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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr FADDEN (Darling Downs) (Leader of the Australian Country party) . - This is one. of the most extraordinary bills ever introduced during the dying . hours of a Parliament. I listened attentively to the debate in an endeavour to obtain a clarification of the reason for the measure. It is surprising that, at a time when the Government should effect economies, this venture should be undertaken without any apparent regard for the cost. Clause 5 makes it compulsory for the' Australian Broadcasting Commission, regardless of the expense, to set up an Australian and overseas newsgathering organization of its own. From what I have been able to learn, the commission does not desire to do so. The late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, on the occasion of the appointment of the present chairman of' the commission, gave to the nation a guarantee that the commission would be free from political interference in its own proper sphere. Therefore, operating in that sphere many months ago, the- commission entered into draft agreements with the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association and the Australian Associated Press. The agreements were to continue and expand the right that the commission has had for a long period to use news gathered by those two organizations. I understand that the Australian Broadcasting Commission had the right to select the news before it- was sub-edited by the employees of those two organizations. The alternative was for the commission to set up its own news-gathering organizations. The commission rejected as being hopelessly expensive the course which this bill will force it to take. In- ' deed, the commission was of the opinion that its interests would best be served by entering into agreements rather than by embarking on the- expensive business of establishing its own news-gathering organizations. The Postmaster-General (Senator Cameron) has power to veto expenditures by the commission exceeding £5,000, and that power, together with the Government's majority on the Broadcasting Committee, was used to prevent the execution of those draft agreements. The Government's majority on the Broadcasting Committee was unwise enough to indicate various alleged reasons for its action. Believing' that the' reasons were to be taken seriously, the commission went' out of its way to meet them. Further agreements, were drawn up which, as the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) pointed out, provided a complete safeguard against sub-editorial or editorial slanting of the news on which the commission desired to draw. That is an important aspect of the agreements. The Australian Broadcasting Commission had the right to sub-edit or edit the basic news -at its disposal in order that no slant need be given to the items which it used. But the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Cameron) and the Government's majority on the Broadcasting Committee objected to those agreements. Disregarding the evidence of experts in the field of journalism on the huge costs involved, the Government's majority on the committee recommended the proposal now contained in .the bill. I was impressed by the statement of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Bryson) that the committee should be guided by experts on the cost of the establishment of the independent service rather than by those with a knowledge of news-gathering.

If that he so, why has not the Government been guided by the expert knowledge of the Australian Broadcasting Commission ?

What will be the cost of the independent news service? Various estimates have been given during this debate. An amount of £250,000 was mentioned as the sum required to give an efficient service. Honorable members should be given a frank statement of the cost. Then we shall be able to set that cost against the value of the service, because now more than ever before, we are entitled to value for money expended. The people are tired of paying heavy taxes, and substantial relief cannot be given until the Government reduces escapable expenditure. This is not the time to enter into .such a costly and obscure undertaking as th'at proposed in the bill. Clause 18 causes me concern, because I believe that it is designed to implement in no uncertain way the Government's fundamental policy of the socialization of the means of production, distribution and exchange. This bill is in accordance with the Government's policy to socialize the means of the communication of news. It is disgraceful that this bill, which con-' tains such an important principle and which will entail the expenditure of such large sums, should be presented to the Parliament at this . late stage of the session. I protest emphatically not only against its introduction now, but also against its contents.

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