Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 28 April 1932

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) seems to be labouring under a misapprehension in .suggesting that the Broadcasting Commission will have the right to issue licences to B class stations. I take it that, under the bill, this power will still be vested in the PostmasterGeneral, and, I think, rightly so. The administration of the regulations under the Wireless Agreement Act will be under the supervision of the PostmasterGeneral's Department, as is the case in Great Britain and Germany. The comprehensive scheme, involving the ex penditure of £'750,000 for the building of a chain of A class stations and relay stations throughout the Commonwealth should be completed as soon as possible by the Commonwealth Government, though I realize, of course, that the exigencies of the financial position renderthis undertaking difficult. While the last Government was in office, it experienced difficulty owing to the shortage of money, and the completion of certain stations was temporarily held up; but I may mention that the establishment of a relay station at Rockhampton revolutionized wireless reception in Central Queensland. There the number of listeners-in is now about ten times as great as it was before that station was established. Numbers of persons may be seen listening-in at nearly every hotel and refreshment room to thu programmes broadcast from 4QG Brisbane, and sometimes relayed from 2FC Sydney. The house of every second farmer in Central Queensland is equipped with a wireless set, and our objective should be to bring the benefits of broadcasting to every home in Australia, no matter how remote the district in which it may be situated. .The balance of the money required to complete the comprehensive chain of relay stations should be found as soon as possible.

Australia cannot expect to have such an efficient broadcasting system as that in operation in Germany, whose area is smaller than that of Australia, while her population is much larger. In that country the annual revenue from listeners-in amounts to about £4,000,000. In Great Britain, with a population of 46,000,000, the annual revenue from wireless licences amounts to £2,000,000, while in Australia, with a. population of 0,500,000, the revenue is only £400,000; but the foundations are being laid in this country of great national broadcasting systems. We have accomplished a great deal in the last ten years. Unfortunately, mistakes have been made here as in other parts of the world, but we should benefit by the errors of the past.

I regret that the Government has not firmly stood its ground by holding to the bill as introduced by it. A couple of months ago, the Postmaster-General brought down the bill and gave it his blessing, but vested interests then became busy over the matter. There was a good deal of agitation from B class stations, and scathing articles against the Government's proposals were published by a chain of newspapers which are interested in those stations. In that way the Minister was forced to retreat from the stand originally taken by him, aud he was called upon to introduce certain amendments to the bill, although I believe that if he had had his own way he would have insisted on the adoption of his original proposals. We read in the newspapers that he even threatened to resign if the bill were not proceeded with. Subsequently, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) announced the Government's decision to introduce certain amendments. These are of a drastic nature, in that they do away with the A class sponsored programmes accompanied by acknowledgments . to the persons by whom they are made available, because the Government considers that these programmes would interfere with the revenue of B class stations. In my opinion, outside vested interests should never have been allowed to develop in connexion with wireless broadcasting in Australia. Unfortunately, the shortage of finance made the Commonwealth. Government hesitate about establishing B class stations, or extending the system of broadcasting to all country districts, so as to render

I hose proprietary stations unnecessary. Those which have been given licences can in future bo refused a renewal of their licences. They were given to understand, when the licences were granted, that they could noi; expect compensation of any kind when the licences were withdrawn. It will still be within the power of future Commonwealth Governments to refuse an extension of licences to B class stations, and some day we may have a nationally controlled broadcasting service similar to those in operation in Great Britain and Germany, which have proved markedly successful. Honorable members in this House who are opposed to any kind of State management or control have stated that they sincerely hope that the Australian Broadcasting Commission will emulate the work of the British Broadcasting Corporation. That body and the British Post Office have achieved wonderful success, and similar results may reasonably be hoped for in Australia.

The Postmaster-General, in introducing the bill in its original form, admitted that it followed along the lines of the measure drafted by the previous Government, and, therefore, it is not my intention to oppose it. I intend merely to offer a few comments. I strongly object to the amendments brought down by the Government at the behest, of outside vested interests. The provision for the establishment of a national orchestra is a wise one. If the Australian commission can emulate the British body in the establishment of one of the finest national orchestras in the world, i t will do good service to Australia. Every encouragement should be given to talented musicians to join a great national orchestra. A3 the right honorable member for Cowper remarked, one of the operatic artists now performing in Sydney owes her success largely to opportunities offered by the broadcasting services in Australia.

Mr Stewart - Which station broadcast her singing prior to her appearance in opera?

Mr FORDE - She has fulfilled engagements with a number of broadcasting stations, and her talents are such that she will be sought after, not only in Australia, but also in other parts of the world. She is a native of Bundaberg, Queensland, and the people of that State are exceedingly proud of her achievements. The encouragement given by A class stations to local instrumental and vocal talent has a very important effect, aud is in direct contrast with the policy usually adopted by B class stations, which provide practically all " canned " music. Although their programmes are fairly good, they do not offer to local musicians and vocalists the opportunities that are given by A class stations.

The chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission is to receive £500 per annum, compared with the £1,500 originally proposed. I should like the Minister to indicate the nature of his duties, and to state whether the whole of his time is to be devoted to this work. It was the intention under the bill as originally drafted that lie should act in the capacity of a general manager; and devote the whole of his time to the work. Maybe the Minister will state the salary that is to he paid to a general manager ; because presumably, as the salaries of the members of the commission are only moderate, that of the general manager will be fairly considerable.

We have been assured by the Minister that the system of control of broadcasting which operates in Great Britain has been incorporated in this measure. The right honorable member for Worth Sydney, (Mr. Hughes), however, has said that this i s not even the shadow of the British legislation. We can only hope that the right men will be selected for the important work that is to be clone, because in their hands largely will lie the future of broadcasting in Australia. They must be men of considerable ability and undoubted integrity, who will give the whole of their time to this great national service, the importance of which cannot be overstressed.

I sincerely trust that the profits which are made by the commission will not be taken by the Treasury, but will be utilized in the improvement of programmes and the cheapening of services. If broadcasting is to be successful, and the number of listeners enlarged, the programmes will have to be improved, in which process additional employment will be found for our singers and musicians.

Mention has been made of the very vexed question of performing rights. I heard a great deal about this matter in 1928, as a member of a royal commission that inquired into the motion picture industry in Australia. After listening to the grievances of picture showmen in the different States, the commission was convinced that this matter should be thoroughly probed by the Government. In introducing this measure, the Minister made the following statement: -

I understand that quite a number of the charges made in Australiaare not justified and cannot be legally established. The Governmenthas the matter of performing right fees under' serious review and it is being inquired into by the Attorney-General's Department. I believe that we shall be able to introduce a system whereby we shall know the reasons for all claims for copyright fees and we shall know by whom they are made.

I shouldlike the honorable gentleman, when he is replying to this debate, to tell us what the Government has already done, and what it intends to do. Since the statement that I have quoted was made by him, six weeks have elapsed, and we are now entitled to a definite pronouncement. The royal commission on the motion picture industry commented on the Australasian Performing Right Association Limited as follows : -

Throughout the Commonwealth exhibitors expressed strong views regarding the demands made upon them by the Australasian Performing Right Association Limited, inasmuch as they state that they arc unable, without process of law, to ascertain whether such demands are legally justifiable. It would appear that this resentment was mainly engendered by the fact that exhibitors had hitherto been able to perform any music without fee, other than the purchase of the necessary copies of music. The association maintains that it has the right to. ask for a royalty for any music for which it holds the copyright which is played at any performance. Any demands now made for the performing rights, however reasonable they may appear to the association, are naturally exorbitant to the exhibitors. The charges operating at the present time were arrived at by arrangement between the parties concerned at a joint conference presided over by the Secretary, Prime Minister's Department. This association is a registered company limited by guarantee in New South Wales, and is affiliated with similar associations in other countries. Its charge for performing fees for copyright music is on the basis of1d. per 100 seats per performance. As certainaspects of the claims of the association are at present being considered by the courts, your commissioners therefore consider the matter as sub judice and do notfeel justified in making any recommendations in regard to it.

It was clear to me, as a member of that commission, that the Australasian Performing Right Association Limited had a legal claim ; and a statement to that effect was made in Parliament by the AttorneyGeneral of the day, who is the AttorneyGeneral in the present Ministry (Mr. Latham). I believe that the legality of the claim cannot be gainsaid; but it seems obvious that the payments demanded are excessive, and I am glad to know that the Postmaster-General has the matter under review.

Mr.Fenton. - It is a matter for the Attorney-General.

Mr.FORDE. - I admit that it is a very complicated question, and that the solution of it is not so easy as many exhibitors think. Doubtless hardship is being inflicted on a large number of people throughout Australia. I believe that all are agreed that there is a legal claim for some fee; but the question is, what is a reasonable amount? That is the question with which the. Government should deal at. the earliest' possible moment.

Apart from the amendments that have been forced upon the Postmaster-General - dictated, I believe, by outside- vested interests - that portion of the measure which follows the lines laid down in a bill that was drafted bythe previous Govern ment, is a good one and should be passed by this House. In committee L shall have something further to say with respect to. the alterations that havebeen made in it.

Mr. PRICE(Boothby) [5.39}.- This appears to me to be a bill with which all can deal from a national standpoint and on non-party lines. I am glad to have heard the various speeches that have been delivered upon it, because they illustrate the interest that is manifested in a measure of this character.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) is in favour of the bill, but objects to the removal of political control by the Postmaster-General. That is one feature in regard to which I disagree with him. A few months ago there was witnessed in Adelaide an example of what may be termed political control of wireless broadcasting. The previous PostmasterGeneral (Mr. A. Green) found himself out of agreement with an item that it was proposed to broadcast, _ and placed a ban on the broadcasting of it. I wish to guard against such a contingency, and shall endeavour to remove from the bill the provisions that enable political control to be. exercised. Broadcasting is a national question, the interest in which extends over the whole of Australia. I should like every household to have a wireless set installed. That is not possible at the moment, because all cannot procure them ; but I hope that that day may come. Those who have wireless sets know what pleasure can bo derived from them. A wonderfully keen interest is being taken in wireless by the rising generation. As an example, I may say that my own son, who is only seventeen years of age, has made for relatives wireless sets equal to any that are made in this country. I daresay that, as the time goes on, he may be able to commercialize his activities. At the presenttimehe does this work merely for the pleasure that he gets out of it. The rising generation has what may be termed a wireless sense, and derives very great pleasure from it. Wireless has also taken the drudgery out of housework. With the passage of time more and more experiments will be undertaken, and the improvements effected probably will exceed anything that we can at present imagine.

During the last election campaign the Government promised to introduce a broadcasting bill, and I am pleased that it' has taken such an early opportunity to fulfil that promise. In my opinion, however, the bill is like the curate's egg, good only in parte; and in committeeI shall propose certain amendments with a view to making it, conformmore closely to my ideas of what ought to be done. Ihad hoped that this legislation would be more in accordance withthe charter of the British Broadcasting Corporation, of which I have personal knowledge. While in London as Agent-General for South Australia I had many opportunities, of which I availed myself, to speak over the air on the potentialities of South Australia, and draw attention to the products of Australia which we wish to sell to the British people. I referred particularly to wool, wheat, Butter, meat and dried fruits. Broadcasting offers wonderful opportunities for effective propaganda which would be. of. advantage to both Australia and Great Britain, and I hope that this field will be fully explored in the future.

The main provision of the bill is for the establishment of a commission of five members - a chairman to be appointed for five years at an annual salary of £500; a vice-chairman for four years at £400; and three commissioners for three years at £300 each; making the total salaries only £1,800. It is important that we should have the best men available to take charge of this service, but the emoluments offered are not sufficient to attract the most qualified persons. Men with wide knowledge and experience can be found in Australia to take charge of this work. I have made a detailed comparison of the bill with the charter of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The bill does not disclose the names ofthe future commissioners, merely providing that they shall " be appointed by the Governor-General, and shall hold office, during good behaviour, for the period for which they were appointed ", but the personnel of the British Broadcasting Corporation was stated in the original charter. The governors were - Right Honorable J. H.H. Villiers, Earl of Clarendon; Right Honorable J. Albert, Baron Gainford of Head lam; Sir John G. Nairne, Bart.; Dr. Montague John Rendall, and Mrs. Ethel Snowden. Their salaries are paid direct from broadcasting revenue, the charter providing -

The governors of the corporation may retain by way of remuneration for their services as chairman, vice-chairman or governor as the case may be out of the revenue of the corporation such sums .... as the corporation may from time to time resolve not exceeding the sums following, that is to say, chairman £3,000 per annum, vice-chairman £1,000 per annum, each of the other governors £700 per annum.

The members of the corporation were appointed for a period of five years. I suggest that even in the present stage of wireless development in Australia, we can afford to offer greater inducements than the bill proposes to the right men to serve on the commission.

Mr Forde - Should a woman be appointed to the commission?

Suggest corrections