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Friday, 28 June 1946

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- - The speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) should cause every honorable-member to reflect on the wisdom of the proposal to broadcast the proceedings of this Parliament.- The right. honorable gentleman pointed out in the clearest of terms the dangers that could arise from an abuse of privilege by an unreasonable use of broadcasting. The law in respect of libel, defamation and privilege has been developed in British jurisprudence over several hundreds of years. The basic purpose of it is to protect the reputation of citizens from improper and unfair attack. These objects could be negatived by the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings in flic manner proposed by the Government.

Reference has been made to the situation in New Zealand, but no true com parison can be made between Australia and the sister dominion in this matter. New Zealand is a small country. One station can serve the whole dominion satisfactorily. I believe that station 1YA provides a service, not only for New Zealand, but also for New South Wales and other parts of the mainland of Australia.

Mr Beazley - That makes no difference to the position in relation to privilege.

Mr ANTHONY - I am not discussing that aspect at the moment;. I am endeavouring to show that broadcasting over a huge continent like Australia and broadcasting in a relatively small country like New Zealand are entirely different things. Despite all the efforts that have been made by Commonwealth governments over a period of years it has not yet been possible to provide a sufficient number of regional stations to give a satisfactory broadcasting service to many thousands of people in the less accessible areas of Australia. I live in a district where it is not possible, at all times, to tune in satisfactorily to the national regional stations. Many tens of thousands of people throughout the country districts have to depend upon the nearby commercial stations for their radio news and entertainment. Therefore, the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings, in the first place, only through national stations, must deprive a very large number of listeners of ' the opportunity of hearing the broadcasts.'

Mr Calwell - Provision is made for the broadcasts to be relayed through regional stations.

Mr ANTHONY - I have mentioned regional stations, which are sub-stations of the national network. At the present time, these do not even approximately cover all the broadcasting requirements in 'Australia. Therefore, in respect of the coverage of the national stations which are to be entrusted with this work there is no analogy with New Zealand, which can reach practically the whole of its listening public by having one station on the air for 24 hours. In other respects, too,. Australia differs from New Zealand. The proposal is to broadcast the proceedings of both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament. The Leader of the

Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has drawn attention to the defects that will result from that fact. I understand that in New Zealand the proceedings of only the House of Representatives, and not those of the Upper House, are broadcast. Therefore, under the . New Zealand system, with broadcasting throughout the sittings of the Parliament, it is possible for anybody who is sufficiently interested to follow the proceedings from beginning to end. I can visualize, as can- every other honorable member, some of the effects of broadcasting the proceedings of the Parliament in the manner proposed in the bill. I may here interpolate that we were apprised yesterday of a strange incident - the Government Printer had not found it possible to print the report of the Auditor-General because he had not received the authority of the Parliament to do so. It is rather significant to me that before this bill was presented to the Parliament radio technicians were permitted to work in this House, installing different gadgets which have con- verted, the chamber into something resembling a magnified dental parlour or a Barnum and Bailey circus.

Mr Chambers - The honorable member is casting a reflection, on Mr. Speaker.

Mr ANTHONY - It is not necessary for rae to have regard to where the reflection may fall. Without the authority of the Parliament, or the matter having been adequately considered, these preliminary steps were taken. In my view, the Government has exhibited very little appreciation of the courtesy to which the Parliament is entitled. It has assumed that when a decision has been made by the ministerial party, the approval of the Parliament to implement it is not necessary. That may be true because of the majority which the Government possesses. But it is characteristic of other systems of government rather than of a democracy. I foresee that some degree of advantage will be taken of the limited time allotted to broadcasting by those who are the professional mud-slingers in the Parliament. [ have never attacked anybody personally in this House. I have not made a defamatory statement, or any other statement that I was not prepared to make outside the House. I have always been particularly careful in that respect. I may have hit hard in debate; and I shall continue to do so. But I have never taken advantage of the privileges of .the House to escape the consequences of the law of slander There are' not many honorable members who will take advantage of the fact that they are on the air, and cannot be contradicted if they make defamatory statements, by innuendo or otherwise, against other honorable senators, but there is no mystery as to who are the men who might do so. That would .be permissible, perhaps, if it were possible, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, for the victim of such an attack to make a reply to it. But by the time the man assailed has had the opportunity to reply, the broadcasting will probably have ceased. I understand that the intention is to broadcast between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Mr Calwell - How is it that the honorable member has that understanding?

Mr ANTHONY - These things become known. . I believe that the broadcasts are to be continued up to 9 p.m. My mere suggestion that these are the hours, causes the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) to get into a flurry of indignation.

Mr Calwell - The hours have not been fixed.

Mr ANTHONY - One of the critical matters which ought to concern the Parliament is the time over which the broadcast will range.

Mr Calwell - The committee will fix that.

Mr ANTHONY - The committee may do a lot. But the Parliament ought to know, when it is considering the bill, at what time of the day or night the listening public will have the benefit of hearing a broadcast of the debates. We know that the Parliament conducts its business according to certain procedural rules. At some times, the business is in the hands of the Government, and at other times it is in the hands of private members. No in'dication has been given of the number of hours during which the proceedings will be broadcast, or at what time the broadcasts will cease.

Other essential information which honorable members require to enable them to pass a considered judgment has not been forthcoming. We know that the broadcasts are to be limited as to time, and that they will be garbled, and partial because of the allocating of time between the two Chambers. Tt is very important indeed that the Parliament should lc now during what hours the broadcasts will be made. I fear that the advice rendered by the Leader of the Opposition, which must have made an impression on the mind of every honorable member, will not count for very much, because the decision has already been made. I draw attention to the fact that there has been a reversal of decision. It was first reported that Cabinet was opposed to the broadcasting of the proceedings of the Parliament, and the next intimation was that they were to be broadcast. I do not know that any significance be attached to that fact; but it is strange that after the proposal had been rejected and probably, forgotten, -it was resurrected suddenly on the eve of the general elections.

Mr Calwell - That is what the honorable member is afraid of.

Mr ANTHONY - I fear only that the public will not be given all the facts, because of the manipulation of the hours of broadcasting, the speakers chosen, and the arrangement of Government business. The Government will be able to control the introduction and the withholding of business. It will be able to bring on a discussion whenever it thinks fit, and 10 ensure that certain speakers will have the benefit of the broadcasting time. Therefore, the listening public will be given one side and not the other.

Mr Calwell - What a "lovely" mind the honorable member has!

Mr ANTHONY - What I have stated is in line with the activities of the Minister for Information during the last referendum campaign, when £50,000 of Commonwealth money was allocated to the education of the public from a party political point of view. I favour the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings, provided the broadcasts are fair and will be available to the members of all parties. But because of the manner in which the proposal has been submitted, and. will be carried through, the Australian listeners will not get a fair conception of the work of the Parliament and of the opinions of those who represent them.

Mr.HAYLEN (Parkes) [12.13 J. -I am very interested in the experiment that i.s about to be undertaken after the passage of the measure that is now before the House. I was particularly interested in the informative legal speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies). Analysing certain provisions dealing with the matter of privilege, the right honorable gentleman pointed out to us the dangers that are inherent in any change. We all must face changes, and be aware of their dangers. But he has aroused' a scare, not so much in our minds concerning the measure, as in the hearts of many newspaper editors who have transgressed without realizing all the implications of the law of libel; because, as he has pointed out, a partial or garbled report could be the subject of a libel action. The same thing can and does apply to newspapers which publish a number of editions, each of which is somewhat different from those that preceded it. For instance, to continue the story of Brown and Jones, and their unfortunate altercation iri the House in which charges are made - if Brown gets into the first, edition of the paper with his allegations, the editor may " wipe " the story in later editions if an atom bomb is dropped in the Pacific, or another throat is cut. The danger of this is much greater than any danger which might arise in .broadcasting. The situation in regard to privilege is not desper'ate. We need to take a more objective view of the broadcasting of Parliament, and to understand better what it will mean. No one really believes that it will have any tremendous effect upon the ordinary habits of the people in regard to radio entertainment." I regard this measure as a sensible provision designed to bring the people nearer to their Parliament. One of the reasons "why this was desirable is that the organs of publicity have been trying to create a cleavage between Parliament and the people. Therefore, if the broadcasting of Parliament achieves nothing more, it will give to the people of the Commonwealth a more possessive feeling in regard to Parliament, and will break down the antagonism which has been very cunningly created by interested organizations. Therefore, I regard the bill as a progressive measure.

It is interesting to note what has happened in regard to the broadcasting of news from Parliament in other countries, particularly New Zealand. The honorable member for Richmond (MrAnthony) spoke of the difficulty experienced by people in country areas in getting good reception from A class stations. That, I know, is a real difficulty, but it is no reason why Parliament should not be broadcast. It is a technical difficulty which should be overcome. In New Zealand, the bulk of the listeners are farmers. Whether that is because they are a tougher race, and can take it, or because they are vitally interested in the proceedings" of Parliament, I do not know. I quote the following from an article by a correspondent in the Sydney Morning Herald: -

For both listener and politician the extent of the changes can best be estimated by the experience of New Zealand. Their Parliament has been on the air for the last ten years

The solid core of Parliament's audience, the visitor to New Zealand gradually realizes, is the farming community. 'For 80,000 farmers polities means the price of milk, mutton and wool, the cost of wire and fertilizer, the overdraft interest, and the bridge over Bluebottle Creek . . .

The lion- farmer listeners are fewer. There is a surprisingly large number of mere hearers" (as distinct from listeners) - males, mostly, who sit reading while . . .

Housewives, on the other hand, are Parliament's least tolerant audience. As listeners, they usually are impatient of all the "ahs" and " urns ", flurries and circumlocutions of debate; as hearers; they have quite other pre,ferences . . . '

Early surprise is likely to be in the large amount of technical ceremonial, and, at first hearing, seemingly empty and pompous jargon still retained iii Parliament.

Reference is made in the article to the fustiness of parliamentary procedure, and to the tendency of Parliament to retain antiquated methods instead of getting on with the job. However, the article shows that there is a strong interest among the public in the debates, and that farmers have been the most consistent and persistent listener?. Tt, is also clear that the parliamentary broadcasts have become a regular and accepted feature of - the programmes of A class stations, and that they serve a useful purpose in keeping the people in touch with Parliament.

There is a danger, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and the member for Richmond said, that certain persons might become microphone conscious, and that, in the early stages at least, there may be something in the nature of a rush k> get to the microphone. However, thai, will not be a permanent feature. When the novelty' wears oil, both for members and for the public, broadcasts of Parliament will be accepted just as are any other kind of broadcasts.

I do not think that there is substance in the complaint that the broadcasts will be too brief. If one of Shakespeare's plays can be condensed so that it can be presented in half an hour, honorable members ought to be proud to be allotted two minutes of broadcasting time. Much has been made, of the fact that after a speaker has made a statement the proceedings may go off the air before any one has a chance to reply, and that certain parts of a speech may be broadcast while others will not. I remind honorable members that, so far as radiolistening is concerned, there is a god in the machine, the listener, who can cut off any speaker by simply turning a knob. We must approach the whole matter in the spirit of the twentieth century, not in that of the nineteenth century, when the public were accustomed to long-winded debates and extended reports. The position in regard to libel must be closely watched, I agree; but there are no difficulties that cannot be overcome. This is a progressive measure, and I support it. The moss-backs among the Opposition resist it because it represents change. They are where they are to-day because they have always resisted change.

This is a simple bill which can be easily understood, and there is no call for rauch debate. Above all, we should remember that no tremendous issues are involved. It is not likely that hundreds of thousands of people will storm their receiving sets in order to listen to broadcasts from Parliament. The knowledge that Parliament is being broadcast may help us in this House to mend our manners because our masters will be listening.

Let us entertain no false notions of the place we' shall occupy in popular esteem. No speech by Frankie Forde is likely to have any appreciable effect on the position of Frank Sinatra, and even the mellifluous utterances of Mr. Menzies will not affect the popularity of the Boswell Sisters. "When Parliament is broadcast, let the broadcast present Parliament as it is. Let it be done with the same frankness as was demanded by Cromwell when he adjured the painter of his portrait to paint it "warts and all ".

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