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Thursday, 8 August 1946

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

That the bill be now read a second time.

Honorable members will recall that, following a comprehensive review of all phases of broadcasting in the Commonwealth by a joint parliamentary committee under the chairmanship of Senator Gibson, the Australian Broadcasting Act was passed in June, 1942. The committee had recommended a number of innovations in respect of both the national and commercial services and these, together with such of the previous legislation and regulations relating to the Australian broadcasting system as it was desired to retain, were incorporated for the first time in a single measure. Since the passing of the act, notwithstanding the severe restrictions imposed on the manufacture of wireless sets for civilian use during the war, broadcasting has continued to attract many additional listeners. The number of listeners' licences has increased from 1,132,000 in June, 1939, to 1,436,000 at the present time. Eighty-four per cent of all Australian homes have a wireless receiver and it is, therefore, obvious that broadcasting is firmly established as a powerful instrumentality, profoundly affecting the social life of the entire community. The broadcasting services have a potential audience of about 6,000,000 persons, and, as additional transmitters are installed in country areas and new receivers become available for the public to purchase, it can he confidently anticipated that eventually practically every family in the Commonwealth will be availing itself of the entertainment and information which are being broadcast for many hours daily from one or other of the national and commercial stations.

The bill contemplates amendments to the principal act that may be divided into two categories - those required to give effect to certain recommendations of the

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting that have been accepted by the Government, and those considered advisable in the light of experience since the passing of the act in 1942. For the information of honorable members, I shall now briefly explain the more important provisions.

The purpose of clause 4 is to insert a new division in the principal act relating to the staff, of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The Government considers it most desirable that there should, as far as practicable, be uniformity between the various Commonwealth Government instrumentalities, and it is, therefore, proposed to apply to the service of the commission conditions conforming generally with the comparable provisions of the Commonwealth Bank Act, the Overseas Telecommunications Act, and the Commonwealth Public Service Act.

Under clause 5, it is proposed to repeal section 25 of the principal act and tosubstitute a new section requiring the Australian Broadcasting Commission to establish its own news-gathering organization as soon as circumstances permit. The matter of the news services of the

Australian Broadcasting Commission has recently been the subject of investigation by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting and, in a report submitted to Parliament by the committee on the 4th July, 1946, the majority of the members recommended that the act should be amended to provide that the commission shall : - (a) establish its own independent service in- respect of Australian news'; and (b) procure its overseas news direct, through its staff abroad, from such overseas agencies as the commission deems fit, as well as from such independent sources as the commission deems it desirable to use. The majority of the committee felt that, as the commission has a special charter in the Broadcasting Act to establish group? of musicians for the rendition of orchestral, choral and band music of high quality, it should also have a special charter^ in the act to establish groups of journalists for the attainment of its objective of independence in the sphere of Australian news, and. as far as possible, overseas news. The Government agrees, and accordingly it is proposed to insert in the act the provisions of clause 5 of the bill. In reaching this conclusion, the Government has been influenced by' the fact that, by the very nature of things, the commission will always be hampered in ite efforts to secure independence in connexion with its news services while it has to rely almost entirely on other parties for the provision of the information on which its news sessions are based.

As honorable members are aware, sections 89 and 90 of the act prescribe the conditions to be observed by both the Australian Broadcasting Commission and commercial broadcasting stations in the treatment of political broadcasts.. Under section 90, it is necessary for a broadcasting station to announce the true name of every speaker delivering an address or making a statement on a political subject or current affairs, both before- and after such address or statement. If the address or statement is made on behalf of a political party, the name of the party concerned must also be . disclosed.. No provision is, however, made in the- relevant section requiring the identity of the actual author of any such address or statement to be disclosed. It i3, therefore, proposed, in clause 11 of the bill, to amend section 90 of the act to remedy this weakness and to stipulate that the name of the speaker may be announced only at the end of statements containing fewer than 100 words.

The effect of the alteration proposed in clause 15 is to liberalize the conditions under which broadcast listeners' licences at half of the ordinary fee may be granted. Section 98 of the Australian Broadcasting Act authorizes the grant of half-fee licences only to a person who is in receipt of an invalid and. old-age pension, who lives alone or with another such person. These restrictive provisions deny the concession to many pensioners whose physical condition requires the presence in their residences of a person other than a pensioner, even though the person attending to the needs of the pensioner may have little or no income. The amendment proposed would overcome this difficulty by permitting a half-fee licence to be granted in cases where the invalid or old-age pensioner resides with a person whose income does not exceed the maximum amount of income and pension allowed under the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. Provision is also being made for the grant of the concession, on the same conditions, to " service " pensioners under the Australian Soldiers' Repatriation Act and to persons in receipt of a pension under the Widows' Pension Act. The other amendments provided for in the bill are unimportant.

Mr Spender - Will the Minister say whether clause 18 is unimportant? What is its purpose?

Mr CALWELL - I do not wish to delay my distinguished colleague, the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward), who wishes to go ahead with the Railway Standardization Agreement Bill; but, in committee, I shall be pleased to enlighten honorable members' on the purposes of that' and other clauses.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Francis) adjourned.

Silling suspended from 5.22 to 8 p.m.

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