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Tuesday, 12 May 1987
Page: 3026

Mr RONALD EDWARDS(9.10) —I think people listening to this debate this evening will well understand that it encapsulates some of the political confusion that surrounds the Opposition. It has to be made very clear to people that the Opposition is in a terrible state in terms of its policy making. We have had a vast array of propositions being put before the House by the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia. In essence, to put things in their proper context, the Liberal Party at this stage is really making concessions to its wet faction and getting back to the position adopted by the honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee) when he was its shadow spokesperson. In fact, what it is trying to do is to appease those who have been shut out of leadership and the front bench. Therefore, what we have heard today is a set of proposals about introducing new licences in capital cities which really provides no recognition of the process of capital development that has occurred recently in television ownership and which also, by the way, completely disrupts the structure that has recently developed in terms of ownership. We have only to look today at the reactions of people in the media industry to recognise that they see the Opposition's policies as ad hoc and dreamt up simply to deal with the shortcomings of the Liberal Party.

The interesting thing that we have to reflect upon is that the Opposition parties had a long time in which to do something about broadcasting in this country, but they never did anything. The honourable member for Gilmore (Mr Sharp) spoke about mayhem and so on. In fact, what we had in this country was a moribund broadcasting industry under the old two-station rule and the paternalism of successive Liberal governments. That has to be hammered home in the context of this debate because what people must understand is that in country areas and in capital cities in this country there was no dynamism in broadcasting, and especially not in television; the whole industry has become moribund. It had become moribund for a reason. The reason was that those then in power, the Liberal and National parties, had grown used to and comfortable with those existing media owners.

It seemed to me that what we had to do was to recognise that broadcasting is an important part of this country and that there can be dynamic capital ownership and dynamic management in broadcasting. What we have done is to free up the situation. I find it surprising to listen to the comments from those opposite, who stagger into this place from their various divided Opposition meetings and creak out arguments, pretending to have a structured approach to policy. But they have not put forward any policy. There is no evidence of any policy. What they have done is simply to glue together a few ideas to try to present themselves as Opposition parties. Once again, that has failed because they lack talent, they lack leadership and they lack ideas. They have a lot of problems in terms of their policy making. This simply brings out the same problems as they have with their tax policy. It is no different. My colleague the honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown) is well aware of the shortcomings of those opposite in relation to tax policy and economic policy. We are now seeing that lack of policy on broadcasting.

Mr Robert Brown —I am glad to have you identifying it. The honourable member for Stirling is doing a sterling job again.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —I thank the honourable member for Charlton. We have the situation of the Opposition being again in chaos in what we had hoped would be substantial debate. What those opposite are doing-as they frequently do, unwilling as they are to recognise the role of the House of Representatives-is trying to hold a gun at the head of the Government in the Senate. We have seen it done before on a number of issues such as the Australia Card and so on. They are going to try to do it again. They are trying to bargain. But the trouble is that they do not have any ideas or policies with which to bargain, and the Australian community recognises that.

Let me talk about what I think are the principal components of the legislation. We have seen the abolition of the two-station rule and the move to a 75 per cent rule. That 75 per cent reach component of this legislation is very important because what it recognises is that television is a dynamic industry. But, going along with that is the question of cross-media ownership, which is also an important component. What we are also recognising-I find the National Party's reaction to this interesting-is that we need to put some constraints upon the way in which a market can be dominated. The previous government lived with that-with the situation that in the city of Melbourne people simply received HSV7 and 3DB, the Sun News-Pictorial and the Melbourne Herald. That was their diet. The previous Government lived with that because the people in charge of the media were its mates and it was comfortable with that. Well, the world has changed, ownership has changed, and those opposite have to come to terms with that. Sadly, they have not even come to terms with the changes that the satellite has brought. None of the comments from those opposite in tonight's debate fully recognise the role of satellites in communications. Of course, we on this side are in a different position.

The other piece of legislation we are debating- the Communications Legislation Amendment Bill-provides, under a new section 24a, for a four-year moratorium on pay television. That is a very important initiative and it provides a legislative or statutory basis for the rulings of the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) in that area. We see that as important because it is another policy area that has to be addressed down the track.

Another matter that is still of concern to me in relation to television and broadcasting in this country-this is frequently expressed to me-relates to the complete dissatisfaction with the ratings system that operates in broadcasting. What we have are two standards of television in this country. We have a high standard of television programs being offered during the ratings periods, and in the non-ratings periods we have television which is an absolute disgrace, populated with repeats and low standard programs. There is a simple solution to that. The solution is either to adopt the United States system of electronic Nielsen ratings under which television stations are rated continually, or to conduct ratings in secret so that the television stations do not know when they are being conducted.

I am concerned that the television industry has still not addressed this problem. It has extended the ratings periods, but we still have the situation that anyone can detect when we are in a non-ratings period because the television programs are absolute rubbish. In the ratings periods there is a surfeit of good material. There is far too much good material during the ratings periods and very little good material offered during the non-ratings periods. In fact, I say to the television stations that they have a serious issue to address, that is, a lack of viewer interest in their programs in the non-ratings periods. The television advertising component must feel that it is being ripped off in the non-ratings periods because clearly what is being offered is sub-standard programs. What we ought to be offering the public of Australia is a continuously high level of programs.

Another issue which I wish to address, which is of concern in my local community, relates to the possibility of interference with television signals. We have the irony-I am sure my colleagues on this side will appreciate this-that the Bond Corporation built a building in the suburb of Scarborough which interferes with television signals. I have hundreds of people in my electorate who cannot get a proper television signal. They cannot get the proper television signal because the Bond Corporation has built a building which blocks out the signal from the Bond Corporation's Channel 9 in Perth.

Mr Lamb —Is that right?

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —My friend the honourable member for Streeton asks: `Is that right?'. Yes, it is. So, we have the irony of the Bond Corporation having built a building which interferes with the television signal from its own television station. Unfortunately, the Act is quite deficient in this respect because there is no onus on local authorities, such as the City of Stirling in this case, or the State Planning Commission, which was completely negligent in its attitude towards planning and took no account of the fact that people now have this amenity of a television signal removed from them. I have a great concern about this. It is something that the Act should address because the whole process of broadcasting in this country is still vulnerable in the sense that people's local television reception can be seriously interfered with. It is not something that we should let go; it has to be addressed by legislation.

Another issue which I wish to address and which is of concern to me is the fact that we have not proceeded with the merger of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Special Broadcasting Service. What we now have on the ABC and SBS is parallel scheduling; that is, on both channels there is classical music-the provision of programs to what must be the most overserved and affluent market in Australia. If one turns on the television on Sunday night, the offerings on Channel 2 and SBS are parallel. That is a disgrace. Why should we have this overserved affluent market? On SBS and ABC television on Sunday nights people cannot watch a decent program. They are driven away from commercial television in the non-ratings periods. They turn to the ABC and SBS and what happens is that they get parallel scheduling of classical music. That is a disgrace and is something that should be addressed. It is a pity in that sense that there was not a merger because we would at least have been able to address that issue. It is a really important issue because people are being deprived of quality television.

One final matter I wish to address concerns the programming in Western Australia. I understand that the ABC is looking towards doing strip programming-perhaps I should clarify that-which will remove the local content in ABC programming on radio in Western Australia, on 6WF, and will replace three very popular music programs on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights with programs of a more generalised or more homogenised format. That concerns me because people in metropolitan Perth and in country areas would certainly suffer. My friend and colleague the honourable member for Canberra (Mrs Kelly) says that she would swap, and I can understand that because I think that in Canberra there is a poor quality offering at night. It is certainly bad on 2BL in Sydney and it is not a lot better on 3LO in Melbourne, until one gets to the Music to Midnight component. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is threatening to do that in relation to 6WF in Perth, and I am concerned about that.

In summing up, many speakers on this side of the House have referred to the important structural components of broadcasting entailed in this legislation. This legislation is about allowing for a dynamic broadcasting industry. It is important because better quality television and radio programs will be provided. Anyone who appreciates the importance that that plays in their lives will recognise that we are reacting to a dynamic community. We are allowing the industry to become dynamic and we are removing those constraints that existed through years of conservative neglect.