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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Leader of the Opposition) (2:47 AM) . - This bill, which is most important and farreaching, is being literally shuffled through the Parliament in the small hours of the morning on the last day of the session. 1 propose to address my remarks to- twomatters. I listened with great interest to- the speeches of the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) and the honorable member for' Bourke (Mr. Bryson). Both speeches have confirmed my own impression, which I have had for some time, that the Broadcasting Committee threatens to become a menace to good administration. In a democracy,' theproblem of administration is always one of great importance. Many years ago we established the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I understood that the function of the commission was to determine -.latters of policy and that under it, the general manager and the staff would attend to matters of administrative detail. The Parliament established the Broadcasting Committee, which apparently has a general charter enabling it to discuss all kinds of matters- of policy and sometimesmatters of administration. In this particular case, we have the most remarkable illustration. The commission apparently considered the matter of the news service.?, and decided to- adopt an agreement with the newspapers. The Broadcasting Committee was then invoked, and asked to decide whether this agreement should be approved. If there is to be a universal appeal of that kind from the commission to the Broadcasting Committee, 1 begin to wonder why there- is an Australian Broadcasting Commission. But the matter went before the Broadcasting Committee; and we had the amazing spectacle of the members of the commission, who are charged with responsibility on this matter, offering their views, and a subordinate officer of the commission, ite news editor, or whatever he may be called, being produced to disagree with the decision of his own commission, to put his own views on the matter. I marvel that they did not call the assistant news editor, or. the junior clerks from the. commission, and ask- them, " Do you agree with the commision?". How can we have any real administrative authority if that. kind of thing goes on? The whole thing becomes capable- of being resolved into a: dilemma. Is the commission in charge of policy, or is it not? If it is not in charge of policy - and that is a matter for the Parliament - then one can only conclude that the commission is merely in charge of administration. And if it ia merely in charge of administration,. I want, to know why we have so large a commission, why we have gone to such pains to appoint to the commission people who represent various aspects of Australian life. The whole idea of the commission wa.that w.e would, have a body, part-time, representing interests in the community, representing a cross-section of experience in the community, and- that, that commission would lay down policy;' and through ils general manager and officers working under him that policy would be put into effect. The Broadcasting Committee has. in my opinion, proved to be nothing but a menace to- broadcasting, and the- sooner it is abolished the better for broadcasting in Australia. If there is to be a matter of broad policy, requiring administrative action, let Parliament attend to it. as Parliament. But, at present, we have two bodies which, have, in fact-,, become- competing bodies. I remember,. not very, long ago, hearing colleagues of mine discuss ing their sittings- in Tasmania, or somewhere else, to bea.r evidence as- to whether a licence ought to, be. given to- this or t© that person. They are not matters for the committee; they are matters for the commission. If they are not matters for the commission, then I say to the Government to abolish the commission.

Mr Calwell - The commission has never granted a licence.

Mr MENZIES - I do not know whether it has or not. AH I know is that the members of the commission .must be constantly embarrassed in their functions to know exactly where they stand in the presence of this competing -body.

My second observation -deals with the proposal, which is the central proposal of the bill, that the commission should establish an independent news service. This proposal is apparently supported by the commission's news editor, which is. cot surprising - and there .seems to be some controversy about it - because it is supported by one of the members of the commission. Any one looking at the proposal from -outside will have no difficulty in concluding that it is a fantastic proposal. Is it seriously, suggested that the journalists who serve in London, or New York. on behalf of newspaper bodies are incompetent, or dishonest? Is that the suggestion? Is it seriously suggested that the news gathered in London from the newsagencies and put on the cables to Australia is dishonestly gathered .? Could any one in the Government pretend for one moment 'that the news coming over the cables from London, for instance, is coloured against- this Government? Suchan implication is a serious allegation, against the competency and honesty of the men doing this job on the other side of the world.

Mr Calwell - - It is nothing of the sort.

Mr MENZIES - Why, then, is the proposal put forward? Quite obviously it is because the Government believes that through a government instrumentality it can 'establish a news service of its own. The news collected will not be objective, but in ways and means suitable to the government of the day. This is not a case :being put up for objective news gathering. It is quite the contrary. If it does not mean that, it merely means the Government is prepared to launch out on competitive news gathering for no purpose made clear to this Parliament ; because I repeat that unless it can be shown that news gathering in London and New York is incompetent, dishonest or unfair, there is no case for establishing another set of news collectors who will give to us exactly the same news, and read exactly the same newspaper articles., and, probably, send exactly the same cablegrams. We do mat know how much this will cost. Various figures have been floating around; but it is easy to see that if the commission, in order to provide its fifteen minutes news service now and again, is to set about establishing, agencies in London and New York comparable with those of the newspaper proprietors, and a news-gathering agency in Australia comparable with the one maintained by the newspapers, it will be surprising if the cost to the commission will be less than £250,000 year after year. So, this is a bill to throw away for no known reason, quite possibly, .£250,000 a year of the public money. What is the case for it? Is there any evidence of dishonesty or incompetence? . None whatever. A slanting allusion has been made to the chairman of the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association. He may be regarded as not one of my ardent supporters;- but a slanting reference to the chairman of the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association is no evidence, or case. There is not an honorable member who has not, from time to time, smarted under what he -thought were injustices from the press, and, at other times, basked momentarily in the applause of the press. But is there one honorable member who will seriously pretend that the -world news service which conies into this country from abroad is a dishonest service, an incompetent service, or a 'biased service ? So far as I am concerned, having seen it from both ends of the line, I have never ceased to marvel at the skill and restraint with which trained journalists all over the world can sift out of a vast mountain of news innumerable items -which keep us, on the whole,- amazingly abreast of what is happening in the world. The commission had the advantage of securing the benefit of all that, for a certain sum. An agreement was -prepared. The majority' of the commission, at least, were prepared to sign that agreement; but the Government says, "No. We ignore the Australian Broadcasting Commission. We ignore themerits of the agreement. We prefer to take the view of somebody who, very naturally, would like to see his own jurisdiction extended. Therefore, we are going to put on one side all the sources of world news, and go out and collect for ourselves". -The result of this is not going to be a better hews service over the air. It is going to be a worse service. As I stand here I look at two honorable gentlemen opposite who are politically opposed to me, perhaps, on . occasions, violently opposed to me-

Mr Fraser - And never more violently than, we- are now.

Mr MENZIES - I should like to hear either of them say that he thinks so badly of his brother craftsmen in London as to believe that they colour their news.

Mr Fraser - Even the right honorable gentleman does not believe that that is the issue here.

Mr MENZIES - I do not indulge in the subtleties of mind of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Fraser) ; but merely ask myself why is. the overseas news service to be abandoned? What * is the reason for it ? So far, we have had no reason at all, except, of course, that it is in line with the policy of the Government to get rid of all these things, and to establish government services even at the expense of duplication and of throwing away £250,000 of public money. If the Australian Broadcasting Commission were to say after the next general elections, "Send the honorable member for Parkes to London", would we have any assurance that when the honorable gentleman went to London the news service would he any different? May I re-frame my question: Would we have any assurance that the news service would be better than it is now? None whatever. Those are the only two points that I desire to make. In the first place, what will become of the Australian Broadcasting Commission if this present queer system of duplicating its functions goes on? In the second place, what real case is made, at a time' when people talk about economy in public expenditure, and we are told that taxation cannot be really reduced, for expending £200,000 or £300,000 in order to obtain something which, by common consent, could be equally well obtained for a mere fraction of that sum?

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