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Thursday, 6 October 1983
Page: 1473


Mr RONALD EDWARDS(4.55) —It is really strange in this sort of debate for Opposition members to begin talking about strikes. If one looks at the former Government's descredited record in industrial relations, one will see that to let honourable members anywhere near industrial activity is a bit like putting a can of petrol in the hands of an arsonist. The former Government's record was absolutely appalling. It was regarded by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as being absolutely out of court. One has only to talk to people in the ABC to find that out. It is absolutely incredible in the context of this debate, when one looks at the reactions of workers from Australia Post and Telecom Australia to the sort of abuse and kicking that Ministers in the discredited Liberal-National Party gave them, that honourable members opposite have the nerve to talk about intervention. We saw intervention in communications by the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) when he was Minister for Communications. He looked after his mates in the communications area. However, we did not see a decent communications policy developed such as the one we have under the present Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy). I think that is the sort of thing that honourable members have to measure up.

Not only have we now a new ABC Board, which now represents Australia, but also we are not blaming people and seeking out scapegoats which seemed to be a characteristic of honourable members opposite. They always have to turn a situation around and find the bad things. That is why they are where they are; that is why we are where we are; and that is why we will stay there. All honourable members opposite can find is fault and what is negative. I repeat: We do not want a pack of arsonists like Opposition members anywhere near industrial relations and we are certainly not going to give them the petrol to help them out with their work. We have a responsibility in this Government and we are going to do the job responsibly.

I will begin by talking about the ABC Board. The Minister for Communications has set up an ABC Board which is creditable for the quality of its members, for their representations and for the sorts of decisions that it will be making. Under the chairmanship of Mr Ken Myer we have a very good group of members. I particularly complement the Government on its decision to choose Sister Patricia Veronica Brady from Western Australia. The entire community of Western Australia supports that decision. It was a very good decision. I compliment the Minister most warmly on that choice. Honourable members opposite did not get down to those sorts of decisions because in the past they were too busy. They still have not lost the habit of scapegoating. Honourable members opposite should keep it up. The Australian electorate knows all about them. That is why they are in opposition and that is why they will stay there. Again I remind honourable members opposite that until they can start talking positively they will stay in opposition.

I refer to some of the decisions that the Government is making. We are putting some effort into the Special Broadcasting Service. We have increased its allocation from around $28m which was allocated under the previous Budget to $ 33m. That is very important. In Perth we very urgently need channel 0-28 to be provided. I understand from the Minister that in 1985-86 we can look forward to the introduction of ethnic television in Western Australia. That is a very important move and it will make a great difference to Western Australia. There are many groups in Perth, certainly within the electorate of Stirling, such as the Yugoslav, Greek, Macedonian and Italian communities, who would want to participate in that sort of broadcasting service and who would enjoy its output. I certainly endorse that move, it is a very important one.

Grants were also made for public broadcasting. Under the previous Government they totalled $153,000 and under this Government they total $300,000. Public broadcasting can play a major part in Australia. Honourable members opposite were very nervous about public broadcasting because it tended to reflect some of the opinions in the community that they did not like. We are not afraid of that. We are putting more money into public broadcasting and we welcome those initiatives in public broadcasting. I am certainly pleased to see that this Government has chosen to increase the amount of money being given to public broadcasting.

Another matter I wish to raise, which is very important in the context of this debate, is payments to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal which are going up from $3.9m to $4.4m. As honourable members would understand, the Tribunal is responsible for the conduct of broadcasting in Australia. One of the issues that really concern honourable members on this side of the House is that we must have a better broadcasting system. I am very determined to see provided in Perth, Western Australia, a third commercial television licence. We now have a growing community. We have an expanding business community. We certainly have good reason for having a third commercial television licence, particularly with respect to the future growth in tourism that will come with our defending certain sporting trophies. We will certainly need a third commercial television licence in Perth to provide that sort of vehicle.

Another issue which many people speak about is one to which we must pay attention, and that is the current rating system in television. It is one that we need to pay attention to with respect to the Tribunal. It is a source of great annoyance. I can think of no other business in Australia that deliberately sets out to bias the sample of the product that it produces by producing a product specifically for that sample. Let me give an example. When television stations decide to go into their ratings periods they put on top movies. One has the extraordinary situation where, in fact, the viewing audience has to try to make decisions on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night between competing popular movies. As a consequence, we get an artificially designed survey. But what about the rest of the viewing time? The people are treated arrogantly in that when television stations go out of rating periods they show re-runs and old rubbish. We really have to say to ourselves as a government in terms of talking to the Broadcasting Tribunal: 'How have we let the broadcasting stations get into this condition where they can arrogantly treat the rest of the community by deliberately distorting the surveys they conduct by running popular movies?' It is little wonder that in fact members of the public are buying video recorders. When the good movies are on they are watching one on one station and recording another on the other station. Guess what happens? When the television stations go out of the ratings periods and start to run the normal rubbish that they run, people hire or buy movies and they stop watching television altogether. We have to have a long hard look at the way television is conducted in Australia.

The other thing that is appalling is that most of the non-ratings periods happen to coincide with holidays so people are at home and have a very low standard of television product to watch. We have to take a long hard look at the way that the television industry currently conducts itself. I think it is also a matter of comment that it is very difficult to find in Australia anyone who has actually ever received a ratings book. I guess that again is a cause of some comment. Not only is the survey deliberately biased because television stations put on products specifically designed to distort the outcome, but also we find that it is very difficult to find people in our community who, in fact, received a ratings book. It is a little difficult to find people who vote Liberal, but it is even more difficult to find people who in fact receive a ratings book. I suggest that we need to have a good hard look at the policy with respect to our attitudes towards the broadcasting industry.

I believe that this Government has also taken some other important initiatives. It will spread the regional radio operation in Australia through the ABC. That is very important. We recognise that there are people in the Australian community who currently have a very low level of delivery of broadcasting services. I go back to last weekend when the Davis Cup was shown when, in fact, the family of John Fitzgerald was not able to get the television reception where it lived. It is a source of disgrace in Australia that those people were not able to get that television reception in a modern day and age when, in fact, people in the cities receive pictures from the moon. My good friend the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) in fact recorded that television program for that family so they were able to see their son compete in that historic Davis Cup match. That lack of reception is a source of disgrace in the Australian community. What is also a source of disgrace is that when one network was locked into showing the Bathurst race-for which I commend the channel 7 network because it was an excellent television coverage-it completely locked out other people who might have wanted to watch the Davis Cup because the station had exclusive rights. We saw people in the television industry refusing to provide the public with the service it needed-the capacity to watch the Davis Cup tennis.

What we are arguing for on this side of the House is an increase in competition . In Perth we certainly need an increase in competition. We need a third television licence. That will do a lot to add to the broadcasting capacity in Perth. We certainly need channel 0-28. We need public broadcasting. Again I can say that under this Minister we are getting important initiatives and some important changes. The changes in the ABC are welcome. I repeat that I believe that the decision as to who constitutes the ABC Board was excellent. Those people are of great quality. Already people in the ABC are saying that that effect is being shown. We are making other initiatives with respect to improving and upgrading broadcasting in Australia.

I conclude by saying to those opposite that they should begin to look to the positive initiatives that we are taking. We are doing some very important things with respect to broadcasting. The ratings issue I believe is an important issue on which we must focus a lot of attention. We must say to the broadcasting industry: 'It is not good enough to deliberately ignore the Australian viewing public the rest of the year when you do not have ratings books out. You must respond to the community'. This Government responds to the community. We believe we are doing some positive things in broadcasting. I commend the Minister for the efforts he is making.