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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1597

Senator VIGOR —My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Communications flows from the Government's restoration to both the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Special Broadcasting Service of the $1m slashed from each of their budgets at the last moment last year and passed off as possible merger savings, together with the $5m cut from the ABC earlier. In view of this debacle, will the Government in future consult with the national broadcasters before setting impossible targets at the last moment? Do the Prime Minister's comments at the end of the last week mean that the Government will not now bring the defeated ABC-SBS merger legislation back into the Parliament? Will the Government now implement its November 1985 decision that a Special Broadcasting Corporation should be established, or will it continue to try to undermine the morale of SBS staff and supporters with constant threats of absorption into the ABC?

Senator WALSH —One of the most attractive features about having an early election-an election held earlier than it might otherwise have been-is that it would get rid of Senator Vigor earlier than might otherwise be the case.

Senator Ryan —Very tempting!

Senator WALSH —Yes, it is very tempting. We would not have to put up with him at another Estimates committee in the Budget session, either.

Senator Haines —On a point of order, Mr President: I fail to see what that has to do with either the question that Senator Vigor asked or the answer that the Minister should be giving. I ask you to draw the Minister's attention to the need for relevance.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order, but Senator Haines is correct. Senator Walsh should answer the question.

Senator WALSH —I entirely agree with both Senator Haines and you, Mr President. Coming to the substance of the question, if that is not too complimentary a way to describe it, Senator Vigor referred to the `defeated ABC-SBS merger legislation'. In fact, that legislation has not been defeated; it has not yet been dealt with by the Senate. Having corrected that assertion, let me correct another implicit allegation. The Prime Minister said that there would be no administrative merger if the Senate were to reject the merger Bill. On the policy question, members of the fairies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden party-or those who belong to the fairies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden school of thought-find that it is never necessary to count the cost of anything that seems to be a good idea. Such people can always be on the side of the angels, supporting every seemingly worthy call on the public purse by various groups without ever having to face the responsibility of supplying the funds that are required.

Senator Button has stated on numerous occasions-and this is a comment with which I entirely agree-that only one or two countries in the whole world have one national broadcasting authority which is entirely funded by the taxpayers. In Australia we either have or are on the way to having two such authorities. Australia cannot afford two national broadcasting services which are entirely taxpayer funded. The Democrats' position on this matter, and particularly the actions of Senator Vigor, reflects a typically opportunistic and irresponsible approach. What is far more disgraceful is the fact that the official Opposition, while ostensibly supporting a policy of public expenditure control, has, for entirely opportunistic reasons, decided that it, too, will oppose the legislation. I hope that sometime between now and when the Senate finally determines the fate of this Bill, the Opposition can put a bit of steel-or at least a bit of bone-into John Howard's backbone so that he can make Opposition senators behave in accordance with the policy principles that his Party has enunciated.