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Thursday, 17 March 1932

Mr MARKS (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As a rule, the honorable member says something that is worthy of attention; but I cannot regard his present suggestion in that light. I am not enamoured of commissions. I prefer that broadcasting should be under the direct control of the PostmasterGeneral's Department, possibly acting in conjunction with an advisory committee.

Mr Maxwell - I evidently read the mind of the honorable member aright.

Mr MAKIN - Broadcasting affords a medium of expression that should be at the service of all. I believe that wireless broadcasting is now more powerful as a moulder of public opinion than is the press, but, unfortunately, though any section can express its opinions through a news sheet, there is a limitation to the expression of public opinion through the medium of broadcasting stations. An effort is being made by the important newspaper combines of Australia to obtain control of wireless broadcasting. The possibility of only one side of a question being promulgated through this far- reaching agency was made manifest during the last general election. I remember how, night after night, the United Australia party practically monopolized the services of a certain broadcasting station in

Adelaide, and disseminated its views. It would be interesting to obtain a return from that station showing how much the United Australia party paid for the privilege. If it paid the scale of charges that was applied to the fifteen minutes when Iused the station, I am confident that those concerned considerably exceeded the sum that is allowed candidates under the Electoral Act. It is not right that any one party should have a monopoly of what is equivalent to a political platform. There should be more equity,and a wider measure of freedom, when regulating the medium of broadcasting for the purposes of political propaganda. This measure should be made more comprehensive, and it should place wireless broadcasting under the control of the PostmasterGeneral's Department.

Mr McBride - What about the commission ?

Mr MAKIN - The very low salary that is offered to prospective commissioners makes it improbable that persons of the proper calibre will accept the position. It is proposed to appoint a general manager, who will be responsible for the policy that is determined uponby the commission; but as the members of that body will be only part-time officials, they will not give the same satisfaction as they would if wholly responsible for the administration of wireless broadcasting in Australia. They will give their divided attention to the matter, and that can result only unsatisfactorily.

Mr McBride - The Chairman of Directors of the Commonwealth Bank is a part-time official.

Mr MAKIN do not subscribe to the beliefs of the honorable member in that respect. I consider that the Commonwealth Bank should be under the direction of the Governor, subject to the control of this Parliament and the Treasury, as was originally intended.

Radio is, socially and politically, one of the most revolutionary additions to the pool of human resources, and we should be careful not to leave any loophole which will permit a service that rightly belongs to the people to be exploited by any monopoly. At the bottom, the issue is part of the larger conflict between exploitation for private profit and the increasingly articulate movement for public ownership and public operation of essential services. In this conflict the citadel of radio is the key position, because the control of radio means increasingly the control of public opinion. This fact the press has recognized.

The matter of sponsored programmes is one of the most contentious features of the bill, so far as ministerial opinion is concerned.

Mr McBride - The honorable member appears to be well-informed.

Mr MAKIN - My information has the basis of fact. Private enterprise feels that a national station is likely to intrude upon a source of income that has hitherto been its exclusive right. Why should not the national stations enjoy the right of broadcasting some of the special features that are associated with sponsored programmes? There is no proposal that these stations should engage in general advertising, but the press is endeavouring to make the public believe that the Government is seeking to invade the whole field of advertising by wireless. I would not be opposed to the national stations operating in that field; but the hill does not provide for their doing it.

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - According to a schedule of amendments just circulated by the Government, sponsored programmes are to be cut out.

Mr MAKIN - If that is so, the PostmasterGeneral has been obliged to climb down in a most humiliating fashion. Apparently private enterprise has been able to extract from the Government its full pound of flesh. Not that we need be surprised at the Government submitting to such domination, for there is no doubt that those who are in power to-day will offer every facility to the wealthy interests which desire special privileges and opportunities to exploit the public. If the Government has abandoned some of the main principles of the bill, the public will need no further proof of the power of the vested interests that are behind the Ministry.

Mr Bernard Corser - Country interests.

Mr MAKIN - Before long the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) will have serious occasion to" re- gret giving to private interests control of a service that is probably more important to country people than to those in the metropolitan areas. I prophesy that the day will come that the honorable member will rise to protest indignantly against the abuses which have developed out of private domination of radio services. What is happening in connexion with this bill indicates what we may expect from this Government whenever it has to choose between protecting the interests of the community and giving special privileges to private vested interests.

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