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Thursday, 28 April 1932

Mr GUY (Bass) . - I am doubtful whether the anticipated improvements suggested under the provisions of the bill will materialize. I do not think that the broadcasting programmes will be improved under the proposed commission control any more than under some system similar to that in existence at present, but on a more competitive basis. If the Government were to invite applications for the broadcasting of programmes, I am satisfied that many associations would be willing to conduct an improved service at a cost much lower than that operating to-day. If that were done, the licence-fee could be reduced, or if that were not deemed advisable, more money would be available as suggested by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), for the provision of up-to-date equipment. The programmes are undoubtedly capable of improvement, but that improvement could be brought about under the competitive system quite as well as under the suggested commission control. We often hear of the merits of the methods of the British Broadcasting Corporation, hut I venture to say that under our present system we obtain a programme just as good as that provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation. The methods of that corporation are anything but satisfactory to the British Isles, as will be seen from the numerous adverse criticisms published by the British press respecting the programmes of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Mr Fenton - That corporation is one of the finest institutions of its kind in the world.

Mr GUY - Let us compare the position of the British Broadcasting Corporation with that of the Australian Broadcasting Company. In Great Britain £1,000,000 is available for broadcasting purposes, out of which £736,000 is made available each year for programme administration alone, in respect of only four main stations and five regional stations. In Australia, which has a vastly larger area to serve, there are eight independent A class stations and four relay stations. The money available is infinitely less, although many more hours are occupied in broadcasting. The Australian Broadcasting Company has to provide for approximately 33,000 broadcasting hours, while the British Broadcasting Corporation provides for only 17,000 broadcasting hours. In Great Britain, approximately £81,700 is available per station for programme administration as against £18,000 in Australia. Although broadcasting in this country is in its infancy, we have worked wonders in broadcasting. It costs five times as much to put programmes over the air in the British Isles as it does in Australia. Naturally we have complaints about the programmes just as there are complaints in every other country in which broadcasting is carried on. In Australia 2,920 full-day programmes have to be compiled and conducted every year. Surely that is a gigantic task for those associated with broadcasting. That figure is arrived at by taking 365 full-day programmes each year for the eight independent broadcasting A class stations.

A good deal of dissatisfaction exists concerning the activities of the Australasian Performing Right Association. That association is demanding from the broadcasting stations huge sums of money as royalties for playing allegedly copyright music. It demands from the A class stations in Australia 2s. per licence for the first 250,000 licences, 1s. 6d. for the next 50,000 licences, and1s. for all over 300,000 licences. On that basis the Australasian Performing Right Association has, during the last twelve months, collected over £31,000 from the

A class stations alone. In addition, it collects royalties from the B class stations, dance halls, picture halls, and all places of entertainment at which music is played. One of the worst features of the activities of this association is what is termed its double-banking tactics. It demands royalties, not only from broadcasting companies, but also from the proprietors of public tea-rooms and halls in which listening-in sets are established. In numerous instances the association is paid a dozen times for the broadcasting of one piece of music. This practice is nothing but a swindle and daylight robbery, and I suggest that the Government should take immediate steps to investigate the activities and affairs of this organization with a view to preventing it from further robbing the public. What becomes of the money which this organization collects by these questionable methods? Surely it is only reasonable that we should have that information. Recently I asked the Attorney-General the following question : -

Can he supply the following information regarding this company for the past year: -

(a)   What remuneration was received by each director?

(b)   What were the profits or the excess of receipts over disbursements, who participated in the distribution, and what amount was received by each ?

(c)   How many members are there in Australia, and how much did each receive ?

(d)   What is the average fee per performancein Australia?

I received the following answer : -

The information is not available in the department. The only manner in which this information could be obtained would be from the company itself.

I communicated with the secretary of the Australasian Performing Right Association, asking for this information, but up to date he has failed to supply the information. Another complaint is that there is a good deal of difficulty in securing reliable information respecting the copyright music which this organization controls. A good deal of bluff is indulged in by the association. It applies a rule-of-thumb method in fixing fees in certain cases. In some instances the official of the association takes85 per cent. of the items of the programme as being copyright items. But in other instances it has adopted different methods. It has charged the proprietor of one public place in which a receiving set is installed £3 3s., and the proprietor of another public place, who is providing the same class of entertainment, £2 2s. The public will not be satisfied until there is a. complete investigation of the activities of the Australasian Performing Right Association.

Mr.Fenton. - It is rumoured that the association has come to some arrangement with the B class stations.

Mr Stewart - That is the arbitrary arrangement of taking 85 per cent. of the items as copyright.

Mr GUY - The system is wrong. Nothing will satisfy the public but a full and complete investigation.

Mr Hutchin - Different rates are charged at different places.

Mr GUY - That is so. I rose principally to protest against the scant consideration that is being given to Tasmania so far as broadcasting is concerned, and to urge the Government to take some action to rectify the most deplorable condition of reception in that State. It may not be generally known that it was a Tasmanian who pioneered wireless in Australia. In 1898 Mr. W. P. Hallam, of Hobart, at his own expense and on his own initiative, erected a wireless transmission equipment, and established communication with a Russian vessel at sea en route to Hobart. This gentleman also initiated the long-distance telephone. The following interesting quotation is taken from a speech delivered by the late Mr. G. B. Edwards, then member for South Sydney, on the 4th of October, 1906 : -

I should like to refer to the case of Mr. Hallam, a young telegraph operator in Tasmania, who has done some excellent work in connexion with the department. I asked for the papers relating to his case some three weeks ago, and I had hoped that they would be available long before this, so that I could speak with more assurance on the subject. I have taken a great deal of interest in the case of this young man, because he appears to me to have displayed singular technical ability. I am informed that about eight years ago, of his own initiative, he erected a Marconi apparatus in Tasmania, and was able to hold communications with an incoming Russian vessel. This talented young officer was sent to Western Australia to initiate a longdistance telephone system there, and he also installed the condenser system. Later on he performed similar work in Queensland, and the honorable member for Marmion has frequently made reference to the value of the services rendered by him.

I quote that in order to show that Tasmania pioneered wireless in Australia, but, unfortunately, she has been totally neglected in that regard ever since. The A class station in Tasmania, 7ZL, might as well not exist so far as reception outside Hobart is concerned. It is obsolete and low-powered, As a matter of fact, it is the lowest powered A class station in Australia, when it should be the highest if justice were to be done to items broadcast. Unusual conditions exist in Tasmania which make reception difficult. There are zones through which nothing but the most efficient and most up-to-date transmitting plant is able to broadcast. Notwithstanding this, the Tasmanian station is obsolete, and the most inefficient in Australia. Every first class station on the mainland is five or six times as powerful as that in Tasmania. Competent authorities state that for a first class radio service it is necessary for a transmission station to provide a field strength in the immediate vicinity of thu receiving aerial of 10 millivolts per metre. The reception of 7ZL produces a field strength at Launceston of only a fraction of one millivolt per metre. It is evident, therefore, that many licence-holders in the northern portion of Tasmania derive no benefit whatever from 7ZL. Perhaps the station is in the wrong place; perhaps it should be more highly powered, or perhaps the installation of relay stations might solve the problem. That is a matter for the experts to decide, but there is no doubt that Tasmania is entitled to an up-to-date broadcasting service so that licence-holders in that State may receive the same benefits as those in the other States of the Commonwealth. When representations are made on that subject, we are always told that no money is available for providing a better service. I appreciate the fact that Australia i3 at present financially embarrassed, but I observe that there appears to be money available for providing improved wireless services in .other States. Relay stations have been erected in some of the States, though broadcasting conditions are perhaps more difficult in Tasmania than they are on the mainland. Queensland has been provided with a relay station at Rockhampton; at Newcastle there is a relay station which serves New South Wales; at Corowa there is a relay station for Victoria : at Crystal Brook there is a station which serves the same purpose for South Australia, and recently between £9,000 and £10,000 has been spent on providing an improved service for Western Australia. Tasmania, however, gets nothing, although the licence-holders in that State pay 24s. a year, as do those on the mainland. When the department accepts that fee, it enters into an implied contract to provide licence-holders in Tasmania with the same A class service as is provided for licence-holders in other parts of Australia who pay only the same fee. Many licence-holders in the northern part of Tasmania get practically no return for their fees, because it is impossible to pick up the A class stations on the mainland during the day, and the Tasmanian B class station is not on the air during the clay. It seems to me that, in regard to those northern licence-holders, the Government is taking money under false pretences. I am referring now to those licence-holders who have crystal sets, or other low power sets. When the Government took over control of broadcasting, it intimated that those using the smaller sets would be adequately catered for. The fact is, however, that such licence-holders obtain no service at all during the day, arid are able to get only the B class station at night. It would seem that the department is catering almost exclusively for the owners of expensive sets, although all licence-holders pay the same fee. Frequent representations have been made to the department regarding the inefficiency of the service in Tasmania, but always we have been told that no money is available for improving it. I am gravely disappointed with, the record of the department in this respect. There appears to be nobody in the department with sufficient ingenuity, imagination, initiative or organizing ability. Always we receive the same old stereotyped reply, " There is no money available", notwithstanding_the fact that money is available for expenditure in other States. There does not seem to me to be any use in keeping highly paid technical officers who take up the attitude that they can do nothing because they cannot obtain all the money they want. Any schoolboy, or even a person with no training whatever, could administer the department so that all licence-holders would receive adequate service provided he was allowed to spend unlimited sums of money. What we need is some one with sufficient ability to provide an adequate service with the limited amount of money available. I shudder to think what will happen if the same policy is pursued under the contemplated commission.

Some time ago the Public Works Committee recommended that telephonic communication should be established between the mainland and Tasmania. I believe that if a telephone cable were laid to Tasmania it could be used to facilitate the transmission of A class programmes from the mainland to that State. That, of course, is also a matter for experts to determine, but it may be possible that, by establishing telephonic communication with Tasmania in this way, the department could kill two birds with one stone, as it were. It might be able to provide Tasmania with an additional means of communication which is long overdue, and, at the same time, improve the broadcasting service to licence-holders.

Regarding the disabilities suffered by Tasmanian licence-holders, I should like to quote from a letter I have received from one of the many dissatisfied listeners-in in that State. The letter reads as follows : -

As the Federal Government is now dealing with the broadcasting services in Australia, I would like to advise you of the extremely poor service we owners of low-powered receiving sets in Northern Tasmania have to put up with. In my own particular case the only station I can listen to is the B class station TLA. This station, as you know, is privately owned, and is used as an advertising medium. It is not operated during the day as we have no daylight service. The licence fee of 24s. per annum, collected by the Federal Government, goes to support the A grade station in Hobart, so that we owners of cheap sets receive no service at all. A neighbour, owning - a powerful, and, therefore, expensive set, pays exactly the same amount of licence fee as I do and can enjoy the mainland services (when the atmospheric conditions permit) and certainly does receive some sort of service for his money. I would suggest that the Launceston station 7LA bc made a part time relay station, so that the best of the mainland programmes can he rebroadcast here in Launceston, either that, or else the fees for low- powered sets be considerably reduced. A number of friends of mine who own similar sets to mine are going to cancel their licences unless some sort of service is rendered to them.

It is interesting to observe that there are more cancellations of wireless licences in Tasmania on a population basis than in any other part of the Commonwealth. For February last, there were 255 cancellations, chiefly due to the inefficient service provided. I realize that owing to the present financial position, it does not appear practicable to erect a new station in Tasmania in the immediate future. I suggest, however, that the exercise of a little reasonableness and commonsense might overcome the difficulty with very little extra cost to any one. Arrangements could be made with the local B class station 7LA to relay programmes from A class stations on the mainland during the day. Tasmania is already paying for such a service, and she should receive it. It i3 not unreasonable to ask that a small percentage of the money collected from licence-holders in northern Tasmania should be spent in providing the service to which they are undoubtedly entitled. The very small extra outlay on the part of the Government would be more than compensated for by the increased number of licence-fees which would be received. Within a radius of 50 miles of Launceston there is a population of approximately 85,000. On the law of averages there should be within this area from 7,000 to 8,000 licence-holders, but, as a matter of fact, because of the inefficient service provided, and the fact that in many cases no service is obtainable at all, only 1,800 licences are held within that area. Even the Government realizes the inefficiency of the Tasmanian A class station because, when it is desired to broadcast a message as widely as possible throughout Tasmania, the Government avails itself of the B class station. The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Theodore, Sir Robert Gibson, and others who have broadcast messages to the people of the Commonwealth, have used the B class station in Tasmania, because they realized that it was imposible to get a satisfactory broadcast by any other means. During the last federal election the B class station was used most extensively.

There should be no difficulty in bringing about a relaying arrangement such as I have suggested. The B class station, TLA, belongs to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, in which company the Government holds a majority of the shares. Surely it could use its position on the directorate of that company to have instituted a system which would provide Tasmanian licence-holders with the service to which they are entitled.

Mr Hughes - How much would it cost?

Mr GUY - do not think that it would cost more than £700 or £S00 a year. All that would be needed would be the services of one or two men to operate the station during the daytime; it is already staffed during the night. The A class station at Hobart is at present allowed to rebroadcast news services from the A class stations in Melbourne, but that is. of no use to listeners-in throughout the major portion of the State. I appeal to the Government to make an arrangement which will enable listeners-in throughout the whole State to participate in A class . programmes. I trust that the Government will endeavour to give Tasmania treatment similar to that extended to the other States, and let it- have the advantages of an A class station. In the meantime I urge that favorable consideration should be given to my suggestion to allow the B class stations in my State to relay A class programmes during the day. I am satisfied that if the Government gave that proposal a trial for a few months it would meet with approval.

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