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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3547

Senator WALSH (Minister for Finance)(5.42) —The Special Broad- casting Service started off as a Malcolm Fraser political stunt in 1978 and the Howard stunt of 1986 is to prevent its merger with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation-or at least the Opposition believes it will prevent the merger. The fact is that the Opposition's attitude is dictated by blatant and absolutely unbridled opportunism and for no other reason whatsoever. At the most there are two or three other countries in the world which have one national broadcasting service which is 100 per cent taxpayer funded. In Australia, ever since Malcolm Fraser started this stunt in 1978, we have had two. The Government has made the judgment that Australia cannot afford two 100 per cent taxpayer funded national broadcasting services. The Opposition knows that very well. The great majority of people in the Opposition agree with the Government about this but they have taken their cue from the unbridled political opportunism of their insecure temporary Leader.

It has been said that there will be little savings in the short term. That is, of course, correct. If I may say so, it is a great tribute to this Government that it is willing to take a decision that needs to be taken, even though there are few savings in the short term. We take a longer term view. It is true that there are small savings in the short term, but there are large savings in the longer term and if the Opposition were to get away with what it wants to do here, the property adjustments and facility relocations which are required in both the ABC and the SBS would be stalled. Decisions which need to be taken now-rational decisions about location, property acquisition, property disposal and so on-will all be stalled, and the efficiency of public broadcasting, both the ABC and the SBS or an amalgamated body, or the provision of that service, will be very severely hampered and made much less efficient than it could and should be because the Opposition has stalled in this way.

I return to the amendment, which, of course, the Government will not accept. Paragraph (b) says:

a merger of the ABC and the SBS should not proceed without explicit legislative authority;

I was asked by Senator Lewis, I think it was, whether the Government intends to proceed with the amalgamation by other than legislative means. The answer is that that is still being studied by the Government and the Government's decision will not be influenced in the slightest by that cheeky demand in paragraph (b) of the second reading amendment, whether it is carried or not. That demand will be treated with the contempt it deserves. The third paragraph says:

the Standing Committee on Education and the Arts report on the Government's reasons for proposing to amalgamate the ABC and SBS.

That is another political stunt. If that is carried, as I understand the Standing Orders of the Senate such a reference would have to go to the Committee notwithstanding the fact that there is great difficulty in getting people to serve on committees for the references that already exist. It is difficult to get people to turn up to meetings. When I look at that demand, and even more when I look at the reference to the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations of the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Amendment Bill as a result of a decision yesterday by the Senate-a Bill that does not tax anything that was not previously taxed, has no revenue implications whatsoever but just seeks to make the definition of what is taxable clearer than it presently is-and when the Senate decides to send off such puerile references on matters of such monumental unimportance as that, it is clear that the Senate has more money and resources than it knows how to spend sensibly. I have taken that point. I will bear it in mind when approaches are made for supplementary appropriations and I will also bear it in mind when the Appropriations in the 1987 Budget are being determined.

Senator Archer —Is that a threat?

Senator WALSH —Senator Archer asked me whether that was a threat. I am primarily responsible for the expenditure of public money in this country and when the Senate has sufficient resources to send such puerile references off on matters of such monumental unimportance as that sales tax Bill, as a responsible Minister in this Government I will examine the implications of that because the obvious conclusion is that the Senate has more money than it knows how to spend sensibly. That is something which I, as Finance Minister, cannot defend.

Senator Lewis —It is the cheapest way of conducting any form of inquiry.

Senator WALSH —But there is no need for an inquiry, as Senator Lewis well knows. He is a sensible man when he actually gets around to looking at issues. I know that he does not always appear to be sensible because he has to obey orders that come from above. If Senator Lewis had a look at this matter I am sure that he would agree with me.

I am not sure whether the amendment will be carried. There was some talk of there being some defectors among the Opposition ranks, among people who know that this is a very sensible proposition. I do not know whether they will defect, but certainly the Government will not accept the amendment.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Lewis's amendment) be left out.