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Thursday, 8 August 1946

Mr ABBOTT (New England) (4:26 AM) . - I had not intended to speak on this bill. But I am impelled to discuss some provisions of it that have been freely dealt with, because I believe that important principles are involved. Section 25 of the Australian Broadcasting Act 1942 provides that the Australian Broadcasting Commission may collect, in such manner as it thinks fit, news and information relating to current events in any part of the world, '' and may subscribe to news agencies. That gives freedom to the commission to collect news, and place it before the people of the Commonwealth in the fairest light. A majority of the members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission have been associated in the past with Labour politics. Therefore, nobody can say that the Labour party in Australia, and the Government, are not adequately represented on the commission, and that it is unlikely that a fair account of their views will not be placed before the people. The commission also has 'the power to set ap its own news-gathering service if it so desires, conditional .upon the PostmasterGeneral agreeing to an expenditure exceeding £5,000. Apparently the commission has not at any time requested the Government to amend the act in the way now proposed,, nor has it so far seen fit to set up . its own -news-gathering service and to discard the service it has been using. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) made a long contribution to the debate.

Mr Calwell - And a very good one.

Mr ABBOTT - It was good from his point of view. I always listen to him with keen interest, because I know "that he holds a high place in journalism of a certain type. He is noted for those delightful feminine romances which are so beloved of adolescents. He is in some respects similar to the person described in the following lines from one of Gilbert and Sullivan's operas:-

Conceive me if you can ' A matter -tff-fact young man, An utter poetical, super aesthetical Out-of-the-way young man.

No one could deny, when- looking at his broad, handsome forehead, that he qualifies in some respects for a comparison with Gilbert's aesthetical young man. In his speech, he made it quite clear that he did not favour giving the public a fair cover of the news of the world and of the Commonwealth. What he wanted was to give them a service tainted with the views of the political party to which, he belongs. This is borne out by the fact that, in referring to Mr. Dawes, a member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and a former Labour member of the Parliament of South Australia, he described him as a " weak sister ". This was because he had not fallen for the attempt to foist upon the public a tainted news service. The honorable member said that the news service provided by the Australian Newspaper Proprietors Association was not suitable, and failed to put the Labour point of view before the people as it should be put. Probably the honorable member would like only the Labour point of view to be put before the people. The bill provides that section 25 of the Australian Broadcasting Act shall be repealed and in its place the following new section be inserted : - "25. - (1.) The Commission shall 'broadcast daily from all national broadcasting stations regular sessions of news and information relating to current events within the Commonwealth and in other parts of the world. " (2.) The Commission shall employ an adequate staff, both in the Commonwealth and in overseas countries, for the purpose of collecting the news and information to be broadcast in pursuance of this section "(3.) The Commission may also procure news and- information relating - to current events in other parts of the world from such overseas news agencies and other 'oversea* sources as it thinks fit.''.

It is a matter not of whether the newsagency is suitable or hot, but of whether it is favoured by the Minister of the day. Clause 21 of the principal act provides that no expenditure shall be entered into by the Australian Broadcasting Commission of more than £5,000 or for more , than five years without the prior consent of the Minister. Thus, if the commission seeks to take its news service from an agency overseas of which the Minister does not approve and the cost amounts to more than £5,000 the Minister will have the right to veto its proposal. In effect, the Minister will have the right of selection because he will have the right of rejection. He can reject any' news service the colour of which he does not like. He could cut out all news services until only the Tass agency of Russia was left, if he were a Minister with leanings towards the Communist party.

Mr Calwell - The honorable member would like the people to get their news from a fascist agency.

Mr ABBOTT - The Minister is an authority on fascism. Never before have we had such a fascist-minded Minister. Honorable members will not quickly forget the time when, without due authority, he seized the newspapers and newspaper offices in Sydney. . The purpose of this bill appears to be to place in the hands of a fascist-minded Minister power to determine the kind of news which shall be broadcast to the people. Clause 25 is typical of what was done in all dictator countries in Europe. In the fascist countries of Germany, Italy and Spain the - first act of the fascists when coming into power was to obtain a monopoly of the radio services, which they compelled to broadcast such news as suited the government in power. I am sorry that I have to expose this plot which has been hatched in caucus to destroy the freedom of action of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and to bind it to the Government. Of course the' present bill is only a . beginning. Later, the act will be further amended to provide for the giving of instructions to the commission that it must broadcast -exactly what the Government dictates.

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