satellite-have about the fact that time is rapidly running out for an orderly and planned introduction of the satellite. The first satellite will go aloft in less than two years. As yet the Government has not made any of the decisions which, in turn, will allow Aussat Pty Ltd to make certain business decisions. The first of those decisions, of course, relates to the ownership of Aussat. Unless we have some declaration from the Government in the very near future it will continue to create a lack of confidence in potential users in Domsat. I sincerely hope that the Government sticks to its policy of continuing the policy of the previous Government regarding the present arrangement of basically a public company.

There is also the very important question of the ownership of the uplinks and downlinks for Domsat because unless private ownership is allowed it will seriously interfere with the commercial viability and therefore the use of the satellite. The Australian Associated Press has already indicated its concern on this matter. I refer also to the leasing of the high powered transponders on the second satellite. That Government decision brings with it the question of whether the remote areas of Australia will have access to a second over-the-air free television service to match the ABC service on the first Homestead and Community Broadcasting Service. It also carries with it the questions of leasing the other transponders because until a Government decision is made on the high powered transponders obviously some of the other decisions cannot be made. It also raises the questions of pay television and of supplementary licences for regional television. I hope that the Minister, in his reply, can give a definite and early deadline for answers to all of these questions and thus reassure people.

We are waiting for an answer from the Government on radiated subscription or pay television. I hope that the Government takes account of the experience gained in the United States of America with RSTV. For people to be attracted to pay connection costs and up to $30 per month continuing costs the programming has to be done by entrepreneurs and people with commercial ability who provide entertainment first and foremost rather than perhaps more culturally uplifting. All of those forms of cultural pay television have failed. At the service end, the service franchise company also has to be consumer oriented because maintenance provisions seven days a week are very important.

One can also look for decisions on supplementary licences for commercial radio. I also draw the Minister's attention to a couple of anomalies with the new Countrywide Calling policy. I complement the Minister and Telecom Australia in that the majority of people in remote areas in Australia will benefit. However, there are two anomalies. People who subscribe to country automatic telephone exchanges but who are more than 32 kilometres from the exchange will lose their access to unlimited local calls-the right of every other Australian. People phoning adjacent telephone exchanges will also face increased costs. I ask the Minister, as I believe it is unfair on these people and large amounts of money are not involved, to reconsider this policy so that all Australians have the right to untimed local calls. Finally, I wish again to draw to the Minister's attention the reduction in ABC funding for this year. Contrary to Labor promises of an increase in funding in real terms for the ABC there has been a reduction of about 5 per cent in real terms. In particular, the reduction in funding for ABC's news services is closer to 10 per cent. I again ask the Minister: Has there been any contact with the ABC management to overcome the serious problem this creates for the ABC in maintaining an independent news service or does it mean, in reality, that the Government has tacitly agreed, or condoned, a reduction in that independent service and the purchasing of outside news services? In the short time that I have had available I have put a series of questions to the Minister that I believe are important in the communications area.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.