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Wednesday, 3 July 1946

Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- I favour the broadcasting of parliamentary debates - for better or for worse. Parliament is at present too remote from the people, and the broadcasting of debates will bring it nearer to them. The isolation of Canberra tends to create a false impression in the minds of the people regarding what happens here. For instance, any one listening to the proceedings in this chamber last Thursday night might be pardoned for thinking that they were taking place in a stadium. At the present time, the reporting of Parliament is dependent upon the press and Ilansard. The newspapers give to the proceedings of Parliament as much space as they can afford, having regard to the various items of interest which compete with parliamentary news. We may believe that we are uttering here pearls of wisdom, but the newspaper reports are often very much condensed whilst an unseemly incident in the chamber will be recorded at length and in overtones. That is a pity. On the other hand, the proceedings of Parliament are fully reported by the Mansard staff which takes great pains' to record our speeches. However, the circulation of Hansard is, I understand, only about 14,000, and I believe that all the people, whatever their political opinions may be, should be able to hear the debates. I do not often find myself in agreement with the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) ; but I believe with him that many persons despise Parliament, and criticize the democratic way of life, because their opinion of Parliament is based on a misconception. They have not had an opportunity to see the Parliament at work, but if they were able to listen to broadcasts of proceedings they might form a better opinion of parliamentary institutions. Members of Parliament form a crosssection of, the people, and reflect1 the shortcomings and attributes of the people. After all, Parliament does matter. It is the national forum, the value of which is, unfortunately, limited by the fact that members of the Labour party are shackled by caucus discipline so that, in open Parliament, they are not permitted to speak freely. The government in office at any time is really an executive committee appointed by the most powerful party. What it decides becomes law, and the laws affect the well-being and happiness of every person in the community. If there had been a democratic governmentin Germany in 1938-39, such as that which was set up after World War I., the last war would probably never have occurred. We know that in Russia, neither now nor at any time for the last 25 years, has there been democratic government. In the eyes of the Russians, their government is democratic, but there is no political liberty there .because no political opposition is tolerated, and in elections the people may vote for the candidates of only one party. In a democracy, on the other hand, the people may vote for whom they like, and their representatives in Parliament are free to say what they choose. Therefore, * it is important that the people should be provided with an opportunity to hear their representatives in Parliament. That is what will be achieved by the broadcasting of proceedings. In this instance it will represent the application of science for a beneficial purpose instead of, as so often happens, for destructive purposes. Judging by the experience in connexion with broadcasting parliamentary debates in New Zealand, nothing but good can come of the innovation. Broadcasting should have the effect of raising the tone of debates in Parliament. A member will think twice before behaving in a disorderly manner when he knows that he can be heard by listeners all over Australia. The broadcasts should also have the effect of improving the diction of honorable members. There are so many other things' for the radio listener to hear that he will not give his attention to members of Parliament who talk twaddle, or whose manner of speech he regards, as unbearable. I believe that, on balance, good will result from broadcasting the proceedings of the Parliament. Our national and commercial broadcasting stations are of good standing, as anybody knows who can compare them with overseas broadcasting services. It is the limitation that the Government is proposing to which I object. I do not see how the Government can possibly provide that only parts of debates shall be broadcast. Although I have a motion on the noticepaper for to-morrow, I shall not be able to debate it then, because the House has resolved at the instance of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), that Government business . shall take precedence. Under the system that is developing in this chamber, as private members on both sides know, Ministers make long, wearying statements at the table. And it may be that their statements will take up most of the broadcasting time, with the result that the listening public will not hear the ebb and flow of debate, and will thus not be able to form their own m conclusions. A thorough inquiry was made into the proposal that the proceedings of the Commonwealth Parliament be broadcast, and the recommendation of the committee was that -all the debates should be broadcast. For ten years all the debates in the New Zealand House of Representatives have been broadcast. The proceedings of the Upper House in N.ew Zealand are not, I concede, broadcast, but the set-up there is different from that of the Australian Senate, which is elected on the same . franchise as is the House of Representatives. You, Mr. Speaker, suggested to the Broadcasting Committee that it recommend that the . proceedings in both Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament be broadcast, and to enable that to be done you proposed a simple arrangement of the programmes of both Houses in respect of the origination of legislation. Yet the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) declares that the proceedings in both Houses cannot be broadcast. ,

Mr Calwell - The Broadcasting. Committee recommended against the simultaneous broadcasting of the proceedings in the two Houses.

Mr Francis - It did not.

Mr WHITE - I think the Minister is wrong.

Mr Francis - If the Minister says that the Broadcasting Committee recommended against the broadcasting of the proceedings in both Houses, it is evident that he has not read the report.

Mr Calwell - I have, and I will read it to the House later.

Mr WHITE - At any rate, the Broadcasting Committee did recommend that the whole debate be broadcast, not just bits and pieces, as may be decided by the committee proposed to be set up under this bill.

Mr Calwell - Nothing of the sort!

Mr WHITE - The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis), who is a member of the Broadcasting Committee, tells me that it made that recommenda-tion, but the Minister says that it did not. The President of 'She -Senate ('Senator Brown) recommended the broadcasting of all the proceedings, and the Broadcasting Committee, on which the Labour party is represented strongly, recom-' mended it. Labour members of the committee are the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Bryson),, the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers), the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins), and Senator Nash and Senator Amour. They subscribed to the recommendation that the whole debate be broadcast. Yet the ..Government brings down this bill, which runs counter to the recommendations of its own supporters on the "Broadcasting Committee, Mr. 'Speaker and the President of the Senate, and to the practice followed successfully for ten years in New Zealand. This' is an emasculated, inadequate proposal. What the Government proposes is that a committee shall say how much of the debate shall be broadcast and how many speakers shall be broadcast.

Mr Francis - How little and how few !

Mr WHITE - Yes. To broadcast only a part of the debate will be undemocratic. The people have a right to know what is happening here, but if a mere fraction of the debate is to be. broadcast or the vilification of an individual is to be broadcast without the reply to that vilification being broadcast, they will not be able to enjoy thatright and will be given only a distorted picture of the proceedings.

Mr Brennan - Does the honorable member want the whole debate broadcast?

Mr WHITE - Of course, I do. Does the honorable member not?

Mr Brennan - No.

Mr WHITE - I cannot believe that the honorable member, a former Attorney-General, will be prepared to sit back in silence if he is elbowed off the air by others whom the proposed committee might think more worthy of the right to have their thoughts broadcast. Sooner or later, he will object if that happens. Parliamentary committees have not always been the success that they should have been. I concede that many of them work in earnest and produce good results, but if the proposed committee should decide that certain groups !of Ministers should monopolize the air at the expense .of other honorable members who have something important, not parochial, but national, to say to the electorate through the broadcasting system, that would be most inappropriate. I appeal to the good sense of the Govern - ment to realize that the scheme put forward in this tbill is not . workable. Members of the proposed committee will not be able to agree on the subjects that should be broadcast or as to who should broadcast. Now is 'the time 'to put the service on a proper basis. I consider that honorable' members would unanimously approve if- 'the Government decided to have all the proceedings broad- " cast. The troubles of Australia are manmade. This nation escaped almost unscathed during the war. Blessed by all the resources of Providence, it has no real problem that cannot be -solved if only the political parties get together. If parties dropped their party bias and said, "We will settle these problems ", what a subject that would be to broadcast, but, narrow-mindedly, the Government says, " No, all the proceedings will not be broadcast - just snippings, clippings and excerpts ". That is robbing the people of a part of their heritage. At the cost of, I believe, £10,000 a forest of microphones was installed in this chamber during the recess, indicating to honorable members that the Government intended to carry out the recommendations made to it by providing for the broadcasting of all the proceedings'; but this inadequate, bill, under which a committee will decide how little of the proceedings shall be broadcast, will cause the people to say that the money has been ill spent. I advise the Government to look into the matter again and to agree that the whole of the proceedings shall be broadcast. Nothing short of that will receive the approval of the people.

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