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Tuesday, 18 November 1986
Page: 2437

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(10.18) —I am a bit taken aback by Senator Mason's comments. I am a very great supporter of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and public broadcasting. I come from Tasmania and I am proud of it. I am glad that Senator Newman is coming back into the chamber because perhaps just for a few seconds she will agree with me. I would like to see an efficient and effective public broadcasting organisation in Tasmania. I will tell honourable senators about the ABC in Tasmania. In Tasmania it has 475 employees, I think. It has one television station and two radio stations.

Senator Mason —Tasmania is not the centre of policy.

Senator GRIMES —The honourable senator should wait a minute. I listened to him. Tasmania has two commercial television stations and I do not know how many commercial radio stations-Senator Newman and I can probably think of six or seven. The total employment of those organisations is 300-175 fewer than the ABC. To make it worse, Senator Newman and I come from Launceston--

Senator Mason —A very beautiful city.

Senator GRIMES —A lovely city. The trouble is that one does not get much television coverage from Launceston. I am a Minister from Launceston, Senator Newman's husband was a Minister from Launceston, and both he and I had great difficulty appearing on the ABC because one could get on the ABC only if one was from Hobart. It is a very difficult problem. A couple of weeks ago Mr David Hill did a very radical thing in Tasmania. He said: `You have 475 employees here. I think you could probably get rid of about 30'. There was a terrible riot. I got letters saying: `If this happens the local coverage will be reduced'. I wrote back saying: `I come from Launceston. I am not conscious of any local coverage on television at all'. There are different perceptions of the ABC depending on from where one comes. People in the north-west of Western Australia are very impressed with the ABC because it is the only service they get. They were very impressed that they got Wagner's Ring every Sunday night for six weeks. The people who benefited the most from that were the local video stores. So there is a problem with the ABC. Senator Mason lives in Sydney. He would watch Wagner every night of the week for the whole year. He would be very impressed by that. He would like to watch the Gillies Report every week. That is fair enough. David Hill, the new Managing Director of the ABC, I would just gently point out to Senator Mason, was actually appointed by the Board of the ABC.

Senator Mason —I am well aware of that.

Senator GRIMES —Senator Mason said he was a Government appointee, the Government was instructing him and all that sort of thing.

Senator Mason —I think he probably is.

Senator GRIMES —Senator Mason would not repeat that outside; he will say that in here. But he can get up and make that sort of comment. Senator Mason also did not like Telecom very much.

Senator Macklin —You got that impression!

Senator GRIMES —I got the slight impression he did not like Telecom very much because Telecom will not tell him every day of the week how many phone calls he makes. Telecom writes people letters saying that in the last month there has been a great increase in phone calls made. The trouble is that Senator Mason does not read his mail. The simple fact is that Telecom provides a communications service in this country. It provides telephone services for people who live 25 miles from the main road, or five miles from the main road, in a demographically and geographically very diverse country. It does this very efficiently. When one goes overseas to the most densely populated countries of the world one finds a less efficient service. Let us not knock Telecom in the way in which Senator Mason does. What he is about is wandering in here late at night and having a crack at all the public authorities he thinks he can have a crack at.

Senator Mason —No, I am not. I quoted from the annual report.

Senator GRIMES —Senator Mason did not quote from anything except his own imagination. However, I realise it is late at night so we will leave Senator Mason and move to Senator Vigor. Senator Vigor asked a question which took 15 minutes to ask.

Senator Archer —What was it?

Senator GRIMES —I do not know what it was. He started off making statements which suggested that he did not think much of the Department of Communications. I got that distinct impression. Part of the problem was that the Department had not approved a licence for his friends in Adelaide. I am very sorry about that but I do not know the facts. The Australian Broadcasting Tribunal actually looked at the facts, considered the facts and did not approve the licence. Senator Vigor can get up and argue about that all he likes. We are dealing with the estimates under Appropriation Bill (No. 1). We are supposed to talk about the Bill before the Parliament, but we are talking about problems in Senator Vigor's little corner of Adelaide. God help us if he ever got elected to the Australian Capital Territory, which I gather he will try to do, because he would be in here every night talking about the garbage services and everything else in the Australian Capital Territory.

At times I find it very difficult to know whether Senator Vigor is asking a question, making a comment or what he is about. I will look at the Hansard. I will ask the departmental officers to look at the Hansard and if they can discern what the question is and the facts that are required I promise Senator Vigor that we will do our best to get him an answer within the next couple of days. But we are dealing with the Appropriation Bills. We have gone through the Estimates committee hearings-endlessly. Some of us sat until three o'clock in the morning. We have been very generous with our time. Every time Senator Vigor wanted to come to an Estimates committee hearing we welcomed him with open arms. We have not prevented him from asking any questions. We have been tolerant in listening to the questions he asked. We have been very tolerant in our answers. But, for heaven's sake, at 25 past 10 on a Tuesday night, if we are going to go through 15-minute questions and statements about what Senator Vigor thinks of the Department of Communications, we all have to tolerate it. There is no way that I can shut the place down, assassinate Senator Vigor or do anything terrible like that, but we do not have to put up with it forever-I hope. One thing is for sure: I do not have to put up with it forever. It is up to honourable senators to decide whether they want to put up with it for ever.

Senator Short —He travels to Europe frequently.

Senator GRIMES —I was nearly going to say that all honourable senators are welcome to a bed but I will have to draw the line somewhere. If honourable senators have any questions which take 15 minutes to ask or any comments on a department which take 15 minutes to deliver, if they put them in writing I will get an answer for them. I will obtain all the information they want. They can put questions on notice. Why in heavens they have to abuse the procedure of debate on the Appropriation Bill and the hearings of the Senate Estimates committees in the way they do I do not know. As sure as eggs they will destroy the system. One day one side or the other in the Parliament will find such honourable senators missing, having a cup of coffee or something, and will pass the Estimates in two seconds.

Senator Mason —That is not likely to happen.

Senator GRIMES —Yes, it will. One night Senator Mason will be caught short and he will not be there. He has never served on an Estimates Committee. One night the Government and the Opposition will combine to get rid of the nit-picking nonsense that has gone on with Estimates this year. They will get rid of it because it is a waste of time. Everyone wants to get information but all Senator Mason has done here tonight is tell us that he does not like Telecom or the ABC. I can do that in two seconds.

Senator Mason —I raised some questions you ought to answer.

Senator GRIMES —Senator Mason has not raised any questions tonight and Senator Vigor took 15 minutes to ask a question and because it took so long I forgot it. I will get the answers when I can but please let us get the vote for the Department of Communications through tonight if possible.