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Tuesday, 2 June 1942

Mr SPENDER - It is just as much a science as economics.

Mr CALWELL - Economics is not a science. It has been called "the dismal science", but the only true part of that statement is that it is dismal. I hope that the Government will take steps to withdraw the archaic ordinance which prohibits the practice of osteopathy in the Australian Capital Territory. I am prepared to assist the honorable member for Reid in preparing an amendment to give effect to his desires when the bill is in committee.

The honorable member for Cook opposed the recommendation of the committee, and the provision of the bill, that the head-quarters of the Australian Broadcasting Commission shall be in Canberra. Two instrumentalities control broadcasting in this country. The Postmaster-General's Department deals with the technical aspects and the Australian Broadcasting Commission with the entertainment aspects of the subject. At present the head-quarters of the Postmaster-General's Department are in Melbourne and those of the Australian Broadcasting Commission are in Sydney, but both should be transferred to Canberra at the earliest possible moment. The arguments used by the honorable member for Cook against the location of the Australian Broadcasting Commission head-quarters in Canberra were entirely unconvincing, and could be used equally strongly against the transfer of the Post Office central administration to the National Capital. I do not wish to canvass the matter further at this stage, except to point out that the honorable member's arguments in relation to the time occupied in travelling by the general manager of the commission were distorted. That officer should travel to the various capital cities of the Commonwealth in order to keep himself thoroughly informed on the problems of broadcasting. He should not ensconce himself in an office in Sydney and move only on occasions from there to Canberra or Melbourne and back again. I hope the House will approve the committee's recommendation that the headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Commission should be located in Canberra as early as possible. It is not proposed that the transfer shall be made immediately, for every body knows that that will not be practicable until some time after the war. As soon as possible the head-quarters of the Commonwealth Bank should also be moved to Canberra. In view of the fact that the Treasury is located here, there is every reason why the head-quarters of its principal financial instrument, the Commonwealth Bank, should also be located here.

The arguments of the honorable member for Cook in relation to the remuneration of the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission were also distorted. His calculation that the remuneration works out at £100 a meeting, assuming that the commission meets once a month, was entirely unsound. He suggested that the remuneration should be about £650 a year. I consider that if it would be wrong to pay the chairman £100 a meeting for one meeting a month, it would be equally wrong to pay him £50 a meeting for one meeting a month as the honorable member suggests. The fact is, of course, that the chairman does a great deal more than attend a monthly meeting of the commission. Rightly or wrongly, he has devoted considerable time to the detailed work of the commission. He spends a great deal of his time in the office of the commission, and concerns himself with many matters in addition to policy.

Mr Spender - Is there not a danger of us having two general managers of the commission?

Mr CALWELL - There is hardly that possibility. At the moment I am concerned that the chairman shall be paid an amount which will enable him to come to Canberra and spend some time here frequently after Canberra becomes the headquarters of the commission. If necessary, he should be able to maintain a home here, so that he may keep in touch with the Minister. It would be a bad thing in my view if the Minister had no contact with the chairman of the commission, and had to rely solely upon advice tendered to him by the general manager. I hope that after the war the Postmaster-General, whoever he may be, will also spend a great deal more of his time in Canberra than PostmastersGeneral have spent here hitherto.

Mr Archie Cameron - If the honorable gentleman desires Ministers to spend more time in Canberra he will have to chain them up.

Mr CALWELL - Like the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), I am conscious of the fact that most Ministers spend too little time in the National Capital. Perhaps they fear that an outbreak of bubonic plague is likely to occur in the environs of the Capital late on any Friday afternoon, and that therefore they must get away as quickly as possible. Such an attitude will do nothing to deepen the affection of the people of Australia for Canberra as the National Capital. Ministers receive substantial salaries and enjoy many privileges, and they might reasonably be expected to set a good example by spending as much time in Canberra as practicable. I hope that when we have a bigger Parliament, and when we are able to transfer various government instrumentalities to Canberra, there will not be so much ground for Ministers leaving the National Capital on the slightest of pretexts.

Mr Archie Cameron - The honorable gentleman has been talking a good deal about a bigger Parliament. What about a better Parliament?

Mr CALWELL - I desire the Parliament to be both bigger and better.

The honorable member for Cook urged that the proposed State advisory committee should report to the Minister and not to the commission. In this regard he had the support of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly). Provision is made in the bill for the Australian Broadcasting Commission to have a representative on each State advisory committee, and for that reason, among others, I do not think it is necessary that the committees shall report to the commission. There is a fatal objection to that proposal. A State advisory committee may deal with a charge against a commercial station that it has -transgressed the code of ethics, or the rules of decency, which should apply to broadcasting. It would be improper, in my view, for the committee to report on such a matter to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which, in the nature of things, is a rival of the commercial broadcasting stations. Such a matter should be reported direct to the

Minister, who should have power to review the penalty imposed. I hope that in such circumstances the Minister concerned will be sufficiently courageous - though courage has not been obvious in many Ministers in recent years - to impose even a higher penalty than that recommended if he should deem that to be justified. The advisory committees will have power to make recommendations concerning the improvement of broadcasting, and such recommendations should properly be placed before the responsible Minister. An exceptionally effective advisory committee is functioning in Perth, and its work has been of great value to the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Mr Jolly - It reports direct to the commission.

Mr CALWELL - That is so; but the intention of the joint committee was. that recommendations of the advisory committees should be submitted to the Minister for such action as he thought desirable. If the Minister considered any recommendation of an advisory committee of sufficient importance, he could deal with it himself or refer it to the proposed standing committee for further consideration. The suggestion for the appointment of such a committee was made by Professor Bland of the Sydney University, a leading authority on public administration, whose opinions are worthy of close attention. When subsequent witnesses were asked for their views, they almost unanimously endorsed his recommendation. Since then, Professor Bland has written to me expressing his regret that the standing committee is not to have the power to initiate investigations. He thinks that in that respect its powers will be too circumscribed. In my opinion, the proposal should be given a trial for three or four years. If that he done, I am convinced that it will be found that the system will work well and that the advisory committees will do good work also. After that time we may extend the committee's powers, or the Minister may give the committee carte blanche to inquire into all matters affecting broadcasting. An opportunity is also provided for the Minister to obtain disinterested advice, -whereas in the past there was no one but postal officials to advise him on submissions by the commission. Had there been a standing committee in operation when a previous Postmaster-General reduced the licensing-fee, that fee would never have been reduced. Evidence was tendered to show that advice to reduce the fee was not given by the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs or by the members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Mr Archie Cameron - It was a Cabinet decision. Cabinet does not necessarily accept advice from every one who offers it.

Mr CALWELL - I presume that Cabinet acted on the recommendation of the then Postmaster-General; but he did not seek advice from the right people. However, Cabinet made a certain decision, and since there was no division in this Parliament in regard to it, every member of the Parliament at the time the legislation was under consideration was guilty of participating in an unfortunate decision. The effect of that decision was to rob the commission of money which it needed to further its work among the Australian community.

Mr Archie Cameron - Th« commission could not have gone on with its building programme at that stage.

Mr CALWELL - There were other considerations. Unfortunately, the proposed building programme was uppermost in the minds of Ministers, to the exclusion of other aspects, concerning which a standing committee would have been able to offer valuable advice. The fact that the Cabinet has accepted practically all of the recommendations of the joint committee shows that the Cabinet has trust in the committee. I am convinced that the standing committee proposed to be set up will be similarly trusted by the various governments in years to come.

The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) referred to the A.B.C. Weekly. The committee carefully reviewed the his tory of that journal. At its inauguration, it had an editor who, because of excessive optimism, issued orders to print large numbers of copies of the first and subsequent issues. The joint committee was told that the commission was not properly informed as to the sales of the journal, and was for some time unaware of the losses being made. Later, when it discovered the magnitude of those losses, it attempted to meet the situation. The committee thinks that the commission has shown a laudable desire to publish the journal at as small a loss as possible; and therefore it recommends that the experiment be continued, subject to review by the standing committee.

Mr Spender - Does the honorable member read the journal, and, if so, what does he think of it?

Mr CALWELL - I do read it. In my opinion the editor makes the unfortunate mistake of trying to mix a programme journal with an educational medium. The British Listener is published entirely for the benefit of those who want to read the printed reports of talks given over the air. That publication does meet a need, and it is in popular demand in England. Had the Australian journal adopted that practice, it would have been more successful. At the same time, it must be remembered that the A.B.C. 'Weekly must advertise station times in the same way as they are advertised in England in a second journal.

Honorable members will recall that there was an attempt at blackmail on the part of certain newspaper proprietors. They gave to the commission only 48 hours' notice that, if it did not sign an agreement in respect of advertising, no broadcasting notices would appear in their columns. The story told by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) of what happened when he was Postmaster-General is a truthful account. The only point in it with which I disagree .was his statement that no government was responsible. I think that the Government of which he was a member did the right thing on that occasion; the honorable gentleman should have stood up for it. I commend that Government for accepting the challenge of the newspaper barons. Even though there were considerable losses, a great loss would have been incurred in any case had the commission weakly submitted to the press magnates and paid £90,000 a year for advertising. The programmes must, of course, be advertised through some medium.

Mr Jolly - Only 3 per cent, of listeners obtain the A.B.C. Weekly.

Mr CALWELL - The percentage will increase after the new commission and the standing committee have been appointed.

Mr SPENDER - It is a matter which will have to be watched.

Mr CALWELL - That will be done. There was undoubtedly an attempt at sabotage. Newspaper vendors were threatened that, if they sold the A.B.C. Weekly, they would not be allowed to cell other journals which the newspaper proprietors published. These factors must be taken into consideration. If we were to say that the A.B.C. Weekly must be published for only n. certain definite period, say au or nine months, the commission would have difficulty in arranging advertising contracts. It must have some discretionary power. Moreover, we must trust the proposed standing committee to act reasonably. Should it find that the journal cannot be made to pay, or, at least, that it cannot give value to compensate for any loss which might be incurred, the committee should, and would, be courageous enough to recommend the discontinuance of publication. Every trade union and every organization of manufacturers publishes its own journal and charges the cost of producing it against the general expenses account. Similarly, the Australian Broadcasting Commission is entitled to have its own journal. We should not be too carping in our criticism of the Australian Broadcasting Commission if, in its struggle against the power of the press, it incurs some losses.

Mr Jolly - I am complaining, not about the losses, but about the service rendered to listeners.

Mr CALWELL - I agree that there is room for improvement there, and that the whole publication, particularly the format, should be made more attractive. It must be remembered that the commission has had to wage a continuous fight with the press regarding news services, advertising, and other matters. Persons in control of the press of this country foolishly imagined that broadcasting would be such a dangerous competitor that newspapers would eventually go out of circulation. They therefore adopted the same attitude as the Luddites did in England, in the days of the industrial revolution. When people found their occupations gone, they smashed the machinery which had been brought in to cheapen production. The newspaper magnates had the same kind of mind. However, their worst fears were not realized, and to-day they are more reasonable in their attitude towards broadcasting. For nine years the commission and the newspaper proprietors argued about an agreement. They had not reached an agreement when the Joint Committee on Broadcasting began its investigations. They are now again trying to bring about an agreement. It is extraordinary that these business men who are so prone to criticize others could not, over a period of nine years, reach an agreement upon certain stated points.

Mr SPENDER - There is another point of view - the attitude of the commission towards outside interests. It considers that it is a law unto itself.

Mr CALWELL - I am not excluding the commission from blame for what occurred. I agree with the honorable member for Lilley that statements of accounts should be set out more clearly than they have been up to date. The complaint is not so much against the statement of revenue as against the statement of expenditure, which covers a huge sum.

Mr Jolly - That is my point.

Mr CALWELL - It was not the fault of the committee that more information could not be obtained. We asked the senior representative of the Audit Office in New South Wales to come before us, but when he did so he sheltered behind acts of Parliament and his evidence was not in the least helpful to us. We have recommended that the Postal Department shall present its accounts much more clearly, so that they may be understood by honorable members, in regard to, not only its activities with respect to broadcasting, but also its other activities. We wanted the commission to do the same. We went further, and recommended that a representative of the Public Service Commissioner's office shall inspect the whole of the workings of the commission, in order to ascertain where savings may be effected. I assure the honorable member that if the standing committee be appointed it will attend to all these matters.

The honorable member for Reid has referred to the dramatization of political broadcasts. The report of the committee is very clear upon that point. Broadcasting is such an all-pervading agency that, in its effects for good or ill, it cannot be compared with the daily press. People may refuse to buy a newspaper, or may read only portions of it, and then throw it away. But broadcasting enters right into the centre of the family. A wireless station can send its message into the domestic hearth, and every member of the family will hear it. Honorable members may recall the effect of the publication of the Zinoviev letter in England and the burning of the Reichstag in Germany, both on the eve of an election. We argued that it would be bad if it were possible in Australia for similar happenings to be associated with broadcasting, consequently we have recommended that there shall be no dramatization of political broadcasts in any circumstances, and that all broadcasts shall end on the Wednesday night before the date of an election so that, if anything outrageous be done on that night there will be some chance of catching up with it before polling day.

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