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Friday, 19 October 1984
Page: 2085

Senator LEWIS(3.38) —The Senate is debating the Broadcasting and Television Amendment Bill 1984 and two related Bills. Consideration of these Bills enables me to ask the Government why it has not taken this opportunity to make the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal more responsive to the aspirations of Australians. I take as an example Victorian radio station 3CR, community radio, a legacy of the Whitlam era. In its original concept community broadcasting had some merit because it represented an opportunity for the airing of the parochial . Today there remain some good programs as a legacy of the best of the original idea. In particular some of the musical programs are first class, the sorts of programs not broadcast on other radio stations, and opportunity is given for specialist music. Of course, opportunity is given to many little-known community groups to be heard which is also to the benefit of the community. Many of the programs are attractive to the young, which is also to their benefit but I wonder whether there is some deliberate reason for making this station in some regards attractive to the young for other reasons which I am about to come to.

Of course, one of the problems in a democracy is when the Parliament of the people grants privileges to the people, such as this privilege, extremists frequently perceive these opportunities as having been especially created for them and they seize the opportunity made available and take over the privilege to the detriment of everyone else. That is precisely what has happened with radio station 3CR in Victoria. Some of the programs broadcast on this station have been so extreme and divisive that the station is now held in contempt by most Victorians and is deeply resented, indeed hated, by many.

What has happened as a result of the takeover by extremists is that all of the station's political offerings are in support of extreme and revolutionary views which would be held by only a handful of Australians. That is why I raise the question of whether there may be some other motive in making this program attractive to the young. Victoria, maybe Australia, is unblessed-I say that deliberately-with a group called the Connolly Association. This is an association now generally acknowledged as an Irish Republican Army front organisation. As might be expected, these two bodies have got together so that the Connolly Association now has a regular program on 3CR presented by a Mr McGettigan every Saturday morning. In the course of this program Mr McGettigan and his advocates of terror have regularly advocated support for IRA terrorism as legitimate and have endeavoured to justify IRA murders. In particular I refer to the attempted justification on this station of the murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten, one of the heroes of this century, and also to the attempted justification of the murder of Mr Airey Neave, when he was Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland.

Last Saturday morning the program broadcast an attempted justification of the IRA bombing at Brighton in England, in which four people were killed and 30 people injured in an attempt to assassinate the British Prime Minister. In the past this Parliament has spoken very strongly against the assassination of national leaders around the world. I see no reason to excuse an assassination attempt because it failed. The assassination attempt has been condemned by world leaders, including President Reagan of the United States, President Mitterrand of France and the Irish Prime Minister, Mr Fitzgerald, who described it an 'an attack on democracy'. The IRA bombing at Brighton last week stands condemned as a brutal, senseless and cruel act. However, last Saturday morning anyone who happened to be listening to 3CR in Victoria would have heard it claimed, in an attempted justification of the act, that there was no more legitimate a target for attack than the British Tory Party Conference. That disgraceful claim was repeated on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation program PM earlier this week , broadcast by an ABC radio station backed by taxpayers' funds, as indeed is radio station 3CR because last year it received $100,000 from the Victorian Labor Government. I add that last year 3CR was backed to the hilt by the Minister for Communications, Mr Duffy, when it ran a fund raising campaign.

Senator Peter Baume —I blocked funds going to that station in 1982.

Senator LEWIS —Senator Baume has just reminded me that he blocked funds going to that radio station in 1982. Of course, that station is now receiving the support of this Government in Canberra and the support of the Labor Government in Victoria. On 5 June this year the application for renewal of the broadcasting licence of station 3CR came before the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. On that day Mr Anthony McAdam, a columnist for the Melbourne Herald, appeared before the Tribunal to oppose the licence renewal because of the broadcasts on this radio station advocating terrorism and justifying murder. It so happens that in today' s Herald Mr McAdam has written an article under the title 'Australia and the IRA Connection' which deals with this matter very effectively. I applaud him for his article, I applaud him for his actions and I recommend the article to all listeners. This taxpayer, Mr McAdam, offered the Tribunal tapes he had made as evidence of his claims but Mr David Jones, the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, refused to hear the objection, claiming that it would not be in accordance with natural justice to 3CR to hear a citizen's objection because it was so late. I point out that at that time, 5 June, there was still 25 days to go before the licence expired and, in any event, I have no doubt that some procedure could have been taken by the Tribunal to ensure that natural justice to 3CR could have been arranged and that natural justice could have been given to the taxpaying citizen, Mr Anthony McAdam.

Senator Peter Baume —Of course.

Senator LEWIS —Of course, as Senator Baume says, the Tribunal could have found some procedure that would have enabled consideration to have been given to the application; but Mr Jones, the Chairman of the Tribunal, said-I understand these are the precise words he used:

It therefore appears to us that the matters as raised by Mr McAdam are not of such significance in relation to the exercise of the Tribunal's powers in these proceedings to warrant pursuing them at this late stage.

I do not know what was behind the reasoning of Mr Jones and his colleagues in so deciding but it does seem to me that their finding is questionable. In deed, it seems to me that they were seeking an easy way out. Certainly it is far easier to toss out a citizen's objection on some technical ground, such as that it was lodged too late for consideration, rather than face the difficult task of considering the objection on its merits, especially when the licensee is so strongly backed by this Government and its Ministers.

I suggest that some comparison of the Tribunal's approach to radio station 3CR be made with its current interference in an approach to the advertising of the sale of beer and tobacco. I am not seeking any extension of the advertising of the sale of beer and tobacco; I am merely asking the Senate to compare the approach to that advertising with what the Tribunal was prepared to do for radio station 3CR. I point out that one of the functions of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal is to determine standards to be observed by licensees. I just wonder whether it could not set standards in order to cope with the hymns of hate which emanate from radio station 3CR.

Given this station's persistent sympathy for organisations and nations engaged in terrorist activities, one wonders whether its funding should not be the subject of some closer scrutiny to ensure that it or its staff are not being paid by foreign agencies dedicated perhaps to the overthrow of democracies around the world and perhaps even to the overthrow of this democracy. Certainly the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal had the responsibility in renewing this restricted commercial licence of radio station 3CR of ensuring that it was economically viable. Therefore, it should have investigated its list of sponsors and affiliated organisations, and what organisations paid for air time.

Given the Tribunal's responsibility to give directions in relation to changes in the ownership and control of commercial broadcasting, its responsibility to determine the standard to be observed by licensees and the requirement that it assist the public, it seems to me incomprehensible that the Tribunal should refuse to listen to or accept an objection lodged by a citizen. Not only is it incomprehensible to me but also it seems to bring into question the whole competence of the Tribunal. I go back to what I said at the beginning. The Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to be more responsive to the aspirations of the people and if it does not fulfil that task the Minister should take action. Yet here in this legislation we are extending the functions of this tribunal without apparently any criticism from the Government, as if the Tribunal were fulfilling the functions already entrusted to it in a satisfactory manner.