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Thursday, 26 November 1959

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- I move -

That the amendments of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (Staff) Regulations made by Statutory Rules 1959, No. 80, be disallowed.

The Australian Broadcasting and Television Act was the product of a report submitted to this Parliament in 1942 by the Gibson committee, which, in the previous year, had been established by the Menzies Government under the National Security Regulations for the purpose of reporting on broadcasting in Australia. Amongst other things, that committee recommended the establishment of a joint parliamentary statutory committee to report to Parliament from time to time on broadcasting matters. I happen to have been a member of that committee. It was a matter of great significance, I think, that every recommendation made by the committee was incorporated in the legislation of 1942 without the slightest alteration. This Government, some two years or so ago, abolished the statutory committee for reasons which seemed good and sufficient to it. A previous Postmaster-General, the late Mr. Anthony, in 1949 suspended the operations of that committee, and during the whole ten years that this Government has been in power this parliamentary committee has never functioned.

While it was in existence the committee did good work. In its seventh report to the Parliament, under the signature of all its members, the chairman being Senator S. K. Amour, the committee dealt at great length with the regulations which had been drawn up under the Broadcasting and Television Act for the proper working of the committee and for the protection of members of the staff. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting - that being its title - consisted of nine members, of whom the only one still in the Parliament, beside Senator Amour, is the present Chairman of Committees, the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden). The committee in that report gave its opinion on each of the regulations that were referred to it for examination and report. It recommended that regulations 1 to 6, 10 to 17 and 19 to 22 be approved.

The committee was unanimous in all those decisions, and I refer particularly to those regulations because included in them are the three which the Government has altered. We object to the alterations, not only because of the specific changes that are made but also because of the failure of the Government to consult the staff association of employees of the commission before making its decision. There is no safeguard in the Parliament now for the protection of the employees of the commission or the authority of the Parliament. We suggest that the Minister has been misled by the commission with regard to these regulations, and we think that the new statutory rule should be disallowed in order that the matter may be further and more extensively considered.

The staff association made requests to the Minister to be heard on the question of the amendment of these regulations, but it was refused a hearing. It has no other means to make its objections known except through members of this Parliament, and the Opposition, having considered the representations made to it, believes that there is great merit in the arguments put forward by members of the association, speaking for something like 2,800 employees of the commission.

The general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Mr. Charles Moses, is a man with whom I have been in disagreement on quite a number of occasions, but for whose many splendid qualities I have a great admiration. I have disagreed with his administration, and I still think it is unfortunate that he does not consult sufficiently with the people with whom he must work if the organization is to function effectively. The amendments to the regulations that are the subject of my motion were presented by the general manager to representatives of the association on 2nd June of this year. The general manager did not ask them for their opinions. He simply said that the commission had decided to make alterations and that the matter was being referred to the Minister. When the association learned of this decision it felt aggrieved and appealed to the Minister - the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) - on 6th July. The Minister, by letter dated 6th August, intimated that he refused to vary his decision, which was one of approval for the proposals put before him.

The association is convinced that the Minister has failed to appreciate the reasons which motivated the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting, under the chairmanship of Senator Amour, when it drafted the initial statutory rules covering the Australian Broadcasting Commission's staff, and particularly as they affect the structure of the organization, the lines of authority, the responsibilities and the security of permanent officers. The association does not object to amendment of the regulations designed to bring them up to date. It does not object to the alterations as they affect the structure of the organization, except insofar as the proposed organization will take away the right of this Parliament to have any say in the matter at all and will expose the members of the association, as they fear, to discriminatory action on the part of the general manager or of the commission. It is argued by members of the association that if the proposed re-organization is justified in the opinion of the Parliament, the amendments could be drafted in such a way as not to destroy the basis of vital statutory protection for the staff provided as a result of the seventh report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, to which I have referred.

The association felt very aggrieved at the refusal of the Minister either to consult with it or to take any notice of its representations. It directed a final appeal to him by telegram on 14th August asking him to defer tabling the amendments in order to allow due consideration of the amendments which the association itself had drafted, and which would recognize the organizational changes and also preserve the statutory form of protection that was available to the staff under the regulations that have now been rejected. The Minister replied by telegram immediately, refusing the association's request. I suggest to the Minister that this sort of treatment does not help to promote the development of harmonious relationships between the ministerial head of the organization and those who work very well and with devotion in their chosen avocation.

The association has lost all faith in the commission. It is distressed and disturbed because of what has happened in Arbitration Court proceedings between 1948 and 1959, when the general manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission has gone into court as the advocate for the commission. I am told that the commission itself directed the general manager to appear for it and to oppose the claims of all the senior officers and of all other members of the staff. As a result, there is grave discontent and much dissatisfaction throughout the whole of the staff. The general manager, I am told, did not want the job; it was forced upon him. It seems to me that it would have been much better if the commission had briefed counsel to appear for it, and had not jeopardized relations between the general manager and the rest of the staff by compelling him to criticize and in some cases - for this, he is responsible - to attack the positions of officers who have to work under his direction. A most unfortunate situation has now developed, and something ought to be done by the Government to effect the necessary desirable changes.

The Postmaster-General was told by the association in its letter of 6th July, amongst other things, that the amendment to the staff regulations effected a fundamental change in the structure of the regulations, detrimental to the interests of the permanent staff and, secondly, that the regulations were contrary to the principles recommended by the Standing Committee on Broadcasting and approved by the Parliament in 1947. In regulation 5, which is the first regulation amended, the definition of " Controller of a Division " included controllers of the programme and administrative divisions and provided for any other officer in charge of any other division to be designated " Controller ". The association says that there is, therefore, no need to amend the regulations to enable the commission to add, for example, a Controller of News and a Controller of Technical Services (T.V.). The sections dealing with the news and technical services, and television, were previously known as departments and are now to be known as divisions, along with the programmes and administrative divisions. Similarly, news divisions and technical divisions can, under the presentregulation 20, be added without difficulty.

I have copies of regulations 5, 10, 20 and 21 as they existed before they were altered and as the Government has altered them in the new regulations; and I also have the alternatives suggested by the association to improve this and the other amendments made by the Government at the request of the commission. I have no doubt that the Postmaster-General has seen these various proposals. There is nothing contained in them which could be regarded as likely to destroy the efficiency of the organization or to interfere with effective working but, on the other hand, there is a helpfulness about it all which is to be com mended. The main idea in the draft of the proposed new regulation by the association is to protect its own members. For instance, regulation 5 (1) provides, amongst other things - " Senior Officer " means -

(a)   the Assistant General Manager;

(b)   the Controller of a Division;

(c)   a Branch Manager;

(d)   the Director of a Department; and

(e)   any other officer determined by the Commission to be a Senior Officer for the purpose of the Regulations.

This provision has been deleted, and has been replaced with the words - " Senior Officer " means any officer determined by the Commission to be a Senior Officer for the purposes of these Regulations.

In the new definition, the association sees very grave dangers to the security of employment and the rights to positions occupied by officers at present on the staff.

Mr Davidson - But that was in the previous regulation.

Mr CALWELL - It may have been, but there is no reason why the positions that have been particularly defined should not continue to be so defined in the present regulations. There are alterations, as I have said, to regulations 5, 10, 20 and 21. Perhaps there would not be so much suspicion in the minds of the employees - and that includes practically every senior officer down to the lowest-paid employee - if the atmosphere in the commission's employment had not been poisoned by a number of events which have occurred over the last eight or nine years.

Dealing with regulation 10, it is suggested that, in future, duties and responsibilities may be varied at the whim or will of the general manager and those whose advice he is prepared to take. I know that it will be argued, as it has been put to me by members of the commission with whom I have discussed the matter, that the fears of the employees are groundless. But are they so groundless? The general manager's advocacy for the commission in the recent senior officers' case was attacked by Mr. Birkett and was criticized by the Public Service Arbitrator, Mr. Galvin. I direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to Determinations No. 6 of 1959, and to No. 11 of 1959 in order to show just how critical the Public Service Arbitrator was of the evidence presented, of the manner in which the general manager conducted the case, and of the unfairness which he believed was shown to the employees' representative. I shall quote a passage from page 101 of Determination No. 11 of 1959. This was not so very long ago - only a few months. The Arbitrator said -

I do not propose in these reasons for my determination to discuss at length a number of matters introduced during the proceedings which, in my opinion, were not germane to the proper consideration of the claims and the grounds upon which those claims were stated to be based. It is my view that their introduction merely delayed the search for truth, in relation to the grounds upon which the claims were based and impeded and unduly prolonged the hearing.

That is a criticism of the conduct of the general manager by the Public Service Arbitrator. He continued -

The transcript of the proceedings speaks for itself in this connexion and being a public record, needs no further comment from me other than that the difficult task confronting Mr. Birkett and later myself was certainly not eased by the methods employed.

I interpolate that if it had been any other body than the Australian Broadcasting Commission that had been criticized in that manner, there would have been a good deal of publicity accorded to the criticism in the press, but, unfortunately, there was no public mention of the facts. Mr. Galvin went on -

I state categorically that, in these circumstances, the evidence adduced from the witnesses for the Association as it related to the claims before me seems, on the testimony given by them under cross-examination and the evidence adduced from the witnesses for the respondents, to have been placed before this tribunal by them in good faith and to the best of their knowledge and belief and that the opinions sought from them - again in relation to the claims - were given with candour.

The Arbitrator was all praise for the manner in which the representatives of the association and its witnesses had put their case and he was highly critical, as I have indicated, of the conduct of the representatives of the commission before him.

So, Sir, you can see the atmosphere that exists throughout the commission's service to-day. Any alteration that has been made in these regulations would necessarily and naturally suggest to the minds of most members of the staff that something was being done that was detrimental to their interests and unnecessary. No evidence has been adduced by the Government of the necessity to make any of these alterations at all. It may be, of course, that the Government feels that some changes were needed because of the advent of television and because the work of the commission was increasing very considerably. That would, of course, be a legitimate reason for altering the regulations to add new positions to those already defined. But what was done, according to members of the staff with whom I have discussed the question, has really not been proved to be necessary at all - at least up to date. When he circulated his new regulations the Minister added a small roneoed statement which certainly did not give all the information that honorable members have a right to expect. What was contained in the statement was an intimation that these regulations were necessary to increase the efficiency of the service. If the officers of the association only had the chance to come before the Minister and have a discussion with him, I am sure they could convince him first that all is not well in the commission; and, secondly, that the alterations made were not all entirely necessary and that some of them can be used and are intended to be used to the detriment of those who have worked for the commission for a long time. Those people now feel that any day the commission can reduce a man's position, allot him fresh duties and, even when he has won from the Arbitrator an increase in his salary, can, by re-allocating his duties, reduce him in status and therefore cause him to receive a lesser remuneration.

It has been pointed out to me that the assistant general manager, for instance, still remains the assistant general manager on a substantial salary, but his position has been reduced to that of a mere liaison officer. If the general manager were sick the assistant general manager would take his place; but while the general manager, Mr. Moses, is functioning, the assistant general manager, Mr. Finlay, will have no effective work to do. The real effective work will be done by Mr. Duckmanton and somebody else whose duties have been more specifically defined. If the Government claims that is not so, I hope an assurance will be readily forthcoming in order to set the minds of quite a number of people at rest on this very important point. It is important. I do not want to go back over the speech I made in 1957, but all that I argued then is quite germane to the present situation. The commission is employing people on contract. It should be permitted to employ people on contract if the persons concerned are musicians or artists of one kind or another. But the commission and the general manager, I am told, have abused this right and have imported people - 1 mentioned the names of quite a few in 1957 - from the United Kingdom principally and have employed them on contract for a certain period. After those persons had returned to the United Kingdom - 1 have no doubt they were very able people - the positions that they once filled were advertised as permanent positions. Then those people overseas who were once employed on contract could apply for permanent appointment and in several cases they have been appointed over the heads of Australians who had better claims and who had been ignored by the commission and by the general manager.

Up to date I know that the general manager has made the great mistake of concentrating the whole business of the commission in his hands, and I am very glad to learn that at last he is being made to delegate authority to quite a number of people. That is part of the purpose of the regulations, and if it were the sole purpose I would not have any criticism to offer. But I think the purpose of delegation can be achieved without making the other alterations which cause the members of the staff to be so fearful as to their future prospects. Above all things we want contented services wherever Commonwealth instrumentalities are functioning. I do not think there is the same contentment in the Australian Broadcasting Commission as there is in the Commonwealth Public Service. It may be that Sir Richard Boyer, who recently made a report to the Commonwealth Government on recruitment and organization of the Commonwealth Public Service, is attempting to put his ideas into operation in the A. B.C. I could be wrong in that regard, but I know that some of the plans he has put forward for the future contol and management of the Commonwealth Public Service are not in agreement with the principles adopted in some States. For instance, the New South Wales Public Service Board defended seniority as a basis for promotion in the New South Wales service. Sir Richard Boyer and others have the idea that seniority is a matter of little or no consequence. If they are allowed to implement that idea in the A.B.C. the way will be easy for quite a number of people to secure rapid promotion. I think more people have had rapid promotion in the employment of the A.B.C. than in the Commonwealth Public Service in proportion to numbers employed.

So I move the disallowance of the regulation, not that there is not some merit in the case which the Government puts forward, but because I want the Government to start afresh and bring down a new regulation which will incorporate improvements and at the same time remove the justifiable fears of possible victimization from the minds of members of the A.B.C. staff who have given service to the commission and to the Parliament quite as distinguished, meritorious and loyal as has the General Manager or anybody else in the commission's employ.

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