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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 593

Senator DEVLIN —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Aviation and relates to concerns expressed by some in the community on the likely implication of plans by the Department of Aviation to consolidate air traffic facilities and staff into fewer, larger centres. I ask the Minister whether he will ensure that the changes are kept to a minimum and whether the Department of Aviation will continue to consult before facilities are closed.

Senator GIETZELT —It is true that the Department of Aviation is examining proposals designed to consolidate air traffic service facilities into fewer, larger centres. As I have indicated previously when we have discussed other matters that the Department has undertaken, the changes are made always in consultation with the local communities and with other service receivers. I can assure the Senate, and Senator Devlin in particular, that every reasonable effort will be made to limit the effects of the changes on the communities. Discussions are currently taking place with officers of the Department at regional centres and their views will be very much taken into consideration before any final decision is made. This approach is similar to that adopted in respect of the consolidation of rescue and fire fighting units. Changes will not take place until consultation is finalised and, I hope, agreement is reached with all interested parties.


Senator MASON —My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, concerns an advertisement on page 17 of the February issue of the Pacific Defence Reporter, headed `Why nuclear submarines are cheaper'. I ask: Is it a fact that, whilst the format and style of that material suggests that it is an advertisement, there is no clear indication of that and no indication of authorship or responsibility for the content? Does the submarine depicted in the text appear to be a French submarine? Is the material tendentious? I refer particularly to the concluding remarks, which criticise the Australian decision to build additional conventional submarines for our fleet. While the material is clearly in breach of the Media Council of Australia's advertising code of ethics, does it also breach section 52 of the Trade Practices Act? If so, will the Government take the necessary action to ensure that the offence is not repeated?

Senator GARETH EVANS —In deference to Senator Mason's enthusiasm on this subject, I have had a look at the advertisement in question in the Pacific Defence Reporter. I think it is fair to say that its format and style suggest an advertisement and there is no clear indication of authorship or responsibility for it. I also accept that the submarine depicted in the article appears similar to-I am advised; I would not have a clue myself-the Rubis class French submarine.

Senator Mason —Its number has been blacked out.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Take it away, Sherlock. With regard to the question of whether the article could be considered tendentious-that is not a word that I employ very much these days, in deference to Senator Durack, who once had some difficulty with its definition-essentially that is a matter of personal judgment. It certainly suggests a view which I believe would have little support in the Australian community and I would accept Senator Mason's description to that extent.

As to the query whether it breaches the Media Council's advertising code of ethics and the Trade Practices Act, these are not matters pertinent to the defence portfolio, nor is it appropriate for a Minister ever to offer a legal opinion on anything-not that that stops us on occasions. But I have received the reaction of the Attorney-General's Department to this in the following terms: Section 65A of the Trade Practices Act exempts the Pacific Defence Reporter from the operation of section 52 in this instance, unless the offending item is an advertisement. There are other bases of exemption which may not be applicable. It is not clear, according to the Attorney-General's Department which takes a very dogged view of these things, on its face whether the material is an advertisement, which does not bear any attribution to it. If the material is to be regarded as an advertisement, section 65A does not exclude the application of section 52. It is only then that the question of whether the material or its format is misleading and deceptive falls for determination. The Government will, therefore, in the light of this uncertainty as to what it is all about and the possibility that it may constitute a breach of the provision, refer the matter to the Trade Practices Commission for further investigation.