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Friday, 21 June 1946

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Minister for Immigration and Minister for Information) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The world is witnessing a great struggle for the preservation of democratic ideals and, in this connexion, it will, I think, be agreed that one of the greatest dangers to the form of government favoured by our people is the lack of interest they display in the functioning of their demo cratic institutions. For this reason, the Government welcomes the opportunity of asking the Parliament to consider this bill to authorize the broadcasting of parliamentary debates. The enactment of this measure would, in my opinion, go far towards strengthening the association between the Parliament and the people, which, even though it may be in fact solid and intimate, nevertheless frequently seems to be of an intangible character. Although the step it is proposed to take is novel in the history of the Commonwealth, we are fortunate in being able to draw on the experience of our sister dominion, New Zealand, where since 1936, it has been the practice to broadcast the proceedings of the National Parliament. According to reliable evidence, the debates have become a popular feature of the broadcasting programmes of that country, where it has been found that the broadcasts have stimulated interest in parliamentary affairs, and have enabled the people to be better informed on both sides of public questions, thus ensuring the more effective operation of the democratic system of government.

For some years, there have been occasional suggestions that the proceedings of the Commonwealth Parliament should be broadcast, and in more recent times the proposal has been supported by persons and organizations representing all shades of political thought. The Government, therefore, thought that it was advisable that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting should examine the matter and report to the Parliament whether it considered the broadcasting of debates was desirable and, if so, to what extent and in what manner the broadcasts should be undertaken. The Broadcasting Committee comprehensively investigated the subject and subsequently presented to Parliament a most interesting and valuable report covering all phases of the proposal. The committee consulted the leaders of the various parties in Parliament and others well qualified to advise it on the numerous aspects of the matter. After weighing the evidence which had been submitted to it, the Broadcasting Committee came to the conclusion that the broadcasting of the proceedings of the Commonwealth

Parliament' would be a desirable innovation and that arrangements for its introduction should be made as soon as circumstances permitted.

In the course of its report the Broadcasting Committee expressed its agreement with the views of those who believe that the effect of these broadcasts would be to raise the standard of debates, enhance the- prestige of Parliament, and contribute to a better informed judgment on matters affecting the common good and the public interest. The committee drew attention to the fact that there is an increasing demand for copies of the printed debates, and, partly because of this evidence of widening interest in Common wealth politics, it considers that the listening public would appreciate the opportunity of hearing members of both Houses expounding their views on measures presented t'o Parliament. The Government has considered carefully the report of the committee and having accepted, in principle, the proposal that the proceedings of Parliament should be broadcast, it -has decided that arrangements should be. made for the broadcasts- to commence during the present session.

In the process of its investigations, the committee considered several alternative methods whereby the broadcasts could be undertaken and, in- this regard, it formed the opinion that the best arrangement would he to utilize the main national broadcasting stations in each State capital city, and all the national regional stations in country districts. ' This would, however, involve the use of the main national network, embracing 22. out of a total of 29 national medium-wave broadcasting stations in the Commonwealth, and, in consequence, would necessitate the substitution of parliamentary broadcasts for entertainments, commentaries on current affairs, and other items which are normally broadcast through the network. In this connexion, it is, moreover, important to bear in mind that certain stations of the main national network provide the only reliable service available to listeners in some country districts. There is much to be said in favour of the Broadcasting Committee's view that the broadcasts should be made available to listeners on the widest practicable scale, but the Go vernment believes that it would be preferable to commence the contemplated service on an experimental basis, the broadcasts being confined at the outset to the second national station in the capital city of each State and in the city of Newcastle. This was one of the alternative proposals considered by the Broadcasting Committee. Whilst the adoption of this plan will not, of course, secure the same extensive audience for the broadcasts as would be the case if the main network were used for the purpose, it will nevertheless enable a great majority of the people to listen to the debates. The primary service-area of the seven stations concerned covers, not less than 60 per cent, of the total population of Australia and during night hours, which, incidentally, are the chief listening periods, this percentage will be very substantially increased by means of the secondary service which then exists. It is difficult to estimate the number of additional listeners to whom the service would bc available at night time, but it can be said that a considerable proportion of those country listeners who may be anxious to hear the debates will be able to do so.

It is realized, of course, that the public reaction to the broadcasts may be very favorable and that there may be a demand for the use of additional medium-wave stations, even though this may result in listeners having to forgo the reception of other items on days when Parliament is sitting. Accordingly, provision has been made in the bill for the use of such additional stations as may be prescribed from time to time. In this connexion, due consideration would be given to the possibility of using short-wave stations to supplement the service to listeners in remote areas, as was recommended by the Broadcasting Committee.

Honorable members doubtless will agree that the broadcasts of debates should be carefully controlled, especially in the initial experimental stages. In this regard, the Broadcasting Committee recommended that provision should be made in the proposed legislation for the overall control of the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings to be vested in the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, insofar as their respective chambers were concerned. It further suggested that the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Postmaster-General's Department, and the parliamentary authorities should be consulted regarding the selection of mutually acceptable periods for broadcasts from both Houses. The Government considers, however, that a joint committee should be established so that , Parliament itself could, in this manner, exercise control over a matter which so intimately affects the rights of members. It will be appreciated that there are a number of details to be settled in connexion with the allocation 'of time for broadcasts from both Houses of Parliament when they are sitting simultaneously, and in regard to technical and programme arrangements, and other points mentioned by the Broadcasting Committee. . The bill accordingly provides for the appointment of a committee of six members, including the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Government proposes that the suggested Joint Committee should investigate all the matters to which I have referred, and make a recommendation to the Parliament concerning the general principles upon which the broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings should be inaugurated. After the committee's report has been adopted by both Houses, the Joint Committee will exercise control over the broadcasts in accordance, with the principles ratified by Parliament.

In all probability, situations will arise when it will be necessary for prompt decisions to be given in regard to actual broadcasts from the Parliament, and, therefore, it seems desirable that the Joint Committee should have authority to delegate to a sub-committee its power to determine the days on which, and the periods during which, the proceedings of either House shall be broadcast. Because of the possibility that only one House may be sitting, the bill provides that two members of the sub-committee shall be sufficient to form a quorum.

The Government accepts the view of the Broadcasting Committee that the immunities and, privileges applying to debates within the Parliament shall apply to the broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings. The bill embraces, the views of the Government in regard to' this matter, and I shall be glad to supply any further information which honorable members may desire concerning the proposals.

In anticipation of the measure being acceptable to the Parliament, arrangements have been made, with the concurrence of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, for the erection of a control booth in both, Houses of Parliament and for the installation of such equipment as i3 necessary to enable the broadcasts to be undertaken. Therefore, it should be practicable, in the, event of the early passage of the bill, to commence the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings during the present session, the actual date being determined by the Joint Committee, which will, of course, be selected as soon as the measure becomes law.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Menzies) adjourned.

SUPPLY BILL (No. 1) 1946-47. Second Reading.

Debate resumed from .the 20th June (vide page 1702), . on motion by Mr. Chifley -

That the bill be now read a second time.

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