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Thursday, 14 May 1942

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) (Minister for Supply and Development) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

In order that I might honour an undertaking given to the honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr), it was proposed not to proceed with this measure until he was available to continue the debate on the motion for the second reading. Circumstances in relation to the business-paper have since arisen, however, which make it necessary to proceed with it immediately. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) has consented to the non-observance of the earlier arrangement, and I trust that I shall be pardoned on that account.

Early in July, 1941, a joint parliamentary committee, consisting of Senator Gibson as chairman, the honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr), Senator Amour, and the honorable members for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), Boothby (Dr. Price), and Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) was appointed to inquire into and report upon wireless broadcasting within and from Australia, with particular reference to the following questions : -

(a)   Should any and what change be made in the existing laws and practices relating to broadcasting?

(b)   Are the services now provided by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and commercial stations adequate, and, if not, in what respects should they be improved?

(c)   Should any, and. if so, what improvements be made in the wireless broadcasting of news within and from the Commonwealth?

The report of the committee was circulated some time ago, and doubtless honorable members have perused it. It discloses that the committee examined 154 witnesses, and that evidence was heard in five of the States. A full and comprehensive document was compiled as the result of the committee's investigations. The Government has given careful consideration to the report, and has introduced the bill for the purpose of giving effect to the recommendations made by the committee.

The bill is notable in that, for the first time since the inception of broadcasting, provisions are embodied in one measure enabling commercial as well as national broadcasting to be governed in Australia. In the debate that doubtless will ensue, honorable members will have an opportunity to take stock of the whole of the broadcasting system, and to determine what methods, in their opinion, should be employed in order that the broadcasts of news and other matters in Australia may be placed on a smooth basis. A number of new methods has been devised, and generally the aim has been to utilize this great service, as far as possible, for the betterment of the people of this country.

At this stage, I pay a tribute to the painstaking efforts of the committee, in the extensive field that it covered. There is no doubt that it faithfully discharged its functions in the time and energy it devoted to the subject. I feel sure that the House will agree that, in the information it has collected, and the suggestions it has made, the committee has rendered a distinct service to this Parliament. Honorable members will also agree that the report is valuable insofar as it assists towards a determination of the legislation upon which broadcasting shall be developed.

The importance of broadcasting in Australia is proved by the fact that it now provides entertainment and education in 80 per cent, of the homes of the Commonwealth. It is true that within recent years it has progressed from being an expensive novelty, enjoyed by a few, to the stage when a receiver is an almost indispensable adjunct of the social amenities of the home. Its development has undoubtedly conferred great benefit on the nation generally.

The war has emphasized the value placed upon broadcasting by our enemies. For years, in their preparations for hostilities, they have not neglected to give to it a place almost equal to that accorded to their other preparations.. They have used it for the purpose of maintaining the -morale of their own people on the one hand, and encompassing the destruction of their foes on the other hand. In the years that preceded the outbreak of hostilities, they established throughout the world a most elaborate espionage system, which enabled them to obtain from various sources information that could be relayed from their stations in order to mislead and lower the morale of the people in countries in which the accuracy of their assertions could not be checked. Further, they have used the system in order to lower the resistance of neutral countries by means of specially selected pronouncements, in which connexion Quislings have been employed. For this class of work they have succeeded in obtaining the services of men with an appropriate accent; but in spite of all their efforts, accents will not win the battle of wave-lengths that is progressing throughout the world. Through every agency, they have endeavoured not only to destroy physically with implements of war, but also to corrupt the minds of those who tune in to the almost unceasing sessions of propaganda from Berlin, Borne and Tokyo.

We in Australia have endeavoured to keep pace with the rest of the world in the development of broadcasting, ft is interesting to make a short survey of the history of broadcasting in this country. The year 1923 saw the beginning of broadcasting in Australia. A conference of interests associated with radio was called by the Government, and recommended the " sealed set " system, by which sets were sealed to exclude other than certain programmes. Four stations began services under this plan, two in Sydney, one in Melbourne, and one in Perth ; but, finally, the system had to be abandoned. In 1924, a new plan was evolved, providing for two classes of stations - A class stations, which were to be maintained by revenue from listeners' licence-fees, and B class stations to be maintained out of revenue' from advertisers. By 1929, there were eight A class stations and twelve B class stations, with a total of 300,000 listeners. Stations of both kinds were licensed by the Postmaster-General on prescribed conditions. The weakness of the system at that stage lay in the fact that a great majority of listeners resided in the metropolitan areas. Companies controlling the stations restricted their operations to large centres of population, where most revenue could be obtained. Moreover, licensees in Victoria and New South Wales were able to provide more comprehensive services because they were serving larger populations and receiving greater revenues. This and other factors led to the appointment in 1927 of a royal commission to inquire into the whole subject. The report of the commission recommended that fees collected from listeners be pooled, in order to provide a sufficient income for all A class stations in all States. The proposals of the commission were exhaustively considered by the then Government in consultation with the companies operating the services, but so many difficulties were encountered that the Government finally decided that it would be best to establish a national system of broadcasting. It became clear a>t that time that a clear-cut distinction would have to be made between stations providing programmes of a national character, and those which were dependent on revenue from advertising. In July, 1928, a new scheme was evolved under which A class stations, with the exception of two hitherto owned by private companies, were purchased or leased by the Government. Those two stations continued to operate under agreement with the department for a few years until their plant was replaced by modern transmitters installed by the PostmasterGeneral's Department. The B class stations then became what are now known as commercial stations. A temporary arrangement provided for private enterprise to supply national broadcasting programmes on a three years contract. The companies' entertainers gave good service, but the Government decided in May, 1932, to set up a commission to control broadcasting from national stations, and to tate all measures necessary for the provision of suitable programmes. The functions of the commission were set forth as follows: -

The commission shall provide and shall broadcast from the national broadcasting stations adequate and comprehensive programmes, and shall take in the interest of the community, all such measures as, in the opinion of the commission, are conducive to tlie full development of suitable broadcasting programmes.

The commission was required to take over the existing studios, and to become responsible for the provision of additional studios, but all technical studio apparatus and broadcasting stations were to remain under the control of the Postmaster-General's Department. It was also provided that the department would provide, without cost, the connecting programme transmission needed for simultaneous broadcasting from two or more stations. At the same time, action was taken by the Postmaster-General to provide a greater coverage by the establishment of regional stations in country centres, and by modernizing equipment.

The national broadcasting service as it exists to-day came into operation in July, 1932. At that time, there were 370,000 licensed listeners, who were served by twelve national stations and 43 commercial stations. The development of both services during the last ten years has been remarkable, and approximately 100,000 additional homes have been equipped each year with receiving sets. To-day, there are 1,324,000 licensed listeners, 27 national stations, and 99 commercial stations operating on medium waves. In addition, three shortwave stations are providing services to listeners in remote parts of the Commonwealth. During the war, these short-wave stations are helping to counteract the effect of enemy propaganda by telling the story of Australia's effort in the conflict.

Parliament acted wisely in appointing a joint committee to investigate broadcasting before amending legislation was introduced. This is a point which cannot be to much stressed. I have listened to many debates in the House on the subject of broadcasting, and most of them have been of a highly controversial nature. When evolving a method of control, it is important that conditions shall be sufficiently elastic to permit of progress, and yet sufficiently rigid to ensure that there shall be no misuse of the broadcasting services. Except for the inclusion of certain new provisions to give effect to recommendations of the joint committee, this bill is, to all intents and purposes, a re-enactment of existing laws of the Commonwealth. The provisions of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act, aud of such wireless telegraphy regulations as are applicable to commercial stations, form the basis of the measure, which is divided into five parts.

Part 1 deals with the preliminary features of the measure. Part 2 incorporates the provisions of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act with appropriate amendments. Part 3 embodies such regulations under the Wireless Telegraphy Act as are appropriate to this bill. Part 4 provides for lie creation of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting, as recommended by the joint committee. Part 5 includes the provisions of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act, and regulations under the Wireless Telegraphy Act which are applicable to both services, and some important new provisions which are recommended by the joint committee.

Under clause 7, the head office of the Australian Broadcasting Commission will be established in the Australian Capital Territory on or before a date to be fixed by the Minister. Since the commission was first constituted1, one of the members has been a woman. That is regarded as being most desirable and clause 8 provides for the appointment of at least one woman. In order to ensure stability and continuity of policy, the appointment of commissioners, under clause 9, will be for definite periods. To safeguard against drastic changes of the constitution of the commission, the terms of appointment of the various commissioners have been so arranged that not more than two will retire in any one year. The remuneration of the chairman and the vicechairman will be increased. The new rate for the chairman will be £1,250 per annum and for the vice-chairman £500 per annum, compared with the existing rates of £500 and £400 respectively. Other members of the commission will receive £300 per annum.

Clause 16 requires the general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to be present at all meetings of the commission, if .practicable, but the commission in its discretion may direct him to retire temporarily from any meeting. Conditions relating to the staff of the commission are set out in clause 17. One of the features is that the commission is required to hold open competitive examinations on lines similar to the practice of the Commonwealth Public Service and to select its recruits from the successful candidates in the order of merit. However, this condition may be waived by the commission in respect of certain prescribed positions for which special attainments are necessary.

Clause 23 provides that if the Minister exercises his existing power to require the commission to transmit certain matters in the public interest, he shall issue his direction in writing.

The commission's proportion of the listener's licence-fee will be increased, under clause 27, from 10s. to lis. per annum. On the basis of the number of licences now in force, the increase will provide the commission with additional revenue totalling ,-£66,200 per annum. The present apportionment is 10s. to the Australian Broadcasting Commission and 10s. to Consolidated Revenue. The Government does not consider that the time is opportune to adopt the committee's alternative recommendation that the listener's licence-fee should be increased to £1 ls. per annum.

Commercial broadcasting stations will be permitted to continue their operations on much the same lines as in the past, but certain restrictions are imposed on them regarding advertisements. Clause 69 provides for the conditions under which advertisements will be permitted on Sundays, to be prescribed by regulation. In the same clause, advertisements relating to patent medicines are limited to those approved 'by Commonwealth or State health authorities. The joint committee expressed the view that there should be some safeguard against the capricious rejection of the advertisements of certain classes of practitioners. The provision which is made in subclause 7, for appeal to the Minister against any decision of the health authorities, will meet the view of the joint committee in this regard.

Under section 75 each licensee must submit in prescribed form an annual balance-sheet and profit and loss account.

In the past, Parliament has had few opportunities to review the development of the broadcasting services, but that position wall be remedied by the important innovation which is provided in Part IV. of the bill. Provision is made for the appointment of a parliamentary standing committee, to which either

House of Parliament by resolution or the Minister, may refer for investigation and report any matter affecting broadcasting in the Commonwealth. The Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations will be given the opportunity to submit matters to the committee through the Minister.

Regarding the appointment of advisory committees, the Government has departed slightly from the recommendation of the joint committee. The existing Australian Broadcasting Commission Act provides that the commission may appoint advisory committees in each State, and the joint committee recommended that the appointment of these committees should be made mandatory on the commission. The Government is of opinion that it would be in the best interests of broadcasting if there were a representative advisory committee in each State to note the public reaction to broadcasting programmes and to make suggestions for improvements not only in the national but also in the commercial service.

Mr Jolly - Who will receive the reports ?

Mr BEASLEY - The reports will bs submitted to the Minister or to the commission, but it appears to me that the Minister must be the principal authority in order that Parliament shall have an opportunity to discuss any subjects that are raised and, if necessary, give directions relating to them. Clause 95 provides that the Minister shall appoint a broadcasting advisory committee in each State.

In clause 96, provision is made for the encouragement of local talent, and it is stipulated that 2\ per cent, of the total time occupied in the transmission of music by both national and commercial stations shall be devoted to the work of Australian composers.

The broadcasting of political talks will be dealt with in an amendment which i shall move in committee. Political addresses will be prohibited after the Wednesday preceding each Federal or State election. The name of each speaker and the political party on behalf of which he speaks must be disclosed. Dramatized political broadcasts will be forbidden. The commission will still bo permitted to determine to what degree and in what manner political speeches shall be broadcast from national stations; but, in accordance with the recommendation of the joint committee, the present practice of the commission regarding the granting of facilities at election time will be referred, as soon as practicable, to the parliamentary standing committee.

Honorable members will unanimously support the views expressed by the committee concerning the broadcasting of items which are contrary to accepted standards of propriety. The imposition of penalties for any offence of this kind is authorized in clauses 97 and 93, but the Government sincerely hopes that there will be no occasion to invoke these powers in order to ensure that any unsavoury items shall be eliminated from programmes. Talks on medical subjects are prohibited by cla.use 100, unless they have first been approved by the Commonwealth Director-General of Health, or, with his concurrence, the medical officer of a State. Provision is also made for an aggrieved person to appeal to the Minister against any such decision.

Clause 104 stipulates the fee which is to be paid by listeners for their licences. The granting of free licences to the blind will be continued and the clause extends the concession to schools with an enrolment of fewer than 50 pupils. Licences will be granted at one-half of the prescribed fees to invalid and old-age pensioners who live alone. Additional fees will be paid in respect of receivers in motor cars and in other cases where more than one receiver is installed by any licensee.

It is difficult to foretell what the future holds for the nation in respect of developments which may occur in facsimile, television and frequency modulation services. Accordingly, section 109 provides the desirable precaution that no licences .shall be granted for these transmission.' except on the recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee. The only really important change in the bill which is not the result of a direct recommendation of the joint committee is contained in clause 57, which gives to the Minister the right to suspend licences. In this connexion, however, the committee stated -

Individually, the stations are under the control of the Postmaster-General, whose only disciplinary power under the regulations now in force is to cancel or to refuse to renew licences.

The Government is fully in accord with the opinions of the joint committee as to the desirability of agreement being reached between the Australian Broadcasting Commission and newspaper organizations, and also with its view concerning the performing right fee payable by the commission and the Federation of Commercial Stations to the Australasian Performing Right Association. There are, however, valid objections to providing for either of these matters in this bill, but it is the intention of the Government to give further consideration to both subjects. I invite a frank and full debate so that honorable members may have the opportunity of suggesting any further improvements for the betterment of the broadcasting services of the Commonwealth. Steps are being taken to give effect as soon as possible to a number of the joint committee's proposals which do not require legislative enactment.

Debate (on motion by Dr. PRICE) adjourned.

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