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Thursday, 6 October 1983
Page: 1478

Mr CHARLES(5.15) —It is a pleasure to rise on the first Budget brought forward by the Hawke Government to speak on the communications portfolio. I would like to touch on a number of issues, but I will firstly look at the whole communications area which has been given $413m. That ranges over many and varied commissions, authorities and institutions, such as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which has been given nearly $289m to run its operations. It is very important to continue funding an important body such as the Corporation.

It must be remembered that this Government, only in the first few weeks of sitting of the new Parliament, introduced the legislation to establish the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The Parliament passed that legislation and the Corporation has been set up. It is a very important and very extensive piece of administrative legislation. Now we see the Corporation under a new Board headed by its Chairman, Mr Ken Myer. I am very confident that this Government will continue to fund-as I hope that all governments in the future will, no matter what political persuasion-the Corporation in a satisfactory manner to enable it to carry out its many and varied duties for the benefit of all Australians.

It is also good to note that the commencement of work on a second regional radio network of several hundred thousand dollars has been put forward into that project in this financial year. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has announced the establishment of a task force within the Department of Communications to begin work on the establishment of a second regional radio network for the ABC. When we were in Opposition we promised that we would work towards that goal in as quick a manner as possible. The announcement by the Prime Minister, and the continuing setting up of a task force which will obviously be reporting back to the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) in the foreseeable future, will be a most important report. When one considers the ramifications this second network will have for the many people who do not receive such a service now, especially in the regional and outback areas of Australia, it is of high priority. This Government has already given it that importance. We see a number of important authorities under the Department of Communications such as the Australian Telecommunications Commission, the Australian Postal Commission, the Overseas Telecommunications Commission or OTC. OTC is expected to pay a dividend to the Commonwealth this year of $32.5m which shows the successful operation of OTC. It has been very successful and progressive since the setting up of the Commission. OTC is in the process of putting several hundred million dollars towards three new cable projects linking Perth, Jakarta and Singapore, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and Singapore, the Middle East and France. All these projects are expected to be in service by the end of 1986. The OTC is doing that very important work and I congratulate it for doing that work.

The previous speaker, the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey), talked about Aussat Pty Ltd. That is another body that comes under the communications portfolio. It was interesting to hear the honourable member for O'Connor criticising this Government for supposedly fumbling around in connection with this Australian satellite system-Aussat. It must be remembered that the previous Government and the 'gee whiz' Minister of 1977, Mr Staley, floated the idea of a satellite six years ago. This Government has barely been in office for six months. In fact in November, in approximately one month's time, we will look back on the first eight months or so of this Government and see the introduction of legislation for the establishment of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the lifting of the election black-out on broadcasting political news and comments-something that has been promised for ages and has never been delivered. We will also see firm policy decisions which have never been forthcoming from previous conservative governments in regard to the many broadcasting decisions, such as the satellite issue, Aussat and pay television-issues that have been floating around for many years.

As I stated earlier, I think 1977 was the year that the satellite issue was first floated. Successive conservative governments have really failed to grapple with the problem. This Government is at present holding an inquiry. It has sought submissions and has received many varied submissions, written and oral, regarding this very important subject. It has been a very enlightening exercise- not a trumped up exercise. It has been a very enlightening exercise, from the Government's point of view, to see the many good points put forward by the many people involved-the networks, the ABC, potential entrepreneurs and others, especially in the broadcasting area. I will stay with the broadcasting area at this stage rather than deal with other users.

At last many people in the industry see that firm decisions and policy announcements are about to be made by a government that was elected only last March. As I have said, this is in contrast with the inaction of previous successive conservative governments. I do not think anyone in the conservative parties knew anything about communications. I think that is one of the main reasons the former Government floundered for such a long time. We are now seeing the industry awakening. It is well into the home straight. The whips are cracking. People had better start making their final submissions to the Government because policy announcements will obviously be made by the Government , through the Minister for Communications, who has been very firm in his dealings and in the way in which he has conducted proceedings in this communications portfolio. I congratulate him on that.

Policy decisions which will be made within the next half a dozen weeks will have a profound effect on Australian broadcasting for many years to come. I will not canvass all the options now as I do not have the time. It would be pre- empting many decisions. Obviously, no matter which way the Government jumps on a number of important decisions, there will be ramifications that will change the nature of broadcasting. The ever evolving technological changes in communications are continuing and will continue into the next century; that is for certain. The Government must continue to respond and must be on top of its policy making in regard to communications so that we are not caught in a floundering situation by saying 'Gee whiz, isn't this wonderful? or 'Gee whiz, isn't that wonderful? We will be looking at what is available, what is likely to be available and what is best suited to this country.

We have heard so many arguments about what happens in the United States of America, Great Britain, Europe or anywhere else for that matter. Whilst recognising that these situations are important, especially the situations in Britain and America, we must recognise also that Australia is different traditionally. The set-up in the broadcasting and communications area has a unique Australian flavour. I am sure that this Government will continue to preserve that unique Australian flavour.

I congratulate the Government on its Budget and on the allocation for the Department of Communications. All the requirements of the communications portfolio have been met, despite the very tight budgetary circumstances in which the Government found itself. I am quite sure that because of the positive nature and direction that this Government will show in the broadcasting and communications arena we will see a progression unparalleled in this area in Australian history.