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Tuesday, 2 June 1942

Mr SHEEHAN (Cook) .- I congratulate the Joint Committee on Broadcasting upon its report, and upon the work which it has accomplished during the last eight months. The bill now before the House, which is based upon that report, places both the A and B class stations under the one legislative control. Previously, only the national stations came under the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act, the commercial stations being controlled by regulations. The honorable member for Parkes ('Sir Charles Marr) referred extensively to the report of the committee, but did not have a great deal to say about the bill itself. The bill contains some novel provisions which should make for the better control of broadcasting in Australia. I refer particularly to the provision that at least 2-J per cent, of the total time occupied by the national service in the broadcasting of music must be devoted to works of Australian composers.

Mr Jolly - The Australian Broadcasting Commission is adopting that policy now.

Mr SHEEHAN - The commercial stations are adopting the policy of encouraging local talent because they find that it is advantageous, but the A class stations appear to prefer second-rate importations to the encouragement, of local talent.

Mr Harrison - Surely the artists imported by the Australian Broadcasting Commission are not second-rate. They are top-notchers.

Mr SHEEHAN - They are not recognized as top-notchers in their own country before they come to Australia. The commercial stations find it advantageous to encourage local talent, and some conduct talent quests regularly.

Mr Harrison - Will the honorable member name some of the imported artists whom he classes as second-rate.

Mr SHEEHAN - I could name them. My remarks appear to be disturbing some honorable members. 1 would remind them, that the Minister stated in his second-reading speech that he would welcome free discussion of the bill. I am taking him at his word and I intend to comment on several clauses. One clause appears to me to be -based on the formula that everything should come to Canberra. I am in favour of the administrative departments of the Commonwealth Government being established in Canberra because the Australian Capital was established for that purpose. However, there is a proper time to concentrate administrative offices in Canberra, and the present is certainly not the proper time to transfer to this city the administrative offices of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, because chat body is still in the experimental stage. There is a desire in certain quarters to transfer all Commonwealth departments to Canberra but, no doubt, a number of departments can function more efficiently in the capital cities in which they are now established. That applies particularly to the Australian Broadcasting Commission because, being established in Sydney, it has ready access to leading theatrical agencies and artists. Another clause provides that the general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission shall attend all meetings of the commission. If his office is in Sydney or Melbourne, the duty of attending meetings of the commission in Canberra would make a big demand on his time. I consider that Canberra would be the most unsuitable place in Australia for the establishment of the administrative offices of the commission while it is in the developmental stage. The office of the Commonwealth Commissioner of Railways is not located at Canberra, because, I suppose, the railway system is developing, and greater efficiency can be secured by his office being situated nearer to the centre of development. If the commission is to be active in carrying out its duties it will need to meet at least once a month, otherwise the remuneration proposed to be paid by the Government to its members will not be justified. I have used the word " remuneration " because payments to members of the commission are described in the bill as remuneration due, no doubt, to the fact that all will be employed part time on the commission's work. If the chairman of the commission is to be paid £1,250 a year and the commission is to meet only once a month, he will receive £100 for each meeting. The vice-chairman is to receive £500 a year and the other three members of the commission £300 a year each. As the bill provides that a majority of the five members of the commission is to prevail, the three members each receiving £300 a year, or a total of £900, could outvote the chairman and vice-chairman receiving a total sum of £1,750 a year. The total amount of remuneration proposed to be paid to the five members of the commission should be allocated more evenly, and I intend to move an amendment when the bill is in committee that the chairman shall be paid £650 and the other four members £500 each. If the administrative headquarters of the commission were located in Canberra, the three commissioners receiving £300 each could hardly be expected to live in the Australian Capital because it is almost impossible to live here on £300 a year. Therefore, the commission would become a one-man show, the chairman dominating it and the other four members merely waiting for him to summon them to Canberra. Therefore, as the other four members will perform almost the same class of work as the chairman, I consider that the amount of money to be provided as remuneration should be spread more evenly amongst the five members of the commission.

Mr Jolly - "What is the salary of the present chairman of the commission?

Mr SHEEHAN - £500 a year, and he has recently been accepting reappointment for periods of four months on that basis. Under the terms of the bill, he is to be paid £1,250 a year, and appointed for a term of five years. As I said, three commissioners receiving £300 each would be able to outvote the chairman and vice chairman.

Strange to relate, the bill will reduce the work and functions of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, because provision is made for ministerial control. That is an innovation, and the commission will be relieved of some of its responsibility.

Dr PRICE (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - How will it be relieved of responsibility ?

Mr SHEEHAN - I shall refer to that at a later stage. The bill should provide that the commission shall meet at least six times per annum. As the legislation is now drafted, it need meet only once a year.

Dr PRICE (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Is the honorable member aware of the number of times that the Australian Broadcasting Commission meets, because of the pressure of work? It has to meet constantly.

Mr SHEEHAN - Presumably it will have to meet constantly in Canberra ; but the Government expects three of the Commissioners to spend a good deal of their time here for a remuneration of £6 a week. Lest an honorable member should state that the Government is unable to find a suitable man to do the job for £650 a year, I take this opportunity to state that thousands of holders of Australian Labour party tickets, who are excellent organizers and possess ability and courage, would do an excellent job on behalf of the Commonwealth Labour Government for that salary. At present, it appears that an Australian Labour party ticket now debars men from obtaining such .positions. I remind the House that the Prime Minister (Mr. Gurtin) the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Forde) and the Minister in charge >of the bill (Mr. Beasley) occupy their seats in this chamber because they hold Australian Labour party tickets. Thousands of members of the Australian Labour party throughout the Commonwealth are competent and willing to accept appointment to the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Mr Baker - Many public servants hold Australian Labour party tickets.

Mr SHEEHAN - -I made the point merely to show that £650 a year is an adequate remuneration. I regret that the Joint Committee on Broadcasting did not arrange to recall or obtain written evidence from the general manager, who, I understand, was a member of the Australian Imperial Force in Malaya. Evidently the committee made ho effort to have him recalled for the important purpose of giving evidence.

Dr PRICE (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is not fair to the committee. We discussed the matter on a number of occasions, but we did not feel justified in .asking for the recall of an officer from Malaya.

Mr SHEEHAN - The honorable member for Parkes directed attention to clause 17 which relates to the appointment of officers of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Sub-clause 2 provides that a person shall not be admitted to the service of the commission unless -

(a)   he is a natural born or naturalized British subject:

(c)   he has in open competition successfully passed the prescribed entrance examination.

I should like to know whether that provision will debar a world famous foreign artist from obtaining an appointment on the Australian Broadcasting Commission. If it will, the sub-clause .should be deleted. I now direct attention to the proviso io sub-clause 2 -

Provided that the commission may appoint to such positions or positions of such classes as are prescribed, persons who have not passed the prescribed entrance examination.

In my opinion that proviso will abrogate the conditions of appointment contained in sub-clause 2 c because the commission will still be permitted to appoint such persons as it pleases without asking them to submit themselves to competitive examination. The Joint Committee on Broadcasting ,was greatly perturbed by what it described as the " overcentralized staff " in the commission's office. It stated -

We draw attention to indications that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is overcentralized in its activities. Those indications include the rapid growth of central staff, and a considerable increase of what may be termed central directors of departments ".

Sub-clause 8 is a most interesting provision. It reads -

Hie general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission constituted under the Australian Broadcasting Act 1932-1040 and all other officers and servants of that commission holding office, or employed, in the service of that commission immediately prior to the commencement of this act, shall be deemed to .have been appointed by the commission under this section as general manager, officers and servants, respectively,

Despite the complaint of the joint committee about overstaffing, the present members of the staff will retain their positions, although they were not obliged to submit themselves to competitive examination before they secured their appointment. I understand that a considerable number of employees of the Australian Broadcasting Commission has enlisted, and that during their absence their positions have been temporarily filled. When they return, their former positions will be available to them and, in addition, those who temporarily filled them will presumably be retained. Even now, the Australian Broadcasting Commission continues to make appointments. In a recent issue of the A.B.C. Weekly, the appointment of Robert

McCall was announced. I do not know this man; be may possess outstanding qualifications: but I mention his appointment to show that Parliament does not know how many men the Australian Broadcasting Commission may add to the staff before the bill is passed. So soon as this legislation becomes law, they will retain their positions by virtue of subclause 8. The joint committee recommended " an investigation by an appropriate authority for the purpose of overcoming this centralization ". I ask : What is an appropriate authority? The committee recommended an "inquiry by an appropriate authority to report on the COStS of personnel and administration". I. shall not support sub-clause S unless the Government gives to honorable members a definite assurance that this matter will be investigated.

Sir Charles Marr - The Government has already promised an inquiry.

Mr SHEEHAN - That is excellent. What many officers of the Australian Broadcasting Commission do when they are on. duty is a mystery. I shall mention no- names, but, I have in mind eight or nine high-salaried officers- whose positions appear to be redundant. The staff fairly bristles with State managers, production managers, and superintendents of all descriptions.

Mr Morgan - The,)' seem to be able t:o spend the money.

Mr SHEEHAN - That is so. Clause IS presents a difficulty to inc. Subclause % b states that the commission may make arrangements for the holding of any public concert or other public entertainment, "provided the concert or entertainment is held in cooperation with an educational, religious, or other non-commercial institution, and no charge for admission is made by the commission". I should like the Minister to explain whether this clause will debar the Australian Broadcasting Commission from charging admission to its concerts. If it engages artists of world renown to perform in this country, it will be obliged to charge admission in order to defray the C03t of the tour.

Dr PRICE (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We understand that it will be possible, under this clause, for the Australian Broadcasting Commission to charge, for admission, to its concerts.

Mr SHEEHAN - That is not my interpretation of the clause. In 1939-40, proceeds from, concerts totalled £49,294, but in the following year they declined to £.1.7,364. After the war we should encourage famous artists to give performances in this country, and the commission should be permitted to charge admission to the concerts.

Clause 24 prevents the commission from broadcasting advertisements, but I see no reason why advertisements relating to charitable and patriotic activities should not be broadcast over the national stations. The same thing applies to hospital appeals. Hospitals, such as the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the Lewisham Hospital in Sydney are doing a magnificent job, and they are entitled to have their appeals broadcast over the national stations.

Mr JOLLY - The commission does assist charitable organizations by giving them publicity.

Mr SHEEHAN - Yes, but advertisements, in the true sense of the word, are not permitted. I submit that our national broadcasting system is the best medium through which charitable and patriotic appeals can be made to the pepole

Mr CALWELL - The national stations make announcements on behalf of such appeals now.

Mr SHEEHAN - That may be, but under this clause, advertisements are prohibited.

Clause 26 provides -

The commission shall endeavour to establish and utilize in such manner as it thinks desirable in order to confer the greatest benefit on broadcasting, groups of musicians for the rendition of orchestral, choral and band music of the highest quality. .1 should like to see the word " Australian " inserted before the word " musicians ". In my opinion the Australian Broadcasting Commission is ignoring Australian talent, and is not giving sufficient encouragement to our own. musicians. This clause gives the commission power to establish orchestras and, other musical combinations, and I suggest that these combinations should be composed of Australian musicians.

This bill also limits the number of commercial stations which can be owned or controlled! by one organization, but I should like to know how that limitation applies to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited. Apparently the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Broadcasting is anxious that new wireless developments such as television, facsimile reproduction, and frequency modulation, should not come under the control of any special interests, because in its report, the committee recommended that before any such development could be introduced, it must be submitted to the Government. The point I wish to make is that because most commercial stations have to obtain their equipment from Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, they are, in fact, under the control of that organization. In my opinion, Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited should be nationalized, instead of being only 50 per cent, government-controlled as at present. Although the bill purports to limit control of commercial stations, it does not in fact, achieve that object. In some cases large numbers of stations work on what they call a network basis, ostensibly for the purpose of providing the public with cheaper and better music, plays, &c, but actually the object of this system is to maintain a high-scale of advertising fees. Any advertiser who wishes to obtain broadcasting time on a commercial station cannot do so unless he pays the fees specified for the network. ' I am pleased that the bill provides for the setting up of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting, but I am afraid that the activities of that committee will be limited, because it cannot act unless matters are referred to it by the Minister, either House of Parliament, or by the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations, through the Minister. If the proposed State Advisory Committees are to be useful organizations they also should have power to refer matters of public importance to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. I notice also that whereas previously the appointment of State Advisory Committees was in the hands of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, that responsibility now rests with the Minister. I do not know why that authority has been taken out of the hands of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Obviously, the only matters that will be brought before the Parliamentary Committee by the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations will be matters which are to the advantage of the commercial stations. The federation will not be very much interested in the welfare of broadcasting generally. Also, the Minister will bring matters before the Parliamentary Committee only if he is obliged to do so by public pressure. The State Advisory Committees are set up with the special task of safeguarding the interests of broadcasting, and no doubt they will be composed of men of standing, representing the theatrical and music world, and, in fact, all sections of the community interested in broadcasting.

Mr CALWELL - If we start providing representation for special interests, there is no saying where it will end.

Mr SHEEHAN - This is a new measure which will deal with broadcasting for perhaps the next ten or fifteen years. If all possible improvements be not inserted in the bill now, it may take another ten years to have changes effected. I hope that the State advisory committees will have power to refer to the standing committee for investigation and report any matter that they consider necessary in the interests of broadcasting. On the State committees should be representatives of the artistic, educational and religious organizations. It appears that at present all that the State committees will be required to do will be to report to the Minister on .the broadcasting of objectionable items. Clause 96 reads - (1.) The commission and the licensee of each commercial broadcasting station shall, as far as possible, give encouragement to the development of local talent and endeavour to obviate restriction of the utilization of the services of persons who, in their opinion, are competent to make useful contributions to broadcasting programmes. (2.) Not less than two and one half per centum of the total time occupied by the national broadcasting service and not less than two and one half per centum of the total time occupied by any commercial broadcasting station in the broadcasting of music shall bo devoted to the broadcasting of works of Australian composers, produced either on sound records made in Australia or by artists actually present in the studio of the broadcasting station concerned.

The words " as far as possible ", " endeavour to " and " in their opinion " should be struck out of the clause. It would then be obligatory on broadcasting stations to encourage the development of local talent. The clause should also be amended by eliminating the words " and the licensee of each commercial broadcasting station ", because commercial stations are conducted for profit, and they should be dealt with separately in a special clause not grouped with the Broadcasting Commission. If amended in the way I have suggested, sub-clause 1. would read -

The commission shall give encouragement to the development of local talent and obviate restriction of the utilization of the services of persons who are competent to make useful contributions to broadcasting programmes.

It is a pity that sub-clause 2 was included in. the bill, but as it has been, it should be re-drafted to provide for a much greater proportion than 2£ per cent, of the time devoted to the broadcasting of music. The national broadcasting stations are on the air for about 18 hours a day, and of that time about 11 hours is occupied in the broadcasting of musical items. Two and a half per cent, of eleven hours is about 15 minutes. The playing of " Advance Australia Fair " occupies about 10 minutes a day. That leaves only 5 minutes in which it shall be compulsory for the broadcasting stations to encourage local talent. I now come to matters contained in the bill of which I approve. I agree that the Australian Broadcasting Commission's share of the listeners' licence-fee should be increased from 10s. to lis. per annum. I approve of the issue of free listeners' licences to the blind and to schools with fewer than 50 pupils. I do not approve, however, of the extortionate prices that the schools have to pay for their receiving sets. But that has nothing to do with this measure. I also approve of the granting of licences at half rates to old-age pensioners living alone.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr SHEEHAN - The A.B.C. Weekly was started by the commission because certain interests desired to compel the commission to pay advertising fees for the publication of its radio programmes. Although the journal has resulted in a financial liability, there is no reason why it should remain so. It could, in fact, be made of great value to the national broadcasting system. Already it has proved a valuable adjunct to the activities of the commission, because it has made known to the public happenings in the broadcasting arena. By the introduction of new features, it could be made more attractive to the general public than it has proved in the past. If it were published on Friday nights in the capital cities, and included features such as a racing supplement, it would become most popular. As the commission now feels safe from political interference for a year or two, I trust that it will not suddenly stop the publication of the journal.

I draw the attention of the House to the section of the report of the joint committee, at page 70, headed " Copyright ". In paragraphs 488 to 499 a resume is given of the historical position regarding copyright in Australia, and the effect of the copyright law on both the national and the commercial broadcasting stations is outlined. The subjects of copyright and of performing right have been mentioned in this Parliament on many occasions, and a great deal of interest has been shown in the matter. Having considered the activities of the Australasian Performing Right Association with respect to broadcasting, I am convinced that some misunderstanding has arisen in the past with relation to the real functions of this organization. At present every commercial broadcasting station in Australia pays a fee to the Australasian Performing Right Association in respect of each performance. The rate is determined by the association, and each station is affected differently. The smaller stations in the country pay about 6d., and the rates range up to about 3£d. in respect of each performance broadcast by a metropolitan station. The commercial stations are working under a harmonious agreement with the association that was arranged without recourse to law. This mutual agreement is now operating satisfactorily, and it will continue in force until 1944. A different arrangement exists between the Australasian Performing Right Association and the national stations. Under an agreement reached by arbitration the commission pays a fee of 6d. in respect of each listener's licence. The association is required to receive only that sum and to distribute it amongst those who are entitled to performing right fees. I consider that the arrangement made with the commercial stations could easily be made with the national stations, and that thus a more satisfactory agreement than that now in operation could be reached. Such an arrangement would do justice to both the composers and the owners of the copyright in the performances broadcast by the commission.

The commission, claims that it is not possible to get sufficient Australian records because there are no establishments in Australia, capable of recording performances suitable for broadcasting. The manufacture of a certain percentage of Australian records should be compulsory. Performing right associations are found in most countries, and they collect performing right fees under the various copyright acts. Those fees, less expenses, are paid to the owners of the copyright. It appears to me that the existence of such a central organization is of great benefit to authors and composers. Otherwise they would not he able to collect their copyright fees owing to the heavy expense that would be involved, and, indeed, they would have no knowledge of where their productions were being played. At the committee stage I shall seek to have amendments inserted in several clauses of the hill. I favour the nationalization of broadcasting in Australia, but, as the Government has seen fit to introduce a bill dealing with both the national and the commercial stations under one measure, we should endeavour to make it as workable as possible.

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