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Wednesday, 3 July 1946

Mr FADDEN (Darling Downs=) (Leader pf the Australian 'Country party) -It. seems to be idle to debate, .at this stage, the merits and -demerits of this bill, for the. Government, consistent with its usual methods, has already incurred great expense .and made all provisions for initiating the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings; Having behind it the decision of caucus, and a clear majority of members in this chamber, the Government (has .npt seen fit to wait for parliamentary .approval before incurring substantial expense in preparatory -work. W.e have, in fact, been presented .with accomplished fact. This bill -was initiated in the Senate, where certain amendments were made to it, but sinGe .it has come before this House numerous other amendments have been foreshadowed, in the hope rather than the conviction as far as the members of the Australian Country .party .are .concerned, that they will .have reasonable consideration by the Government. I understand that already an .expenditure of about £10,00!0 has: been incurred in preparatory .work, without troubling1 about the need for .parliamentary This procedure, unfortunately, is in accordance with the pattern that legislation has followed since this Government .has been in office, although it was unknown previously, It was quite improper for the Government to anticipate parliamentary approval in this way, particularly as an urgent need exists for the provision pf technical apparatus qf this description for other purposes. The Government should have given some consideration to more urgent needs of the community. We all recognize that broadcasting is desira'ble, and that the application of it to parliamentary proceedings is in accordance with movements for the adoption of scientific methods. Procedures acceptable in years gone by 'have become outmoded to-day. Broadcasting is a scientific method of communication which should be applied to parliamentary proceedings in order that the people may be enabled to inform themselves in an up-to-date way of the doings of their elected representatives. But the incurring of an expenditure of thousands of pounds, and the use of large quantities of technical equipment for this purpose, which could have been applied to the provision of new country telephone services or to increasing the efficiency cf established services, would have been far preferable, at least until legislative authority had been, obtained for the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings. At this period of our history the Government should have been devoting all the resources at its disposal to the promotion, of ways of increasing the productivity of the country and improving our economic conditions. I am informed that an expenditure of £50,000 will be necessary to provide even the partial parliamentary broadcasts which the Government1 envisages.

I believe in a policy of " first things first ". The crying need of Australia to-day is a reduction of governmental expenditure as the forerunner to a reduction of taxation. A reduction of taxation would stimulate production. With an increase of production revenue from taxation would increase even if the rates of tax were reduced, as they should be. I disapprove of the proposed expenditure of £50,000 on a partial broadcast of parliamentary proceedings at a time when country people find it impossible to obtain telephones because of the lack of cable and technical equipment. No doubt a great deal of the material that has been used for the broadcasting installations that are being made in this building would have been suitable for the installation of tele-, phone services. The installations here will serve mainly city dwellers or those in the more developed parts of the Commonwealth. Each capital city already has two national stations, and regional stations have been established in various parts of the country. For this reason people in these areas will reap the maximum benefit from the parliamentary broadcasts, but those living in the outlying areas, who should be given improved amenities, will reap no benefit whatever from these broadcasts. I received a letter yesterday from a resident of Clifton- Shire complaining of the lack of telephones. I was asked to support requests made for additional telephone services on behalf of twenty to 25 farmers residing in the shire, at various distances from the township. In some cases deposits had been paid for over six months, but the hold-up was said to be due entirely to the lack of technical equipment.

In the electorate of .the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), which is by no means remotely situated in relation to some parts of the Commonwealth, the people cannot obtain any satisfactory service from existing regional stations, and very few people in the electorate of the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann) reap any advantage from them. I have .been informed that it is not the intention of the Government to broadcast parliamentary proceedings through Dalby, where one' of the most powerful regional stations in Australia was constructed by the previous Government in order to give an improved broadcasting coverage to people residing in Western Queensland and central South Australia.

Mr Calwell - The right honorable gentleman has been misinformed.

Mr FADDEN - The honorable member for Maranoa told me that he had made inquiries on this subject from the appropriate authority and had been informed that the Dalby station will not be used. I regard that as scandalous.

An honorable member has interjected that I have somersaulted on this subject. I have not done so. I informed the Broadcasting Committee that I believed in the broadcasting of parliamentary debates, but I did not consider that the' system should be instituted for the benefit of city dwellers, at the expense of the country people, nor did I consider that partial, indefinite, and incomplete broadcasts would be satisfactory. I am favorable to the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings in accordance with the recommendations of the Broadcasting Committee. In order that honorable members may be clear as to my views on the subject I shall read the evidence that I gave before the committee. I said -

I agree that it is desirable that the debates of the Parliament should be broadcast. I have given some thought to the matter, and realize that there are debits as well as credits.

On the debit side, there would be the tendency to stifle debate. I say that from my experience as the leader of a party. Even to-day in order to obtain publicity, some members are not prepared to speak at a certain hour of the night, but prefer to postpone their contribution to the debate to the following day, when they can be reported by the press. In recent times, we have had the experience of debates collapsing long before they rightfully should because some members were not prepared to proceed as the setting was not favorable to the gaining of publicity. That position would lie aggravated by the broadcasting of debates, because only a limited number of hours would bo favorable to the gaining of publicity and everybody would not be able to speak during that period. On the credit side, the broadcasting of debates would induce members to engage in greater research and to pay more attention to the composition of their speeches. These would not be so spontaneous as are speeches made from a few notes. Nevertheless that is a very desirable aspect. On the other, hand, broadcasting of debates would probably prevent members from. making certain charges which to-day are made under privilege. They are informed by correspondence that certain things are going on, and in all conscientiousness put forward those views ,on the motion for the adjournment of the House. If they were to be subjected to an effective reply by n Minister fully informed of the facts, that practice would probably break down. Senator McKenna referred to the broadcasting of questions. Those who have sat in opposition know that very often a question is more effective than a speech from the " parish pump " point of view in an electorate. It is easy to obtain a reply from the secretary to a Minister, but from a political point of view that is not always desirable because the member must let his informant know that he is pressing the matter in the House. Questions without notice probably could be broadcast,- but what about a question upon notice? A member places on the notice-paper a question relating to a matter that is probably of national importance, with respect to which he genuinely desires to obtain information, and the reply is furnished at a much later date. The mechanics of the matter rather condemn the practicability of the proposal. The experience in New Zealand has been cited. As Mr. Speaker has said, the conditions in New Zealand are entirely different from those in Australia. In the first place, that dominion does not differentiate between national and regional stations. I approach the matter from the standpoint of the Australian Country party. In ail the capital cities there are two national stations. What would be the position of the people in the country, who have to depend on regional stations, if debates in the Senate and the House of Representatives were broadcast simultaneously? Has anythought been given to the difference in times between the eastern States and Western Australia V How would that be overcome? I believe Mr. Speaker stated that more legislation would be initiated in the Senate, in order to overcome the objection that that chamber does not deal with the matter when it is fresh. The most important debates we have had in recent months have been those on the banking bills. These were originated in the House of Representatives and were debated for days, almost every member participating. Who would listen to a broadcast of a debate on them when they went to the Senate ? Then we have the budget, the basis of the whole of our constitutional authority. Obviously, it must be initiated in the House of Representatives. It is debated for days, mid eventually finds its way to the Senate. Who would listen to a repetition in the Senate of all that had been said in the House of Representatives. Those are pertinent considerations in determining the desirability or otherwise of broadcasting parliamentary debates. It must be realized that, of necessity, most of our legislation must first pass through the House of Representatives, because the Senate is a house of review. There are only a few measures which could be initiated in the Senate with a view to obviating the repetition there of what had been said in the House of Representatives. Mr. Speaker's political experience and knowledge of Standing Orders are much greater than mine, but I am sure that he will agree with me that there are only few measures which could be fresh news in the Senate. Could the proceedings of the Parliament be broadcast by the -Australian Broadcasting Commission with its existing facilities? It would be all right for the city-dweller, who has two national stations, but the countryside is entirely dependent on the regional stations. Licence-holders might listen for a while to political debates broadcast over regional stations, but would they consider it more important than listening to entertainment? The amenities of people who live in the country are few. How many additional stations would bc needed to give a complete cover to both Houses continuously during the sittings of the Parliament? Whatever stations might be used, there would be a period of overloading and a period of unemployment, because the Parliament does not sit continuously throughout the year. Because of exceptional circumstances it has sat since February of this year. If stations are to be specially erected in order to overcome difficulties during peak periods, when both Houses are sitting and a full cover is needed, what will be the cost of the unemployment of those stations while the Parliament is not sitting? Whilst agreeing that it is desirable to have Parliamentary debates broadcast, I am not so enthusiastic in regard to the practicability of the proposal, having regard particularly to the cost. I should be opposed to fixation of the order of debates; in that respect I agree entirely with Mr. Speaker. If that suggestion were adopted, constituted authority would bc infringed; because, as Mr. Speaker has said in no uncertain terms, in his eyes every member has an equal right to the call . whatever may be his oratorical qualifications or his ability to handle the subject. That right has to bc preserved unimpaired. I also agree with Mr. Speaker that if you were to pick out the " high lights ", or choose the man best qualified to discuss them, you would break down the democratic feature of responsible government. You have to consider whether the debates are to be artificially planned or delivered in a natural atmosphere from a democratic centre. The solution is yours. I would be totally opposed to the broadcasting of debates in any sectional form. Unless everybody could have the same right to listen in, I would not favour the proposal. I would also oppose the addition of one penny to the liabilities and responsibilities of the taxpayers. There is also another aspect of which we must not lose sight. The Commonwealth Parliament is not the only Parliament in Australia; there are also the six State legislatures.

Any layman who has taken an interest in this debate must have been impressed by the warnings and cautions of legal members of this House. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has stated in concise and understandable language all the disadvantages, difficulties and dangers, from the point of view of privi-lege, that would attend partial broadcasts. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) also has given to us the benefit df his expert knowledge. The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein) took the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) to task for having ventured into the realms of legal interpretation without being qualified to do so. He also stated that truth is an absolute- defence; if the matter be true, the defence of privilege does not arise. I remind him that that statement is not in accord with the law of libel and slander in Queensland; there, any matter published must be not only true, but also for the public benefit. As the honorable member himself is not fully acquainted with the law, he is not qualified to take, the right, honorable member for Cowper to task for having ventured to interpret the law of privilege as he understands it. Last week, .the honorable member for New England asked Mr. Speaker to state hi3 legal responsibility, and that of honorable members, as well as .the operators of the broadcasting equipment, in certain circumstances. Mr. Speaker replied that he had just received an opinion from the Solicitor-General, and that he would make it known to the House in due course.. The present is an opportune time to let us have the benefit of the opinion he has received. By clause 14 the Government is endeavouring to protect any person who broadcasts any portion of the proceedings of either House of the' Parliament. I understand that the, broadcasting equipment is the property, not of the. Australian Broadcasting Commission, but of the Postmaster-General's Department ; that there is a definite partition between the" mechanical facilities and the human element.

Mr Calwell - The line is drawn at the microphone.

Mr FADDEN - I should like to know whether that equipment will be amply protected. In certain circumstances, a printing press and other equipment can be seized to defray the costs of an action at law.

This is' not the right time, nor are the circumstances appropriate, for the making of this experiment. The broadcasting of parliamentary debates must come; but when it comes it must be undertaken completely. The proposal placed before the Parliament and the country is too incomplete and partial to ensure that value will be obtained from the' expenditure. Public money should not be expended wastefully. The first essential at the moment is the reduction of govern- mental expenditure so as to effect desirable reductions of oppressive taxes. If the Government sincerely desires to give to- the people the benefit of modern means of communication - with which I agree - it should provide for not only a full cover of the proceedings of the Parliament but also the reception of it by every citizen of Australia. There must not be either partial broadcasts or partial reception. There are people in Australia who' have not the- benefit of listening to national stations, and they should receive whatever amenities may be available in these modern times. .Too much consideration is paid to the city dweller at the expense of ' the real wealthproducers in the country districts. The basic consideration in all circumstances should be the provision of amenities for people in the remote parts of the continent, whocannot avail themselves of existing channels of communication as cheaply and as readily as can those who live in the more densely populated -areas. Having regard to- the expense involved in this- experiment of partial broadcasts, the Government would be well advised to defer the experiment and .await a decision on it by the people, at the next elections, after which the new Parliament could deal with it.

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