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Thursday, 28 April 1932

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- I understand that it is proposed to bring down various amendments to the bill, so as to transfer the control of wireless broadcasting from the Minister to a national broadcasting commission. This measure was introduced in March last ; but, as the result of the pressure which was brought to bear on the Government, the Minister in charge of the bill was, for the time being, compelled to withdraw it. According to the press, the members of the Government were not a happy and united family, and the Minister in charge of the bill threatened to resign from Cabinet. It is now the intention of the Government to place the control of broadcasting in the hands of a national broadcasting commission which, according to the Minister, will have no political leanings, being free of political control. But we all realize that most of the previous appointments made by Nationalist governments have been of a political nature, and the appointees generally have rung true to the Nationalist party. The Labour party, when in power, has at times made political appointments, but only on rare occasions have the appointees rung true to that party. Practically every government makes political appointments. There is nothing to be gained by transferring the control of broadcasting from the Minister to a commission, the members of which must have political leanings. I shall strongly oppose any attempt to alter the bill in that direction. Clause 19 gives the commission power to acquire by lease or to purchase any land, buildings, or other property, or to sell, exchange, or lease any property acquired by it, but the commission may not, without the approval of the Minister, acquire any property, the cost of which exceeds £5,000, or to dispose of any property of a value exceeding that sum. I propose to move in committee that that sum be reduced to £1,000. No commission should be allowed to control £5,000 of the people's money. In the past, various commissions, which have had too much power vested in them, have resorted to actions savouring of sharp practice'. Clause 22, as it stands, provides that the commission may, with the approval of the Minister, broadcast announcements, but it is now proposed to amend the clause to enable the commission to act without the approval of the Minister. The commission will therefore have full control of broadcasting and be able to prevent any individual with whosepolitical opinions it does not agree, from broadcasting them.

Mr Maxwell - May not the Minister be subject to political leanings ?

Mr JAMES - Yes, but the commission, if it discriminates between individuals, would not be subject to the criticism that would be levelled at a Minister who penalized an individual by preventing him from broadcasting his political views. Every member of this Parliament has the right to criticize, on thefloor of this House, any political action which the Minister may take in the direction of restricting the broadcasting of programmes. During the recent elections, facilities were given to two parties in thisHouse to broadcast their policy speeches from A class stations. That privilege was granted to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) and to the present PrimeMinister (Mr. Lyons). But the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), the leader of the party to which I belong, was refused permission to broadcast his policy speech from an A class station. That action was entirely wrong and unfair. Recently, the Prime Minister broadcast his views in- respect of the Premiers Conference, but the Premier of New South Wales was refused the right to broadcast his reply. That definitely shows that political control is being exercised in respect of broadcasting. While the actions of a Minister can be criticized in the House no such criticism of a commission can be expressed. Why should not the people of Australia hearthe views of Mr. Lang from his own lips, and not have to rely on garbled press reports which do not always place a correct interpretation upon what is actually said?

Mr Stewart - Mr. Lang does not say the same thing twice.

Mr JAMES - Mr. Lang has adhered to his statement that he intends to stand by the people of Australia who are in dire distress, rather than act in the interests of money lenders overseas. Why should not equal broadcasting facilities be given to- all political parties?During the recent election, the honorable member for West Sydney was compelled to broadcast his policy speech from a B class station which provided a service, not for the country districts, but for the metropolitan area only.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m. [Quorum formed.]

Mr JAMES - In making appointments to commissions such as the one proposed by this bill I have yet to learn that the present Government will not follow the old policy of selecting persons whose leanings are identical with its own. political views. The censorship now exercised is bad enough. I have already shown that the Premier of New South Wales was denied the right to use the same A class broadcasting stations as were used by the Prime Minister to announce the Premiers Conference attitude towards default. I understand that the Prime Minister ordered the Postal Department to refuse the necessary permission to Mr. Lang. Fortunately, the Premier of New South Wales was able to make use of station 2KY, but its volume was hardly sufficient to reach far-flung centres of the Commonwealth, which could easily be reached by the stations used by the Prime Minister. When such things happen we can criticize the Minister on the floor of the House, but if the control of broadcasting is vested in a commission, its members will be termed public servants and we shall be told that it is unfair to criticise them behind their backs. Explaining the position following upon the refusal of the Postal Department to allow him to broadcast through the stations used by the Prime Minister, Mr. Lang said -

This morning we applied to the Australian Broadcasting Company to speak from the four stations used by Mr. Lyons last night. They referred us to the radio inspector's office, Sydney, which wired to Mr. Brown in Melbourne. Mr. Brown got in touch with the Prime Minister in Canberra, and at 4 p.m. we were informed through the department of the Postmaster-General that it was unable to make the stations available to the New South Wales Government.

Mr Lyons - Who said that Mr. Brown got into touch with the Prime Minister? It is entirely untrue.

Mr JAMES - If the honorable member can say that Mr. Lang's reported words are entirely untrue, why should he not give Mr. Lang the same facilities for broadcasting that he had the privilege of using? In fact I challenge him now to give Mr. Lang the right to state his case over the A class stations.

Mr Lyons - If he would tell the truth we could do so.

Mr JAMES - Let the people of the country be the judges of whether he is telling the truth or not, by allowing him to broadcast.

This latest attempt at censorship recalls the arrangements made between the then Prime Minister and the then Leader of the Opposition at the recent election, under which both were permitted to make use of A class stations, but the leader of my party was not allowed to put his case before the people through those stations.

Mr Lyons - The arrangement was that there should be two broadcasts from each side of the House.

Mr JAMES - Were we not on one side of the House?

Mr Lyons - Yes, but not on my side.

Mr JAMES - That is true, but we play an important part in this House, and, though we may be small in numbers to-day, we shall increase in size until we are the real Opposition, and, ultimately, occupants of the Government benches.

The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) proposes that B class stations should also be censored and placed under the control of the commission. To my mind, if any control is exercised over B class stations it should be confined to safeguarding possible interruption over the air, and preventing unnecessary competition by a control of wave length and volume. These stations are not permitted to share in any of the revenue from listeners' fees, and they should certainly not be placed under the control of a political commission. At any rate, if there is to be any control over them it should be exercised by a Minister.

Manythings in the bill commend themselves to me. It was not a bad measure until a split took place in the party opposite, and it was decided to move a series of amendments. I should like the PostmasterGeneral (Mr.Fenton) to explain the purpose of clause 26. That clause reads -

The commission may, if it thinks fit, appoint committees to advise it in relation to all or any matters connected with the provision or rendition of broadcasting programmes, or the exercise of any powers, duties or functions conferred or imposed upon it by this act.

I want to know if these committees are to be paid, and, if so, what limit will be imposed on the commission in making payments of this nature. Again, clause 39 holds the Commonwealth liable for the payment of principal and interest on any debentures issued by the commission. Is the Commonwealth to be held liable for any financial loss made by the commission? If so, why not have the full control in the hands of a Minister who can be subjected to criticism on the floor of this House?

At one time broadcasting stations submitted their programmes to the Performing Right Association, and that body indicated by a cross each item upon which it demanded royalty. There have been instances in which it has marked and demanded payment in respect of items written and composed by people connected with the broadcasting stations. This company charges a royalty of 3d. for each side of a gramophone record in the city. I understand that the charge is reduced to approximately1d. for country sales. It is stated that approximately one-third of the revenue derived from the British Empire by the Performing Right Association comes from Australia. That is a remarkable fact when we recall that there are in Great Britain approximately 6,000,000 listeners-in, a number practically equal to the population of Australia. This bill contains no provision, so far as I can see, to curb the rapacity of the Performing Right Association. The bill should be amended so as to prevent this association from continuing to batten on the broadcasting industry in Australia.

Mr Fenton - Thatcan be done by an amendment to the Copyright Act.

Mr JAMES - When the bill is in the committee stage I propose to move amendments designed to give a greater measure of control over broadcasting to the Minister. As the bill now stands, too much power will be placed in the hands of the commission. That body is to be given authority to expend up to £5,000 on the purchase of property or material, without obtaining the consent of the Minister. In my opinion, that amount should at least be reduced to £1,000.

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