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Tuesday, 2 June 1942


Mr JOLLY (Lilley) .- The Joint Parliamentary Committee is to be congratulated on the comprehensive survey that it has made of broadcasting generally. Its report will be helpful in dealing with this bill, and will provide valuable material for future reference. It is unfortunate thatMr. Moses, the general manager of the commission, was not available to give evidence when the committee was making its investigations, because I believe that he would have been able to give testimony of much value. He was then engaged on active service abroad and I am sure that I express the feelings of all members of the House when I say that we are delighted that he has returned to Australia safe and sound, after his trying experiences in Malaya. Wireless broadcasting has now passed the experimental stage, and, in view of the important part it plays in the life of the community, its control should be placed on a sound permanent basis. Australia, with its wide spaces, is vitally interested in broadcasting.

I shall confine my remarks on the bill to matters of finance and administration. I regret, that this measure does not provide for an improvement of the financial set-up of the commission. At present financial control is divided between the commission and the Postmaster-General's Department. A portion of the revenue from licencefees is paid to the commission, and the Postmaster-General's Department gets the balance. To ascertain the true financial results of broadcasting activities, it is necessary to amalgamate the profit and loss accounts of the commission with those of the PostmasterGeneral's Department. For instance, for the year ended the 30th June, 1940, the latest year for which I have the official figures, the commission showed a net profit of £47,254. That is not the whole story, as the department also made a profit of £13,256 from broadcasting. It would be interesting to review what has happened in recent years in the financing of broadcasting. The following table shows the profits made by the Postmaster-General's Department and the commission respectively, from 1936 to 1940 : -

 

During those five years the PostmasterGeneral's Department made a profit of £324,000 from broadcasting and the commission a profit of £307,000.


Dr PRICE (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Not wholly from wireless broa dcasting operations.


Mr JOLLY - That is so. I am citing official figures. The total profit for the five years was £633,000.

I have previously urged that a comprehensive statement should be presented to Parliament annually setting out the total revenue received from licence-fees and details as to how the money is expended. At present it is impossible for the Parliament to review the accounts in connexion with broadcasting, because it is not given an opportunity to do so. The British Broadcasting Corporation shows in its annual report the total revenue received from licence-fees, and also the total expenditure, including technical expenditure; but in Australia we have two separate divisions of broadcasting. Personally, I advocate that this undertaking should be subject to the same budgetary control as other governmental activities, and that the commission should submit estimates for the approval of the Parliament each year. The practice of granting a lump sum to the commission and saying to it, in effect, "Do the best you can with it", is unsound. I appreciate the fact that the commission, as now constituted, has a special charter, but I can see no justification for that. It should be treated in the same way as every other governmental activity. I draw attention to the marked increases of the administrative expenses of the commission since the outbreak of the war. The staff salaries, for instance, amounted to £42,000 in 1938-39, £56,000 in 1939-40, and £65,000 in 1940-41, showing an increase in two years of 33 per rent. On the other hand the cost of programmes, including artists' fees, which represent the chief business of the commission has practically not been increased. The marked increase of administrative expenses calls for explanation, and emphasizes the need for a review by the Parliament of expenditure of this kind. Probably the increase is due to the cost of the A.B.C. Weekly, but that is not clear from the accounts. The joint committee that investigated the matter had something to say about the administration as far as the permanent staff is concerned, and suggested that there should be an investigation; but I think that it would be in the best interests of the commission, and of the service generally, if the permanent officials were brought under the Public Service Act. There is no reason why there should be any differentiation between the commission's employees and public servants. This state of affairs may create precedents which will cause difficulties and friction within the public service. I now draw attention to clauses 36 to 38 of the bill, which provide that the commission may issue debentures, subject to the approval of the Government. This provision should be deleted from the bill. It is unnecessary, because any loan money required by the commission could be provided through the loan estimates in the same way as funds for other governmental activities are provided. There should not be any distinction between the loans funds required by the commission and those required by the PostmasterGeneral's Department, the Commonwealth railways, and other trading concerns of tie Commonwealth. The fact that the commission is working under a special charter does not affect the matter. I should like to be informed whether the issue of debentures in this way comes under the control of the Loan Council, which exercises control over both Commonwealth and State borrowings. In my opinion, the special powers to be given to the Australian Broadcasting Commission by this bill will place it beyond the control of the Loan Council. I concede that there may be good reasons why the commission should borrow money in order to carry on its work and provide expensive capital assets, but this loan expenditure should come under the supervision of Parliament.

I refer now to the A.B.C. Weekly. 1 appreciate the circumstances which led to the publication of this journal, but the experience of the last two and a half years impels me to call for close scrutiny of its affairs by this Parliament. After investigating its finances and the results that it has achieved, I say without hesitation that it has been a costly and futile experiment. It has utterly failed to fulfil the purpose for which it was established. The loss sustained on its publication to the 30th June, 1941, was £70,144. and the estimated loss for the current year, according to the parliamentary committee's report, is £30,000, which will make a total loss of £100.144. This works out at the rate of £750 a week since the inception of the journal. I understand that the rate of loss has now been reduced to about £600 a week, but, unfortunately, the circulation has also been reduced.- This shocking loss would not be so serious if the journal were an effective means of keeping listeners in touch with the programmes. However, owing to the limited circulation, it is practically useless for this purpose. Fewer than 3 per cent, of licence-holders receive the journal. There are 1,300,000 licensed listeners in Australia and, according to the committee's report, the journal's circulation now amounts to 37,000 copies weekly. How many honorable members of this House, or their families, ever refer to this journal in order to study the wireless programmes?







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