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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1458


Senator TEAGUE(4.15) —It is a very sad day for the Senate as the Government has tried to pull the wool over our eyes on an important issue, and that is the legislation relating to television broadcasting, the Broadcasting Amendment Bill. It is trying to pull the wool over the Senate's eyes in terms of the procedures. This legislation was referred to the Senate Select Committee on Television Equalisation, which diligently carried out its work and brought a report to the Senate, and only seven days later-on 30 March, after the Committee had reported on 23 March-the Government has responded in this inconsiderate and totally superficial way which is consistent with its approach before the matter was referred to the Committee.

I was not directly involved with this Select Committee. I have been preceded in this debate by four who were-I refer to Senator Lewis, Senator Puplick, Senator Powell and Senator Sheil. There is unanimity in what they say, and that is that their views have not been properly considered by the Government. Here we have the Government pulling the wool over our eyes not only in terms of the rapidity of this predetermined response to an important report but also in terms of the way it was brought before us-as a tabled paper in Question Time. It was not mentioned on the Notice Paper and was not put down at the time which, by tradition and procedure, an important response such as this must be put down in the Senate proceedings. The Government has brought it down with an urgency that I believe places the procedures of the Senate in some contempt. The Government has not got away with this attempt to pull the wool over our eyes.

Why the urgency? Why this speed? I believe the Government is focusing on only two Bills in the Senate this week. The first Bill is the Australia Card 1986 [No. 2]. It does not actually support that Bill. It has already said that there are technical reasons for that Bill being unworkable. It has already said that a number of improvements have been determined in the last six months which are essential to the operation of the Australia Card. The Government has determined that it needs this Australia Card Bill in exactly the same form as last--


Senator Tate —On a point of order: There is the question of relevance here. I think we are straying into a debate which would be more properly conducted when we come to debate the Australian Card Bill rather than in relation to the motion before the Chair.


The PRESIDENT —I would ask Senator Teague to direct his remarks to the motion before the Chair.


Senator TEAGUE —Mr President, I thank you for that ruling, and I will follow that very carefully because the point that I make concerns the urgency in the Government's mind of the two Bills that are on our agenda this week. One is the Australia Card Bill and the other is the Broadcasting Amendment Bill. The speed with which this response to the report has been brought to the Senate in this strange way of tabling it during Question Time is designed to ensure that the legislation comes on the agenda by Wednesday. That was the statement that the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), made. The sensitivity of the Special Minister of State (Senator Tate), who is now in the Senate, clouds the focus that I was wanting to put to the Senate in relation to the Government's secret agenda. The Government's secret agenda is to try to get that television legislation before the Senate by Wednesday.


Senator Tate —Why?


Senator TEAGUE —Because the Government knows that the Australia Card Bill will be defeated and it then will have before it the option to call for a double dissolution and announce an election on Wednesday evening of this week. It wants this legislation, the Broadcasting Amendment Bill, passed before the double dissolution occurs. The reasons for that have already been ably set out by my colleagues in the Senate. I put it to the Senate: Why is there this urgency to have only these two Bills considered and the consideration resolved this week in the Senate? Let me remind the Senate that many other pieces of legislation are listed, none of which is essential to the Government's purpose of having a double dissolution of this Parliament.


Senator Robertson —Essential, but not to a dissolution.


Senator TEAGUE —I hear from the Government Whip that none of the Bills listed is essential for a double dissolution. However, in the honourable senator's mind they are essential for the good government of the country. The Appropriation Bills that will be referred to Estimates committees on Tuesday and Thursday of this week will eventually have to be passed in May in order for the Government to function. However, it is not essential that they be passed prior to Wednesday night. The only legislation on which the Government is focusing as essential to be passed before a double dissolution is announced on Wednesday evening is this broadcasting measure. Why the speed, why the urgency? The Government has political reasons for signalling to its mates in the media, it has political reasons for gaining financial support from its mates in the media, that an election would then ensue. This transparent attempt by the Government to reassure its funding base for the coming election needs to be exposed to the public. Not only should we not be deterred from dealing with legislation on its merits but the Government's cynical urgency about this measure is because it is the single piece of legislation it wants the Senate to pass, if it possibly can, prior to the announcement in two days' time of an election.

The matter at the centre of the report of the Senate Select Committee on Television Equalisation and the Government's response is the Broadcasting Amendment Bill and the Television Licence Fees Amendment Bill. The issue is a multi-billion dollar industry in this country and the question is whether established media interests can proceed in the coming months and years to networking in this country. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) and the Treasurer (Mr Keating) have had careful discussions with entrenched media interests in this country and they have come to an arrangement whereby there will be an open door by this Labor Government, against the wishes of the Opposition and against the wishes of the majority of senators, to go ahead with media networking around Australia. This matter must be exposed to the public and it is made all the more clear by the urgency that has been given to this legislation.

Immense profits are to be made from the huge investments in television broadcasting in Australia and there is immense influence-political and otherwise-in the media industry. In the weeks of watching the Murdoch takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd the public showed its enormous concern for public accountability in the media of this country. That is chickenfeed compared with the monopoly media opportunities that networking, as the present Government proposes, would have for media interests. Let the Government be fully warned that these immense issues cannot be introduced by way of a tabled government response in Question Time, against all the procedures and traditions of the Senate. They cannot be resolved by the Senate under some smokescreen of urgency in order to get just this one little Bill tidied up before the double dissolution is announced Wednesday night.

Let me compare the procedure in this matter with that of another communications matter and that is the proposed amalgamation of the Special Broadcasting Service with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I will not spend time on this matter because I take your ruling, Mr President, to be most careful--


The PRESIDENT —Which I was just about to make again.


Senator TEAGUE —With regard to the motion that is now before the Senate. I am a member of the Senate Select Committee on Education and the Arts and the examination by that Committee of this Government's proposal in this area of communications has also exposed that there is no substantial reason for the Government policy. In contradistinction, last Friday morning-after the Senate rose last Thursday-the Minister announced that he did not see the prospect of the SBS-ABC merger going ahead. During the weekend the Prime Minister made it known to ethnic community interests and, in particular, to the ethnic radio station in Melbourne that they should all be prepared for a complete change of mind on the Government's part because there will be an election next week. The Government wants to make sure that the votes that have already been lost will not all leak away.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Teague, you are beginning to stray from the subject before the Chair.


Senator TEAGUE —Mr President, I want to focus upon the importance for the Senate to take seriously a government response to a Senate committee. I am indicating how the Minister involved in this matter, Mr Duffy, and the Prime Minister, in their response to a half completed similar inquiry on a communications matter, have already taken the burden of that Senate Committee's exposure of the lack of basis for policy in the Government.

I must conclude my remarks. Other items are on the agenda of the Senate today. I gave an informal undertaking to speak for 10 minutes in the knowledge that it is clear to the Senate and the public that today the Government did not get away with its attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.