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Tuesday, 21 March 1961

Mr O'CONNOR (Dalley) .- The statement of government policy and of the Government's programme for the ensuing session of the Parliament was made by the

Administrator following the sudden and unfortunate death of the Governor-General, Lord Dunrossil. The Governor-General was a kindly and scholarly gentleman who occupied his position with dignity and distinction to himself. I do not intend to discuss now the appointment of his successor except for a brief reference. I have referred to this matter previously and I shall content myself with saying that I hope when the appointment is made, the Government will pay more heed to the wishes of the Australian people than it has done in the past. I remind the Government again that the latest Gallup poll taken in Australia disclosed that 70 per cent, of our people were of the opinion that an Australian should be appointed to the office of Governor-General. I hope the Government will pay more heed than it has in the past to this opinion which is overwhelming. Two new members have taken advantage of the opportunity presented by the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply to make their maiden speeches. I compliment both of them on their initial contributions.

I propose to speak on three subjects - trends in television, unemployment and the exports development plan. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) referred to the trend in television when he spoke in this debate two weeks ago, and I wish to supplement his remarks. The unmistakable trend in television presentation in Australia to-day is towards violence. I suppose it is impossible to eliminate violence as a theme on television just as it would be impossible to prevent its presentation in the theatre, motion pictures, writing or radio broadcasts. It is the treatment of this theme of violence, which is being presented in ever-increasing volume, that causes concern in the minds of many people. I do not suggest that violence as a subject should be prohibited altogether. This would be an impossible and unreal attitude. When treated with restraint, the visual or oral presentation of violence can be enlightening and inspiring. However, it cannot be said that this applies to our television presentations to-day.

An examination of Australian television programmes reveals a striking similarity in the programmes of all commercial stations. I have witnessed television screenings in three States recently, but my observations will be based on the present pattern of programming in New South Wales. It is almost impossible in Sydney for any one who takes his viewing from the commercial stations to escape the subject of violence. Almost every new production in recent months has had its over-burden of violence, and there is no escape for Sydney viewers. I exclude Channel 2 because it has a form of balance in its programming that is markedly absent from the commercial stations.

Prominent in these productions are those who are termed " private eyes " in the United States of America. In Australia, these people are known as private investigators. Watching these productions, one can easily get a wrong idea of the part these people play in American life. I hope it is false because if it is not, I never want to see these people occupy in our society the position they seem to occupy in American life. Violence abounds in these presentations and among other things, two impressions are gained from the series. The first is that the private eye never fails and the American law authorities are made to look ridiculous or useless. The second impression is that the American private eye, or a member of his staff, always has some kind of an affair with a member of the opposite sex. This is always resolved to the satisfaction and benefit of the private eye or his staff. If these are to be the ingredients of the entertainment that we are to get from television stations, I am not Very happy about the situation. The dominating themes in all productions to-day, whether they be for the screen or television, appear to be violence and sex. Having dealt with violence, I wish to refer briefly to the presentation of sex.

There is nothing wrong with the presentation of a sex theme provided it is handled with restraint and dignity. To gain some idea of how this theme is being handled, one has only to compare a film made twenty years ago with a similar type of film produced to-day. Twenty years ago, there was an element of reserve and simplicity in the presentation of a sex theme. To-day, there is a complete absence of either. In place of reserve and simplicity, we have blatancy and crudity. In fact, one watching these productions to-day might readily be pardoned if he were to gain the impression that all males in the cast were morons and all the females nymphomaniacs. These Hollywood productions are doing untold damage to the American public in the eyes of the world. They have contributed greatly to that misunderstanding that exists in the world as to what is the real America as compared to what has become popularly accepted as America. Such productions have been a tremendous handicap to all attempts by the Americans to build up good-will. For instance, such magnificent achievements in world affairs as the Marshall Plan, to name one, are all obliterated by this false picture which is based on violence and lawlessness and which, because of its unending repetition, has become the generally accepted version of what is American. I am not singling out American productions. Unfortunately, it is true that the same criticism can be made of English and continental productions. I mention the American productions because it is from America that we receive the greatest number of our television and screen films.

This question of violence and its treatment has given rise to serious concern amongst sociologists, social workers and others interested in preventing all forms of delinquency. The subject was discussed for the first time about two weeks ago in America by a television commentator who expressed misgivings about the effect on the public mind of continued screening of productions emphasizing violence. A spokesman for a very large racial group in New York said that his organization was planning a boycott against the sponsors of a series which is regarded as one of the most violent, the ground being that many of the persons playing leading roles were given names that had some affinity with this particular racial group. That objection of itself was not a valid one, and would not have any appeal to me; but there are many other grounds of valid objection, and the outcome of the attitude taken by this racial group was that the producers of the film had to look for another sponsor.

A disconcerting trend in television in Sydney at the moment is the similarity of programming by the commercial stations. Both commercial stations are arranging their programmes in such a manner that even a turn of the dial brings no escape from a particular theme. From about 7.30 p.m. onwards, the viewer can find no escape, nor can he find any variety. In recent months, it has become apparent that one station will do as the other does.

There are many productions in which violence has no part. Formerly, these were screened in the evenings, but they are now being presented in the early afternoon hours. Why they have been allotted new screening times and their former times given to productions of the type to which I am referring, is hard to understand. The similarity of programming is unusual, to say the least. For instance, if one commercial station is showing a feature film, a turn of the dial will bring one a feature film being screened by the other commercial station. Again, if a western is being televised by one station, a change-over to the other station will produce another western, and the same is true of musicals and gangster films.

Another alarming trend is the almost negligible part assigned to Australian productions in television screenings. The Government is failing badly on this point. There can be no defence for its not insisting that a larger quota be allotted to Australian productions. The Government's reluctance to take firmer and more positive measures to ensure that Australian productions are given a greater part in television programmes is hard to understand. Its action compares very unfavorably with the approach taken by other governments throughout the world on the question of local productions.

We in Australia entered the television field well behind some other western nations and, from time to time, the Government has advanced this as a reason why it was not prepared to insist upon a larger quota of screening time for local productions. But this argument becomes unconvincing when it is realized that, from the very inception of television, other countries insisted upon adequate and firm measures to protect their local industries. For instance, the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada insisted from the beginning upon the screening of a larger quota of national films than the Australian Government has done. The hesitancy and reluctance which have marked this Government's approach were not shown by the governments of the countries to which I have referred, and the time has long since passed when this Government should abandon its vacillating attitude and give a firm directive that a larger quota of screening time be allotted to Australian productions. And I make this statement with a full realization of all that it implies.

I do not subscribe to the mistaken idea that all local productions are good. Undoubtedly, they fall into various categories just as do the productions of any country, and they should be classified accordingly. Some of our efforts have been excellent, and compare more than favorably with overseas productions in their form and presentation. But it is equally true that other local productions leave much to be desired. This, of course, is inescapable. That is true of all things, but this Government uses that as a pretext for evading its responsibilities. Other governments are not troubled by the inhibitions that we notice in this Government, nor do they make excuses of the kind which we have become accustomed to hearing from the Australian Government. It is the responsibility of any government to preserve and foster its national culture. The governments of other countries recognize this, and are not afraid to take the steps necessary to preserve and safeguard their culture. A firm and unshakeable case can be made for insisting upon the allocation of more time to local productions by our television services, and I hope the Government will take positive measures to ensure that this is done.

Commercial advertising over television stations is another matter that should concern the Government, because the part advertising .is playing in television productions is out of all proportion, and the complaints of viewers against the management of television services are widespread. On one occasion, I counted as many as 21 commercials in one hour. Again, I have heard of other instances in which in one halfhour of screening, fifteen minutes was devoted to advertising. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) must surely have received complaints about the amount of advertising, and I find it hard to understand why he has not yet taken action to improve matters. The position is so bad that it has often been said that when one watches a commercial television programme one is always faced with the fascinating question whether the commercials interrupt the programme or the programme interrupts the commercials.

I turn now to the question of unemployment. Because my time is limited, I propose to deal only with one aspect of this problem - the manner in which official figures are released. The Government has claimed that the official figures disclose that the number of persons unemployed in Australia at the moment is 73,000. In an attempt to minimize the gravity of the situation, it then goes on to say that, as against these 73,000 unemployed persons, there are 55,000 vacancies waiting to be filled. I seriously question whether the figure is 73,000. I believe it is very much in excess of this number, because thousands of people do not immediately register for unemployment benefit on losing their jobs but go for weeks searching for a position and register after they fail to obtain work.

Our unemployment position is obscure and confused and the manner in which the official number of unemployed is announced to-day is without precedent. Tn years gone by, the official figures were released by the Commonwealth Statistician, but I understand that this gentleman has stated that he was unable satisfactorily to assess the position, due to lack of data. The Government then took over the responsibility for making all announcements on this matter. In. fact, we have read in recent times where officials of the responsible department have stated that they had received instructions not to make any announcement to the press on the matter. This, of course, can be understood, but the Government's attitude in handling this matter is without precedent. Why this question of the official figure for unemployment should be taken from the source that all other official figures come from is difficult to follow and it does appear that the Government takes the opportunity, when it has to make an announcement on this issue, to try to play down its true emphasis.

To say that there are 73,000 people out of work and then to say that there are 55,000 jobs waiting to be filled is not a factual presentation of the position. In those 55,000 vacancies, many juvenile and junior positions are included. In thousands of instances, there are no vacancies for people who have lost their positions as a result of the recent economic policy of the Government. The official release of unemployment figures is obscure and, due to its treatment and handling, brings the Government under a certain amount of suspicion. 1 believe that this matter should be restored to a source such as the Commonwealth Statistician, and this in itself would remove many of the criticisms and suspicions that can now be levelled at the Government on this matter.

The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) very early in the sitting made an announcement in connexion with the Government's proposed export development plan. As on all occasions, and in this instance, the Government desperately searched for a gimmick. In this instance, the export development plan would appear to be its latest gimmick. When the Acting Prime Minister was announcing this plan, together with the subsequent statement he made explaining the formula, there was a significant omission from both statements, and that is what is to be the cost of the plan to the country. One would have imagined, when announcing this plan, that the Acting Prime Minister when supplying details would have given to the public the expected cost to the Treasury of this tax concession; but apparently this very important factor has been omitted. It is not too late to ask now just what is the proposed cost, and I hope that the Acting Prime Minister will come forward with an early reply.

It is quite obvious that this plan will not live up to the prophesies of the Government. What are we going to export and which countries will buy our commodities? Here again no information is given and it is not satisfying to say that this aspect will be taken care of by the mere creation of additional trade commissioners throughout the world. Our basic industries at the moment are incapable of supplying our needs. Is there any field for export development here? If there is, it means one of two things. We will continue to export a particular commodity and then we will proceed to import the same commodity. This is happening with steel. Notwithstanding the fact that we are unable to meet our internal requirements, we are still exporting steel and it is of interest to note that for the first half of the present financial year we imported steel to the value of £35,000,000. This is just one of the examples to be found in this rather involved situation.

Further, our industries that are capable of making a contribution to our export drive will not do so. An instance of this can be found with our motor industry. American and British firms will not allow their organizations in Australia to export. They have defined a very limited area in which our motor industry is to attempt to find new markets. Other companies with foreign capital operating in this country do so under agreements that prevent them from going on to the export market. Here again the Government can be criticized for permitting foreign capital to come into this country and to operate in the takeover form that it has, the Government being perfectly aware of the limits that it would place on the development of the local industry.

There may have been a great market for the Australian motor car industry, but it was not availed of and was allowed to pass. Why was some attempt not made to get a car such as the Holden, a light car, on to the American market? In recent years, the American trend in car manufacture and purchase has been away from the lengthy and powerful motor vehicle. This trend was so great that foreign manufacturers with the Volkswagen and British cars made a considerable dent in the American market and there was an outcry against their appearance. Why was it that General MotorsHolden's Limited failed to take advantage of this opening on the American market for their Australian product, the Holden? Of course, this goes back once again to the fact that they are not permitted by their parent company to go into these markets. These are problems for which the Government has no solution or it is not willing to take action to solve them.

There are two major weaknesses in the export plan. First, it places too much emphasis on production. Production in itself is not an answer nor does it provide the many advantages that the Government always claims for it. The vital question in our export trade is price. Since the Government has no control over price in the world markets, many of our export problems will and must remain unresolved. In 1953, our wool clip realized £1,300,000,000 when sold overseas. Last year, it realized £880,000,000, notwithstanding that production was considerably higher than it was in 1953.

The second weakness is that our basic industries at the moment are incapable of meeting the demands of the internal market and will not give impetus to our export drive although they are sufficiently efficient in themselves to permit them to do so. I say that these reasons definitely show a fundamental weakness in the plan and the plan must fail.

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