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Tuesday, 2 June 1942

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - The polite custom seems to be to commend the Joint Committee on Broadcasting on the report which it has prepared. I desire to be no less courteous than my colleagues, and' I think that the committee has done good work, because it has achieved something, which successive Postmasters-General failed to achieve - it has brought into harmony the varying opinions of members of various parties. I know that Ministers have in the past drafted bills and submitted them to Parliament, but the feeling of Parliament was such that no bill was previously regarded' as wholly satisfactory. I do not say that I approve everything that the bill contains, but it is a notable step forward, and I would not rob the members, of the committee of the credit due to them.

Honorable members- raa.y not grasp the fact that there are two sides to broadcasting, the entertainment side and the technical side. I desire to say something about the- technical, side, without which there could be no broadcasting at all, and in this respect, I pay a warm tribute to the staff of experts attached to the Post.masterGeneral's Department. Hitherto, their praises have not been sung, and they have received no publicity. Nevertheless, in season and out of season their services have been availed of by all broadcasting stations, national and commercial. By their researches, they have done more than any one else to bring broadcasting in Australia to its present high standard. They have introduced many innovations. They have achieved what I regard as a monumental success in that they have made it possible to construct broadcasting stations in Australia wholly out of Australian-made material. They are responsible for the policing of international conventions, a big thing in itself. The various broadcasting channels are split up among different countries, and within those countries among the several broadcasting stations. This arrangement must be policed in order- to ensure that the stations operating on a prescribed wave-length do not interfere with one another. The experts have established a standard of frequency tests, which prevent interference between stations whose frequencies are close or even the same, this being achieved by giving one station more, power than the other. In addition to this, the technicians of the PostmasterGeneral's Department are responsible for the maintenance of an even frequency on ships and, in time of peace, at experimental stations also-. They have to arrange a nation-wide hook-up when occasion demands, so that every station in Australia is brought on to the air at the same time in order to give the same programme. When one remembers that the programme has to be transmitted over thousands of miles of land line, with technicians standing by to synchronize operations to a split second, one cannot but admire the efficiency of this notable body of public servants.

Then we have the entertainment side of broadcasting, and in order to realize what has been done, it is only necessary to compare the position now with what obtained in 1932, when the Australian Broadcasting Commission took over. Then, there were only two radio orchestras, one in Sydney, consisting of thirteen members, and the other in Melbourne, consisting of fourteen members, and they were not permanent organizations. To-day, there are permanent orchestras in every capital city, besides permanent military bands and dance bands, and a chorus of sixteen or more voices. During 1.93S-39, no fewer than 263 musicians were fully employed on the national network, besides many hundreds of others who received casual employment. One of the greatest achievements of the Australian Broadcasting Commission was the inauguration of public concerts, which have done more than anything else to raise cultural standards in Australia. The educational value of these concerts cannot be over estimated. Being far removed from the cultural centres of Europe, Australians did not develop a high standard of music. We were content to rely on our own products, and we were not influenced as are the people of Europe by the penetration of music and culture from a -country a few miles across the border. When the commission inaugurated the celebrity concerts, it conferred a great boon upon the music-loving people of Australia. The concerts made the appreciation of the celebrities by teachers and students more pronounced and gave an opportunity to students and teachers to study the technique of musicians who are in the highest class of the music world. Moreover, the commission rendered a -distinct service to the music-loving public, who, possibly, would go to see a celebrity at a concert, but would not listen to the music of that celebrity without visual contact. Even though these celebrity concerts attracted large crowds, the commission made it possible for people to see for themselves the technique of the artists. The concerts also assisted broadcasting itself considerably because the advertising publicity did more to popularize broadcasting than any other effort. The commission provided for the listening public something which could not otherwise have been given, to it without direct contact with the magnetism and technique of the artist. This innovation resulted in huge money surpluses accruing to the commission and proved that this field if further exploited by the commission would result to its advantage. In view of the criticism of celebrity concerts voiced in this chamber it is interesting to note that the surplus gained by the commission from the- celebrity concerts was £2,000 in 1936, £9,000 in 1937, £17,000 in 1938 and about £32,000 in 1939. These results proved conclusively that the commission had struck a chord in the hearts of the Australian music-loving people. This enterprise had another effect. Being so far removed from Europe, we are subject to the exploitation of celebrities by entrepreneurs. Formerly they brought to Australia from overseas one or two celebrated artists a year, but when the commission inaugurated this enterprise, it co-operated to a marked degree with entrepreneurs and succeeded in establishing a demand in Australia for vocalists and musicians, with resultant benefit to this country. I would direct the attention of honorable members who have criticized the commission for its failure to make use of Australian artists to the fact that entrepreneurs had neglected to engage local singers and musicians for concerts, and had thereby failed to give them an opportunity to be heard by the Australian public. The figures that I shall quote ought to convince honorable members that the commission took advantage of this neglect. I shall give the figures for 193S-39, and I have taken that period because it was the year prior to the outbreak of war, as since then a proper comparison could not be drawn between Australian and foreign artists. During 1938-39, about 90 per cent, of the salaries disbursed by the commission were paid to Australian artists; 66 per cent, of the material, that is the script, for every programme was produced by the commission in Australia and 75 per cent, of the musical comedies and revue broadcast over the national network was the work of talented Australian writers and artists. From 1936 to 198S the commission brought to Australia from overseas a number of Australian artists. There is no need for me to elaborate this point, but I think that the figures are convincing. Notwithstanding the engagement by the commission of local artists, it imported seven Australian artists between 1936 and 1939, and made it possible for the Australian public to listen to musicians of their own blood playing to them and rendering items that had charmed the ears of cultured music-loving people in Europe.

Mr Calwell - Was it not more a question of transportation than importation?

Mr HARRISON - The artists would hare been content to remain in Europe where their talents were appreciated and where they received large salaries.

Mr Calwell - Australia exported the artists before they were imported.

Mr HARRISON - I shall not join issue with the honorable member on that fine point. In addition to importing seven Australian artists, the commission brought to Australia in the same period twelve foreign artists. When the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) spoke in somewhat disparaging terms of the artists brought to Australia by the commission and described them as second-rate, I challenged him to name them, but he could not. Among the twelve foreign artists brought to Australia by the commission were Lotte Lehmann Tauber, Kipnis, and Dupre - artists in the front rank of music in Europe. It would have been impossible lor us in Australia to have heard those great artists had the commission not afforded us the opportunity to listen to them and to study their technique. In the celebrity concerts, 24 local soloists were engaged, and the commission sent on tours of the Commonwealth 190 local artists who otherwise might have languished in their home towns or perhaps have had the good fortune to have an occasional concert promoted for them in a large city. I think that I have furnished sufficient information to convince critics that the commission has made available to Australian artists the whole of its organization and made it possible for them to become known in their own country. Therefore, I suggest that before illinformed criticism is levelled against the commission, honorable members should study this trend of the commission's policy.

I cannot understand the Joint Committee on Broadcasting passing over, and I! cannot understand why the Minister has failed to take heed of the necessity for giving the commission more control of the technical side of broadcasting. The technical side of broadcasting in Australia has passed beyond the experimental stage, in which it was necessary for the commission to move cautiously. Although I appreciate the technical knowledge of the technicians of the Postmaster-General's Department, I consider that the commission should have full control of the technical service, to the point of output. I have heard honorable members and listeners outside Parliament criticize the commission's broadcasting performances as compared with those of the commercial stations. These critics have claimed that the technique of broadcasting has been brought to a fine art by the B class stations, but the technique of the A class stations has been crude. There might have been some ground for the criticism in the first stage of broadcasting, but a marked improvement has been noticeable in recent years. Until such time as the commission is given control of the technical service to the point of output, it will be at a disadvantage. Technicians trained in the Postmaster-General's Department are not musicians. They do not understand the modulation necessary to get the full expression out of the music broadcast. Lacking an appreciation of tone and harmony, they cannot give full expression to the modulation of music put over the air.

Sir Charles Marr - Can the honorable member give one instance where the technicians of the Postmaster-General's Department have failed?

Mr HARRISON - No broadcasting commission can pronounce where the technicians on the control board have failed or succeeded. If a person who understood the full value of tone, volume and harmony were in charge of the control board, much better results would be obtained than if control were left in the hands of technicians possessing no appreciation of tone and harmony. There is that undefinable something which nobody but a musician can achieve, and it is the difference between a musical genius and a musical hack. I am opposed to the method set out in the bill for the setting up of a standing committee and an advisory committee to report to the Minister. In my opinion, the result will be chaos. The powers which are conferred upon the Minister are very limited. He must accept all responsibility for criticism which, is levelled at the Australian Broadcasting Commission because he administers the act, hut he will exercise no real power over that body. I can visualize what will happen. A standing committee on broadcasting will be appointed with power to investigate any matter affecting broadcasting, and will submit its conclusions to Parliament. When the Minister receives the report, he might feel it incumbent upon him to make the evidence available to the advisory committee. The advisory committee, after taking precisely the same evidence as that which the standing committee heard, will report to the Minister. One does, not have to be a seer to foretell that the standing committee will investigate the conditions in every State. As a former member for Bourke, the late Mr. Anstey once said, the committee will go north in winter-time and south in summer-time. It will take evidence here, there and everywhere, and the Minister will submit its report to the advisory committee concerned. The advisory committee will then examine the conditions in their respective States, and make their several reports to the Minister. The next step will be that the Minister will present the reports to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which will examine them and, by an exercise of its powers relating to all matters appertaining to broadcasting, will disregard them. When that occurs, the Minister will be obliged to introduce amending legislation. Thus we can expect a procession of bills, because of the conflict of opinion which must exist between the standing committee, which will poke its finger into every matter associated with broadcasting, the advisory committee that will advise the Minister, and the commission, which will exercise its powers under tie act. .From the welter of reports and recommendations, absolute chaos will arise. Members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission will certainly earn their salaries, and the unfortunate chairman, who will receive £1,500 a year, would not be overpaid if that sum were increased by £1,000 per annum. I also express my deep sympathy with the unfortunate general manager, because he will have to accept responsibility for the general confusion. Frankly, I do not know how he will be able to carry on, as the burden will be almost insupportable. The Minister should give serious consideration to this subject. If he were empowered to direct the Australian Broadcasting Commission to do all the things which will be submitted to him, he would have to bear the responsibility. But if that power is not vested in him, it is obvious that the commission is not likely to act upon the recommendation of the multiplicity of committees.

In my opinion, the listeners' licence-fee is satisfactory. Indeed, it is a handsome fee, and will cover everything that must be met under the term "broadcasting", both technical services and entertainment. A handsome surplus has been paid into Consolidated Revenue from the operations of the Postmaster-General's Department, and into- the reserves of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, from which it must raise money to provide suitable studios, a high standard of entertainment and equipment. The imposition of an additional fee for every additional radio set in the home or in a motor car will not popularize broadcasting. The tendency is for the Government to make more and more use of this essential service, and in the circumstances every effort should be made to popularize it. Why should the Government place an additional impost upon any person who wishes to purchase another radio set ? It would be interesting to ascertain how many Australians are employed in the manufacture of radio sets, and the value of Australian material that has been used in the manufacture of equipment. Yet this Commonwealth Labour Government, which is supposed to protect Australian industry and the Australian worker will, by this legislation, impose upon the industry a disability of the first magnitude that will discourage the purchase of additional sets. The average person now resents the payment of the present licence-fee of 20s. a year, and will be distinctly hostile towards the proposal to compel him to pay an additional 10s. per annum if he happens to instal another set in his home or in his motor car. The additional payment cannot be justified. The Metropolitan Water and Sewerage Drainage Board in Sydney does not base its charges upon the number of taps in a house; the Sydney County Council does not charge for every electric light switch in a building; and a gas company -does not charge for every gaspoint in the home. In modern blocks of flats or in hotel suites, people should have the opportunity to tune in to any broadcasting stations that they choose. I do not refer to a loud speaker in each room which broadcasts the programme received by a master set in the building. What would happen if the Sydney County Council were to impose a charge for every switch that controlled a refrigerator in every flat in Sydney?

Sir Frederick Stewart - Is not that the position now?

Mr HARRISON - No. The electricity is supplied from the power point, and a flat rate is charged for the electricity that is consumed. The Sydney County Council does not charge for the switch that controls the operation of the refrigerator. The Government will not popularize radio, stimulate the manufacture of sets, and increase the employment of Australian labour and- the consumption of raw materials if it persists with its proposal to impose this additional charge.

Like other honorable members, I am not satisfied with the present national news broadcasts. I agree with the report of the Joint Committee on. Broadcasting that as soon as possible, ' the Australian Broadcasting Commission should obtain a new agreement with the controllers of the news services. Being the national service the Australian Broadcasting Commission should have power to take its news from the most suitable sources. I visualize news "flashes", not at prescribed times, and of a stilted nature so as not to interfere with the sale of newspapers, but of national moment to the people. The control that, is at present exercised by the press over news services should be examined, because the sooner a new agreement can be made between the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the press, the better it will be for the public.

The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) spoke at length about the A.B.C. Weekly, but it is obvious that he did not appreciate the real position. He stated that be did not criticize the present -Go vernment because it was not in office when the journal was first published ; but the honorable member could not, with justification, criticize any government in respect of the launching of the journal. He should criticize Parliament, because it vested in the Australian Broadcasting 'Commission the right to publish the journal, and the .Joint Committee on Broadcasting rightly drew attention to that fact.

Mr Calwell - The Government of which the honorable member was a Minister approved of it.

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