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Thursday, 10 March 1932


Mr STEWART (Parramatta) . - Like some of the earlier speakers, I cannot enthusiastically support this bill. Indeed, all it seems to do is to supplant by a so-called commission, the contractors who now provide programmes, although I shall show that the commission, when appointed, will not have as much power and authority as the contractors have at present. The Minister will probably tell us that this bill does not affect B class stations, and while that is generally correct, they are seriously affected by one clause, which provides that the national broadcasting stations may enter into competition with B class stations in respect of sponsored programmes. I see the possibility of this measure being used as a stepping stone to the assumption of direct control of P> class stations. I am prompted in what I say by a very intimate knowledge of what has happened through the operation of analogous legislation in New South Wales. There has been a sequence of transport acts in that State during the past three years, the first few of which were quite innocuous. They were designed to place the control of national transport in the hands of some board or another, and they went from step to step - and some of the steps were Olympian - until to-day we have the existing transport monster in New South Wales. I refer, of course, to the legislation, not r lie Minister. This bill may be the stepping stone, and a little later we may see issued from this chamber a broadcasting co-ordination bill. Some of us who live in New South Wales know what implications are associated with the word " r-o-ordination." The proposal that is placed before the House is neither fish, flesh, fowl nor good red herring. It is said to be modelled on the British Broadcasting Corporation. As the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and others have said, it falls much below that standard. I was inclined to agree strongly with the criticism that was levelled at the salaries proposed to be paid to the commissioners, bin. after analysing the measure, and realizing the real ambit of the responsibilities of the commissioners, I am inclined to change my opinion, and to think that they will be overpaid. Clause 5, as has been pointed out by the right honorable member for North Sydney and others, in a general way, places the acts of the commission-


Mr Fenton - I can assure the honorable member that he need not labour that matter.


Mr STEWART - Then I shall pass on to clause 15. As the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) pointed out, there again the Minister possesses a real measure of control as the fixation of the salaries payable, not only to the general manager, but to his first six subordinates, is to be subject to the approval of the Minister. Clause 16 provides that -

2.   The hours during which programmes shall be broadcast from the various national broadcasting stations shall be subject to the approval of the Minister.

This commission is not even to have the right to say whether it shall start at !> or 10 in the morning, without receiving the approval of the Minister.

Section 17 provides that the commission shall have the right to conduct certain subsidiary interests, but it specifies that none of those subsidiary interestsshall be engaged in by the commission without the approval of the Minister. Section 19 stipulates that the commission shall not, without the approval of the Minister, conduct any transaction which exceeds the sum of £5,000. Perhaps not so much exception can be taken to that, because the ultimate financial responsibility that is assumed by the commissionrests upon the Government. However,, as the commission will start off with an annual revenue in excess of £200,000, that limit of £5,000 appears to be a small one.. Sub-section 2 of section 20 sets out that-

The location of any studios to be providedby the commission in pursuance of this section, shall be subject to the approval of tinMinister.

The commission cannot even select its. own studios without ministerial approval. Section 21 is even worse, as it provides that the commission shall not " without the permission of the Minister, transmit or receive for transmission any message the transmission of which would, without the authority of, or licence granted by, the Minister administering the Post and Telegraph Act 1901-23, or the WirelessTelegraphy Act 1905-19, contravene the provisions of either of those acts ". That is not so hurtful. Section 22 provides that even that modicum of advertising effort which is permitted the commission shall not be indulged in without ministerial approval.

Section 52 provides -

The Minister may, from time to time, by notice in writing, prohibit the commission from broadcasting any matter, or matter of any class or character, specified in the notice, or may require the commission to refrain from broadcasting any such matter.

Some of us know something about the love letters that have been exchanged between a certain Minister of the New

SouthWales State Government and the Railways Commissioner of that State, and we can imagine the nature of some of the epistles that would pass between a Minister of that type and this commission if he ever became established in the Commonwealth Government.

I have pointed out the very small ambit of the responsibilities that rest on this commission. While I believe that we shall experience real difficulty in finding the proper type of men to conduct this work, because of the parsimonious salaries that are offered, I believe that the greatest drawback is that, after all, these commissioners are merely to be rubber stamps. What we need is a real copy of the British system, even if that means the complete subordination of the B class stations, and I speak, perhaps, as one who has the greatest individual interest in B class stations in Australia. Rather than see a half-baked measure of this type, I should prefer the alternative to which I have referred. The second last speaker suggested that B class stations should participate in the licencefees. I say " amen " to that, of course, but I do not submit it as a serious proposition. Advertising, however, should be left to B class stations, as that is their only field of revenue.

I am glad that the bill specifically exempts direct advertising from the powers of the commission. But is it fair that this body, which starts off without any capital, except that which is invested by the Treasury, and which is heavily subsidized by the licence-fees that are received, should be allowed to compete even in a measure with the B class stations which have no other source of revenue? It has been pointed out to-night that the revenue of the national stations for the past' year was in excess of £200,000. I draw attention to the fact that since 1925 licences have increased in number from 61,000 to 341,000, and this during a period of unparalleled depression. One can visualize what will happen in the way of expansion when the full benefit of the recent change of Federal Government is felt. It is not difficult to forecast that within the next three or four years the number of licences will increase to 500,000, and that the revenue of the commission will automatically reach one-third of a million pounds, to say nothing about the additional £50,000 which will go straight into the coffers of the commission should the subsidy of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited be terminated.

I feel that, innocuous and limited as its provisions may be, this is but the beginning of another trading enterprise, and I have seen sufficient of them to make me a very definite opponent of any expansion of that principle. In his speech, the last Postmaster-General (Mr. A. Green) - and I believe that most of the provisions of this measure were sponsored by him - let the cat out of the bag when he said that it was necessary to provide that national events, such as cricket matches, should be preserved for national stations. There is nothing at present to prevent those stations competing with B class stations in that class of work. Surely they have little complaint, seeing that they are so substantially backed by. the Government, whereas B class stations are entirely dependent on that field of revenue. They should, at least, start equal. A reference was made to the development and encouragement of Australian music. I point out that only recently it was left to a B class station to put over the air the Australian Grand Opera chorus. It is only reasonable to ask that the national station, under whatever control it might be, should, at least, start off without the advantage of both a subsidy and the right of advertising.

Although I am not able, enthusiastically, to acclaim the measure, I hope that in the committee stages some amendments will be accepted by the Minister. The honorable gentleman has already intimated to me and other honorable members that he will do that, and, at that stage, I hope to make some acceptable contributions.

Debate (on motion by Mr.Makin) adjourned.







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