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Thursday, 10 March 1932

Mr HUGHES (North Sydney) . - All will agree with the last speaker that the subject-matter of this bill is of vital importance to the people of Australia. It would be almost impossible to exaggerate the value of broadcastingor to set limits to. its- sphere of influence. In. one or other of its many forms, wireless has revolutionized the world, and will continue to do so. It has banished isolation and annihilated distance, and by bringing more closely together the nations of the world, and removing misunderstanding, between their peoples, it has made the first substantial step towards world peace. It has done incalculable service to the Empire. Associated with the Beam service, it has made Empire government, at. last possible. Our voice can now be heard in every other dominion, and we, in turn, can hear theirs.

In introducing the measure, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Fenton) indulged in what he seemed to regard as an eulogistic fantasy of the future of broadcasting. Yet his remarks fell far short of the prosaic facts; the influence of broadcasting can hardly be expressed in words. It has permeated' every phase of human activity, national, social and economic, and has opened to us almost unlimited vistas. Australia is a democracy. Whether it be well or ill governed must depend entirely upon the character of its people, and broadcasting furnishes the most potent and flexible agency for their education in every avenue of human activity. In the arts, in music, in science, in general knowledge, its influence is far-reaching. When we consider our difficulties as a democracy, difficulties aggravated by our isolated position,, we must welcome the advent of broadcasting. Therefore, in considering a measure for the better utilization of this incalculable boon, we must determine whether the machinery proposed to be set up is likely to function for benefiting the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) spoke almost unreservedly in favour of the bill. We are to conclude, therefore, that he regards this machinery as satisfactory. But, curiously enough, it is his opinion - unshared, I fear, by our people of Australia - that the existing system of broadcasting control in Australia is also satisfactory. Surely the answer to those who contend that the existing system is satisfactory is that the measure before us has been introduced t® put am end to it. My remarks, of course. are confined: to the control of the A class stations.

This bill purports to provide for a governing council on the lines; of the British Broadcasting Corporation. I wish that I could think that it did so-. Here and there one can see some superficial! resemblance to the British Broadcasting Corporation ; but, in essence, wehave in it only on exceptionally paleshadow of that corporation. I agree with the Minister that the British Broadcasting Corporation has been an unqualified' success. It weald be difficult to exaggerate tha influence for good that that corporation has had upon the people of Great Britain. There was never a time in the history of the Mother Country or of the world when it was so desirable that there should be such a convenient, flexible instrumentality for informing and moulding public opinion.

The underlying principle in the control of wireless by the British Broadcasting Corporation is complete independence of outside control. Wireless in Great Britain is not the plaything of any political party. It is not controlled by any chain of newspapers, such as that referred to by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green); it is not subjected to the influence of capitalistic interests. The initial step taken in Great Britain to control wireless was one natural to a people gifted with a genius for self-government. The importance of broadcasting was clearly recognized ; the best men available for its control were sought, and it is now generally admitted that those selected were men of great ability and ripe judgment. In Sir John Reith, an ideal man for the position of chairman, was found.. Having found the- man, the Government placed full authority in his hands.

Mr Stewart - And a full pay envelope, not a mere £500 a year !

Mr HUGHES - What the British people did in regard to wireless, we have done in regard to other things. We have realized, in other connexions, that if we want the best service, we must be prepared to pay for it. Britain paid for the best type of man, and she has got it. Surely, it cannot be supposed that this supremely important agency for the moulding of the character of the people, the educating of public opinion, the elevation of the taste of the community, and the recreating of spiritual impulses, can be entrusted to a board of men who give to it only their spare time. I believe that I am re-echoing the opinion of the great majority of our people when I say that we are profoundly disappointed with the proposals of the Government. It must be apparentthat the success of thenew era of wireless on which we are said to be entering depends almost wholly on the personnel of this commission.Can any one imagine that a mere change from Mr. Stuart Doyle, actingas Mr. Stuart Doyle, to Mr. Stuart Doyle, acting as chairman of a broadcasting commission, is likely to have a miraculous effect? There is no virtue in a commission qua commission. We must get the right man for this important position. The right man was secured in England. It was not known at the time that he was the right man, but he has certainly proved himself to he so. No one in Britain to-day would dream of going back to the unco-ordinated, unsystematized method of conducting broadcasting which was in operation prior to the creation of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

This bill stands condemned because it proposes to place broadcasting in the hands of men who, ex hypothesi, are mediocrities. Only mediocrities could be obtained for 'the salaries proposed. I say deliberately that the influence of this broadcasting commission upon the community will rank in importance with that of our education department,, and our universities. Broadcasting will be more potent in reaching out to the distant parts of this great country, and in exerting an influence for good or for evil, than any other agency, including our educational system and ouruniversities.

Mr Archdale Parkhill - Nonsense !

Mr HUGHES - No one will deny that as an educational factor broadcasting supplements the activities of our education departments. Yet is it proposed that this supremely important work shall be placed in the hands of a committee of five persons whose combined salarieswill amount to only £1,800 a year. The hon- orable member for Kalgoorlie gave us an apt illustration when he asked whether people outside could do our job better than we could do it ourselves. If that question were submitted to us for discussion, we should witness a demonstration of unanimity the like of which had not previouslybeen manifested in this Parliament. If it is worth £800 a year, or £1,000 a year, to represent one constituency in this Parliament, can it be supposed that £500 a year is an adequate remuneration for theman in whose hands will be placed the great instrument of wireless, which can do so much for the welfare of the nation?

Mr White - It is only about the salary of a union secretary.

Mr HUGHES - When I was a union secretary, I did not receive even that amount. I am profoundly disappointed with this bill. We were given to understand that the measure would be modelled on the British system of control. But it would be a mockery to compare the commission which the Government proposes to set up with the British Broadcasting Corporation. Our commissioners are to be paid a beggarly pittance.

The honorable member for Kalgoorlie gave the case away when he said that the Postmaster-General's Department would really control wireless. It is perfectly natural that a person with my history should favour government control of important public utilities; but political control of broadcasting would be disastrous.


Mr HUGHES - It is not proposed in so many words, but that is what the bill does. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Fen ton) is in office to-day, because the party with which he is connected was returned to power with an overwhelming majority; but surely the honorable gentleman's memory will carry him back two years and compel him to think of the uncertainties of political life. Political control of wireless means controlby Mr. Fenton to-day and by Mr. Green tomorrow.

Mr Fenton - That is notthe object of thebill.

Mr HUGHES - But it will be the effect of it.

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Either of us would do thework well.

Mr HUGHES - That is not the point. We have to face the fact that our appro- val of this bill will mean the political control of wireless. What we want is a commission entirely independent of political control. We want an independent control. This bill proposes to place the control of this vitally important agency for the moulding of public opinion and the advancement of general knowledge in the hands of five persons, none of whom may possess the qualifications necessary to discharge the highly important duties which will devolve upon them.

Let us look at what this commission will have to do. In the first place, it will have to control revenues amounting to £400,000 per annum.

Mr.Fenton. - Only half that amount of revenue will be available to the commission.

Mr HUGHES - It is vitally important to the Treasury, not only that the existing revenue shall be maintained, but that an increased revenue shall be earned through this agency. If the revenue is to be increased, the commission will be required to provide attractive programmes, and to demonstrate the utility of broadcasting. It will have to earn the revenue before it can spend it; and to earn it, it will have to provide good programmes.

Mr Fenton - The general manager and his staff will do that.

Mr Stewart - Then why have a commission ?

Mr HUGHES - There is something Gilbertian about this whole proposal. A chairman is to be appointed at £500 a year, a vice-chairman at £400 a year, and three other commissioners at £300 a year each ; but on the Minister's own confession, they will not draw up the programmes. They will merely appoint a general manager, whose salary will, no doubt, be greatly in excess of the remuneration of the five of them.

Mr Marr - Amalgamated Wireless Limited is operating under this plan today.

Mr HUGHES - That has nothing whatever to do with the subject.

Mr Marr - The Commonwealth Bank is managed by a Board of Directors.

Mr HUGHES - The Governor of the bank is really the manager of it. I shall not be a party to the adoption of a policy which deliberately vests control of this great agency in the hands of mediocrities. Men of first-class ability are wanted for this commission. The Postmaster-General has suggested that the general manager will draw up the programmes.

Mr Fenton - I did nothing of the kind.

Mr HUGHES - That was my understanding of the statements made by the honorable gentleman in his speech, and in his interjection a few minutes ago.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to8 p.m.

Mr HUGHES - The Minister, by way of interjection, said that the commission would not draw up the programmes. Therefore, as broadcasting will be successful or unsuccessful according as programmes are suited to the tastes of the people and the circumstances of this country, it follows that the commission is not to do the very thing for which the control of broadcasting is desirable and necessary. I shall, however, point to some of the clauses of this bill which seem to be in conflict with what the Minister has said. I direct his attention to clause 16, which contains these words -

The commission shall undertake the provision and rendition of adequate and comprehensive programmes for broadcasing.

I do not know what interpretation the honorable gentleman places upon those words, which seem to me to be unambiguous and free from possibility of misunderstanding. To the ordinary man, they mean that the commission is to draw up the programme, yet the Minister says that it is not to do so. Clause 24 states -

The commission shall, as far as possible, give encouragement to the development of local talent and endeavour to obviate restriction of the utilization of the services of persons who, in the opinion of the commission, are competent to make useful contributions to broadcasting programmes.

There it would appear that the commission is given authority to deal with matters directly incidental to the drawing up of programmes. The Minister, however, says that the commission is not given such authority, and when we inquire "then who is?" he replies "the general manager." Whenever he gets into difficulties he falls back upon the general manager. This person who, in the beginning, was an obscure and vague outline, now takes the very centre of the stage, and on him is directed the full force of the spot light. Thus a bill to create a commission we find to be only an instrument for appointing a general manager. That was not the presentation of the case by the Minister in his secondreading speech. We were under the impression that the commission, although inadequately paid, was to render in its spare time invaluable services to the community. By its wise and far-seeing control of broadcasting, it was to make possible the Utopian condition which the Minister spoke of last evening.

As the honorable gentleman introduced this measure to substitute for the present control of broadcasting, a system which in its very nature is intended to cure the defects from which the present system suffers, we are at a loss to understand what it is that the honorable gentleman has in his mind. His continuous references to the "British Broadcasting Corporation seem to be so much beating the air. As I pointed out, there is nothing in this measure which is analogous to the system under which the British Broadcasting Corporation operates. That is an independent authority free from all political control. The party that supports the present Government was returned, I thought, to encourage private enterprise. I may be wrong, of course, but I was certainly under that impression. Yet political control is the very basis of this measure. That may be an excellent thing, but it is capable of tremendous possibilities.

Mr Fenton - Political control is neither an excellent thing, nor the basis of the bill. Even the British Broadcasting Corporation bus its programmes director.

Mr HUGHES - The Minister has evidently not read the bill; but that is easily understood, because we gathered from the remarks of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) that this measure was evidently prepared under the direction of the PostmasterGeneral in the last Government. I call attention to sub-clause 1 of clause 5, winch states -

For the purposes of this act, there shall be a commission, to be known as the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which shall be charged with the general administration of this act, subject to such directions (if any) as are from time to time given by the Minister.

Have those words any meaning? Perhaps they were not included in the text of the measure drafted by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie ; but the sub-clause certainly gives the Minister power to direct the policy of the commission. The Minister tells us that the commission really has no authority at all, and, consequently, can have no policy; it is the general manager who exercises the authority. When we come to the general manager we find that the Minister can direct him as to what he shall do. If that is not meant by the words that 1 have quoted, what do they mean?

We find in the bill the term " sponsored programme ". This is a new phrase possessing the mellifluous fullness of that blessed word Mesopotamia. What is a sponsored programme? I speak subject to correction, as one must necessarily do in a case like thi3 where the words in a bill mean nothing. A sponsored programme is one for which somebody is responsible. Suppose that a big advertiser wishes to direct the attention of the public to his goods by means of wireless broadcasting. He can make arrangements with an A class station, and the sponsored programme gives him an obvious advantage. He can make arrangements for a programme of good quality, and can then put his advertisements across on the air. Nobody would go to a B class station if he could obtain the use of an A class station for the same price. I thought that the B class station, being run by private enterprise, was, so to speak, sacrosanct from the iconoclastic hands of the Minister. But that is not so. We shall be told, of course, that this sponsored programme will be as rare as a white crow. Under clause 5, of course, that is for the Minister to determine. If the present Government should ever go out of office - and we pray that it may never do that; but if, in the fullness of time, it should cease to exist and another should sit in its place, that other government would determine all the uses to which broadcasting may be put in this country. When we consider clause 5 under which the Minister may direct the commission, and that this' commission is composed of mediocrities - persons, at any rate, who are to do in their spare time what is required of them - or, if you like, geniuses who in the abundance of their knowledge and energy will be able in their spare time by a mere wave of the hand to do all which ordinary men could hardly do in a full day, we are filled with apprehension. The commissioners are to be mere puppets; their control is illusory. They are all to be subject, of course, to the general manager, who in turn is to We subject to the Minister. That appears to me to make it perfectly plain, first of all, that this commission is not to control broadcasting, but is to be controlled by the Postmaster-General's Department, not habitually, but when the Minister deems it necessary. So long as these commissioners - men of straw - do as the department wishes, there will be no direction ; but if they do not, then the Minister will " direct " them just what they should do. If this is not political control, what is? We hear strange rumours in the land. To-day we were told that Mr. Lang contemplates secession, but yesterday we were informed that he contemplated coming into this House, and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) is believed to be ready, like another John the Baptist, to prepare the way for him. Therefore, we must look forward to the time when Mr. Lang, exercising that potent influence in federal politics that be certainly exerts in the politics of New South Wales, will be sitting in this chamber, and will be able to wield the control contemplated under clause 5. That does not appeal to me. I am entirely opposed to the political control of broadcasting, and I want to see a commission established which will be entirely independent of such control, so that no political party will -be able to use this great public instrumentality for its own purposes. We all, I think, want that. We desire, too, a commission which will command respect, and be composed of men possessing qualities which will ensure that broadcasting shall be used for, not only the entertainment, but also the education of the people. Broadcasting will have a potent influence on speech. That is most desirable, because slipshod speech connotes slipshod thinking. It will, I hope, educate the people to an appreciation of the higher classes of music, and instruct them in literature, science, and general knowledge. It will lend itself to the advancement of industry by disseminating far and wide those processes which from time to time science and expert knowledge are placing at the disposal of our producers, so that all sections will have the advantage of up-to-date information, and expert advice upon matters of first importance to them. But if broadcasting is to do this great and necessary work its control must be vested in a commission composed of men of vision and knowledge. The British Broadcasting Company has achieved wonderful things, but particularly has it exercised a potent influence in raising the musical taste of the people. We want a national orchestra in Australia. It should have been established long ago ; when it is, it will have a direct and powerful influence on the character and spiritual life of our people. We want to encourage native-born talent in drama and music, both vocal and instrumental. To do all these things we must have a comprehensive policy attuned to the circumstances of this country and suited to the times in which we live. We cannot have that unless control of this service is vested in men of the highest capacity ; indeed the very institution itself will depend in the last analysis on the character of the men who control it, and it is most unfortunate that the Government has not made provision for the creation of an independent board of commissioners vested with complete control. The salary and tenure of the commissioners should be such as would attract the most able men in the country. This Parliament should place beyond the power of any government the utilization of broadcasting for partisan purposes. I am the last to suggest that the views of political parties should not reach the people by air, but the manner in which this should be done should be determined, not by political partisans, but by an entirely independent body. While the B class stations continue to operate there will be no need for any special provision for political propaganda through the A class stations.

I am profoundly disappointed with this measure. I cannot conceive that it will create those conditions which are desirable in the control of broadcasting. The bill is vitiated by cardinal defects, and the Government would be wise to amend it radically on the lines I have indicated. But particularly this House should not be asked to vest the control of broadcasting in a commission which the Minister has declared will have no authority to control programmes, but will be limited to the appointment of a general manager of whom we know nothing, and who, in his turn, will be subject to the direction of the Postal Department, thus making the commission in substance, if not in name, a politically controlled organization.

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