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Friday, 28 June 1946

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) .- Honorable members on this side of the House are not opposed in principle to the broadcasting of the parliamentary debates. They believe that the people should be given the opportunity to hear their representatives debate national issues in this Parliament; but they contend that such an innovationcan be effective only if certain fundamental principles are observed. The first of these is that listeners should hear either the whole ornone of the debate. There should be no attempt to broadcast only selected portions of a debate because that would give an incomplete picture of the proceedings and be unfair to parliamentarians and the public alike. Obviously, however, that is intended by the Government. My objection to the bill in its present form is that it gives a blank cheque to the Government. There appears to be only one positive operative clause in the bill, namely, clause 4, and there are what I might describe as two negative clauses - clauses which take away certain privileges - namely, clauses 14 and 15. Clause 4, the single operative clause, provides -

Notwithstanding anything contained in the Australian Broadcasting Act 1942, the Australian Broadcasting Commission shall broadcast the proceedings of the Senate or the House of Representatives from -

(a)   a medium-wave national broadcasting station in the capital city in each State and in the city of Newcastle in the State of New South Wales; and

(b   ) such other national broadcasting stations (including short-wave national broadcasting stations) as are prescribed, upon such days and during such periods as the committee determines.

An examination of the remainder of the bill discloses that it deals principally with the composition and functions of the Joint Committee which is to control the broadcasting of the proceedings of the Parliament. So little satisfied was the Government with the bill as originally drafted and passed by the Senate, that it has thought necessary to introduce a sheaf of amendments in this House.Why were not those amendments introduced during the debate in the Senate? It is obvious that the Government does not know exactly where it stands in regard to this matter; and that it is changing its views according to the dictates of the most vociferous members of the caucus. Had the Government been prepared to accept the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) which was supported by the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. McEwen) and honorable members generally on this side of the House, namely, that all of the proceedings should be broadcast, there would have been no need for all of this " shillyshallying". If the broadcasts are complete every one will be satisfied; and if selected debates are to be broadcast they should be broadcast in toto. The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) does not appear to have read the report of the Broadcasting Committee.

Mr Calwell - I have not only read it, but I am also completely familiar with its contents.

Sir EARLE PAGE - Then the honorable gentleman must be too dumb to understand it. In its report the committee stated -

Taking the long-range view, and bearing in mind that the substitution would be limited to an average of 50 days and 30 nights in the year, and having regard to the evidence that country listeners in New Zealand prefer the parliamentary proceedings to the alternative programmes available to them, we consider it is more important, in a democracy, to use a publicly-owned instrumentality such as the national broadcasting service to keep the community adequately informed of the activities of their elected representatives, and thereby stimulate individual thought in national and international affairs, than to give priority to the use of that instrumentality as a medium mainly of entertainment.

The report goes on to point out that the debates should be broadcast as a whole. The question arises as to whether this can possibly be done at present. That is the real issue before the House. All of us undoubtedly desire that the electors should be fully informed as to the proceedings in the Parliament. I have no objection to my opponent being given the same apportunity as I enjoy to have his speech broadcast. In fact I frequently invite my political opponents to sit with me on a public platform so that the people may hear both sides of a question. It is only fair that the people- who have to pay for this entertainment or instruction, call it what, you may, shall be entitled to know exactly what their representatives in this Parliament are saying and not- merely what some of their representatives are saying. The only question that arises is one of practicability, whether it is possible to ensure that everybody in Australia will be able to hear the views put forward by every section represented in the Parliament on every subject debated here. If .that is not practicable, we have then to consider whether it is possible for every section to hear the whole of certain selected debates. The limitations imposed by clause 4 of the bill indicates that large sections of the community will be denied an opportunity to listen to the debates. Because of their remoteness from a national station many of the electors of Maranoa will obviously be precluded, from listening to the debates, and the same applies to many people in my electorate. The people living in the Taree district, for instance, have always experienced the greatest difficulty in maintaining a constant volume of reception from the national stations. For many years I have endeavoured to have an additional regional station established in northern New South Wales in order that listeners residing there may be assured of adequate reception from the national stations

M>. Calwell. - Why did the right honorable gentleman not take steps to provide such a station when governments of which he was a member were in office?

Sir EARLE PAGE - -I was instrumental in having one additional regional station, namely, 2.NR, provided. In fact, governments with which I have bean, associated have introduced almost every worth-while proposal for the betterment of the conditions of the people of this country. The postal services of this country have never recovered from the set-back which was brought about by Labour's mismanagement of the PostmasterGeneral's Department in 1929-30. Miserable economies were principally directed against the rural population, and so bad is the position to-day that n farmer has almost' to mortgage his farm in order to have a telephone installed. There is no selective discrimination within the Parliament itself, and there should be no discrimination in the selection of matter to be broadcast to the people. Although I am not an opponent of the proposal to . broadcast the proceedings of Parliament, I would prefer that the money proposed to be expended for this purpose be. utilized for the improvement and extension of regional broadcasting services. Whilst I am prepared to support the bill, subject to acceptance of the amendments foreshadowed by honorable members on this side of the House, I believe that adequate steps should be taken to ensure that this medium of conveying information to the people of Australia shall not be used for purely propaganda purposes, i. ask leave to continue my remarks at the next sitting.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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