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Thursday, 10 March 1932


Mr WHITE (Balaclava) - I welcome this bill in that it is a step towards bringing broadcasting control in Australia into line with the excellent system which obtains in Great Britain ; but it is a very small step, ind'eed. This proposal, as I see it, is merely a parody of the British system. The Minister who introduced the bill has interviewed many deputations, more than one of which requested that a select committee be appointed to go into the whole subject before legislation was passed. Having regard to the immense scope of broadcasting, and the great influence it can have upon the education and culture of a community, as was pointed out by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), too much care cannot be exercised in framing measures for its control. We have been told by the Minister that the system proposed to be inaugurated here resembles the British broadcasting system. So far as I can see, the only similarity is that the commission is to have a seal and a charter. Clause 5 of the bill provides that the commission is to be charged with the general administration of the act, subject to the directions, if any, given to it by the Minister. Clause 15 provides that the commission shall appoint a general manager, and such other officers as it thinks fit, but the salaries paid to the general manager and the six next highest officers shall be subject to the decision of the Minister. The Minister said that the general manager would exercise control over programmes. It would be extraordinary, indeed, if the general manager were able to exercise effective control over the programmes broadcast from various stations throughout the whole of the Commonwealth.


Mr Fenton - Of course the general manager would have certain officers under him.


Mr WHITE - But who are these officers to be? Under the British system, outside officers, free from political control, and possessed of great culture and attainments, are appointed for this purpose; but under our system, the general manager and six executive officers are to have in their hands the control of broadcasting programmes. The general manager win be a man who is at present a member of the civil service, and the six other persons will be appointed by the Government. What a parody this is of the system operating in Great Britain ! A board or commission is much the same as a board of directors, and the members of this board will be paid quite inadequate salaries. It may be possible to obtain the services of suitable men for the remuneration offered. There are, no doubt, leisured persons in Australia possessing the necessary culture who may be prepared to do this national work for small recompense. We should remember, however, that it will not be a full-time job. They will merely attend certain meetings to deal with the business put before them. When a board of directors meet, they deal with the business which has been prepared for them by the secretary; they go through it in a perfunctory way, accepting the recommendations of the executive officers. That is how many companies are run, and yet the directors receive larger fees than it is proposed to pay to members of this commission.

It must be admitted that the programmes broadcast in Australia have not been all they might have been, and there are many reasons for this. The A class stations engage performers who, apparently, made a great impression on the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) ; but in many instances, the stations cannot afford to pay big salaries, and they are trying all the time to dodge paying fees to the Performing Bight Association. The result is that, although occasionally good programmes are broadcast, as a general rule the quality is indifferent. I agree with the right honorable member for East Sydney that the B class stations have given the best service.


Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - They play a lot of gramophone records.


Mr WHITE - That is true, and gramophone music is frequently the best. It is certainly better than the efforts of the " Wiregrass " brass band, or of some egregious comedian. When the other stations are not treating their listeners-in to such items as that, they are only too frequently broadcasting the odds at Ascot or the depth of the water in the Murrumbidgee at, say, 5 o'clock in the afternoon. The British Broadcasting Commission is composed of qualified persons who go thoroughly into the matter of programmes. That is the main reason for having a commission, and its work has been an admitted success from an educational and cultural point of view. Much the same sort of thing could be done here. It is surprising, however, that Cabinet should expect much from a commission, consisting of a chairman receiving £500 a year, and a few lesser lights, assisted by a manager and executive. In view of the fact that committees have been appointed to inquire into transport and other important problems confronting this country, surely broadcasting, which is as important, should have been investigated by a select committee. Had that been done, we would not have wasted so much time in this House discussing this legislation. We should have had an immediate and complete change, whereas this legislation is but a step in that direction. About 330,000 licences are issued in Australia, and it is estimated that there are four listeners-in to each licence. Therefore, something like 1,300,000 people, representing one-sixth of our population, are interested in wireless. If we wish to make wireless popular, and to bring civilization and education nearer to the people who are pioneering outback, we should reduce the licence-fees. At present the Postmaster-General charges ls. for collecting fees; 12s. is paid to the companies carrying on broadcasting for the cost of their programmes; 3s. per licence is paid to the Amalgamated Wireless Limited; and 8s. to the PostmasterGeneral's Department for technical services. That is a total of 24s. In Great Britain the cost is about one-third of that amount. Although we have a greater space over which to broadcast, there is no reason why the fees should not be reduced.

The technical control of broadcasting is an important factor. The bill provides for the usual governmental control. The British Broadcasting Corporation has its own technical branch.

I admit that there is one good argument for government control, since it controls trunk line telegraphs for distant broadcasting; yet it is clear that there is lack of co-ordination in respect of the technical side of broadcasting. I do not wish to disparage the eminent engineers employed in the Postmaster-General's Department; but there is no reason why they should not be transferred to the technical branch of the commission. If that is not to be provided for in the bill, I hope that the commission, when it is appointed, will take early steps to establish its own technical department. In 1927 a royal commission inquired into wireless, and in its report it strongly condemned the conduct of Amalgamated Wireless Limited. If the Government is cognizant of that fact, it should certainly institute an inquiry into patent rights.


Mr Fenton - The Government is doing that.


Mr WHITE - The following paragraph on this subject appeared in the Argus of the 15th September last: -

For stations 3LO and 2FC Sydney, the Postal Department hired the necessary technical equipment from Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, which owns and operates the stations. There is ample evidence to show that this arrangement has proved cumbersome, uneconomical, and wholly unsatisfactory. The essential components of such a public utility cannot easily be conducted under entirely independent control. A single illustration - an example of which occurs almost daily in one State or other - will serve to show how impracticable effective co-ordination has proved.

I have heard producers of plays who have broadcast them in Melbourne complain that the whole performance had been marred because they were unable to overcome their technical difficulties. The paragraph continues -

A technical mishap or failure may mar a performance upon which several weeks of rehearsal have been spent. Listeners are not slow to express their disappointment to the broadcasting company. The company, however, is powerless to take remedial action. Its manager cannot send for the responsible engineer and make such arrangements as will prevent a recurrence. Instead, he must transmit the complaint to the Postal Department, which, perhaps, has to refer it to Amalgamated Wireless. In a week or so the- company receives a reply from the department that the complaint has been investigated, and, it is hoped, rectified.

The necessary co-ordination is lacking, and without it we cannot have perfect technical transmission and reception. Why does not the Government go the whole hog and let the broadcasting commission be a commission in effect? Let it be free from the influence of any Minister, and let it have its own technical department to deal with inadequacies of transmission.

Reference has been made made to the B class stations. The bill provides for advertising by A class stations. That should not be a government prerogative. If these A class stations are allowed to advertise under government control they will employ advertising agents, who will canvass against the commercial newspapers and advertising journals for advertisements.


Mr Fenton - That is not provided for in the bill.


Mr WHITE - If that is so, I am satisfied. The B class stations should still be allowed to advertise, in view of the fact that they are largely carried on with revenue from advertisements. In Great Britain the Broadcasting Corporation has arranged for different wave lengths for various items, thus preventing jazz music, sport news, police news, and weather reports from being broadcast consecutively. By that means a person who wishes to listen to a musical programme can do so without switching on to a different station every few minutes. I suggest to the Government that a similar system be adopted here. Free licences should be given to the blind. That suggestion was made in England, but I do not know whether it was carried out.


Mr Makin - Hospitals should be included as well.


Mr WHITE - I agree with the honorable member. In most instances, hospital sets have been built by charitable workers.


Mr Fenton - Largely by telephone workers within the Public Service.


Mr WHITE - And by others outside the service. It is excellent work. I hope, too, that the commission will take cognizance of the valuable wireless service instituted by the Australian Inland Mission. That mission has a transmitting set and is able to transmit news to the big cattle stations in the north of Queensland to whom it has supplied receiving sets and pedal transmitting sets. It is prepared to take any telegraph messages and to transmit them and vice versa. The department derives considerable revenue in that way.


Mr Gabb - It is a great convenience.

Mr.WHITE. - It is an immense convenience. In that way the flying doctor is brought to cases of sickness. The service given by that mission has enabled the women and children living within a radius of 400 miles of Cloncurry to live under a mantle of safety. I hope that the Government will agree to the suggestion to assist this mission by granting it £150 and its former subsidy, and, in addition, to place at its disposal the services of the technical staff of the Postmaster-General's Department. The Performing Eight Association has also been adversely criticized by theRoyal Commission on Wireless, which sat in 1927. That commission stated -

In view of all the circumstances the amount of the licence fees which ultimately reaches the hands of the Australian Performing Eight Association Limited, is, in our opinion, out of proportion to the service rendered, or value given, by the association, or the author whom they represent, and is an advantage that, in the majority of instances, was never contemplated as likely to belong to either the author or composer or the assignee of the copyright.

That commission pointed out that the proportion of total revenue paid by broadcasting stations in Australia was more than double that paid in Great Britain. It is evident that the Australian Performing Right Association Limited is exploiting the people of Australia, and I suggest that action should be taken against it by the broadcasting commission when it is appointed. The Wireless Commission of 1927 dealt also with patent royalties. In its report it submitted the Amalgamated Wireless Limited to trenchant criticism. It said -

From the commencement of our inquiries the demands by Amalgamated Wireless Limited for patent royalties, both on broadcasting stations and on radio traders, were a constant subject of discussion. The evidence disclosed that the operations of this company extended over every field of radio, and in almost every instance has created friction and dissatisfaction. . . As a result of the company's acts and omissions, the company is regarded with suspicion and its business methods disapproved throughout Australia.

No criticism could be stronger than that. The commission pointed out that the New Zealand Government had issued a cordial invitation to the Amalgamated Wireless Limited to take proceedings against it for refusing their claim for patent rights. The proposed broadcasting commission will be of no use unless it inquires into patent royalties. The commission of 1927 further stated-

The history of the acquisition of these rights by the company would seem to indicate that the £90,000 which it paid in shares for these rights in 1913, was arrived at by compromise, and not on any carefully considered basis of real value.

Another £3,000 was paid for a number of other rights. The wireless commission pointed out that at least 20 of these patents have expired, and that a considerable number of others have no application to wireless receiving sets. In the light of that information, and the immense revenue that Amalgamated Wireless Limited is obtaining from licence fees, I hope that the Government will institute inquiries with a view to limiting the powers of this company. Had a select committee been appointed to inquire into broadcasting, many of these details would have been dealt with. Instead, the Government has introduced a crude bill which might have been framed in one of the departments. If the proposed commission has the right personnel, it is possible that there may be a great improvement in broadcasting throughout Australia. I hope, therefore, that when the bill is in committee the Government will at least accept some of my suggestions.







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