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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 855


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable member for Bradfield can complete his speech and his motion can be seconded after he completes his speech. There is no need for it to be seconded now.


Mr TURNER - Thank you, Mr Speaker. I understand that an amendment will be moved to refer this matter to the Joint Statutory Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, which is already in existence. I have no objection whatsoever to this. Indeed, this would be the appropriate committee, rather than an ad hoc committee as I have suggested. The important point for all honourable members to consider is that the matter should go to a committee for report to this House and that the motion should not be talked out and there should be an opportunity for a vote. I believe that there is considerable support for the motion.

Let me emphasise several points about the motion itself. The motion is for the appointment of a committee. It does not seek a decision at this time on whether the Parliament should be televised. It simply seeks the appointment of a committee to look into this question in depth. The reason for appointing a committee is that it is impossible for anyone to come to a rational conclusion on the issue unless he has before him specific proposals. One type of proposal for televising the Parliament might be rejected by honourable members. Another type might be acceptable. It is for this reason that the motion seeks the appointment of a committee to investigate the matter in depth. The question of cost also might be a very important consideration with a large number of honourable members, and this obviously cannot be determined except by means of a committee with power to call for persons and papers and to investigate the matter with the aid of people who have special information to give.

Let me make some preliminary comments on the motion. First of all, why televise Parliament? After all. Parliament already is broadcast by radio; so why televise it? The reason is perfectly plain. Television is the most common and most potent means of communication today. It is desirable that the Parliament be televised for the same reason that people who have something to sell go into the market place - a place frequented by people - to sell it. It is television that has captured the leadership among all the mass media today. The motion goes on to call for an inquiry into televising only portion of the proceedings of the Parliament. I do not think that the reason for this needs much elaboration. One has to admit that the broadcasting of the Committee stage of a Bill such as a peanuts export bounty bill is not fascinating to many people. It may be of some importance, of course, to people of Kingaroy, and this is not unimportant. But the fact remains that nobody could seriously suggest that we ought to telecast the whole of the proceedings. I do not think I need elaborate on that any further. However, this raises the question of what portion or portions should be televised if we are to select.

Again my motion raises the question as to the manner in which the televising should be done. This, in turn, divides itself into 2 questions. Firstly, who is to produce the telecast and, secondly, by what means is it to be transmitted? On the question of what portion should be televised, the question of priorities arises. My proposal is that the committee might well consider the televising of question time which, of course, can be re-transmitted later in the day if desired, and that the leading speakers on each side of the House could be televised when important debates occur. This very day a question has arisen in the minds of many honourable members. Supposing Ministers were to use question time, as indeed their predecessors did, to give some long exposition of some Party point of view instead of answering questions? This would give the Government an unfair advantage. I believe that Australian people are not fools. If this performance came before the people at large they would make their own judgment as to whether Ministers were abusing question time. They are capable of making that judgment. The forms of the House make it possible to prevent the kind of thing that happened this morning, for example, when an honourable member in the course of a shemozzle moved that a Minister be no longer heard. People would judge whether that action was justifiable in the circumstances and whether the Minister was abusing the forms of the House. I have great faith in the public in these matters.

As to the televising of question time, I believe that we would have to reform our present practice in important respects. For example, provision could be made in the Standing Orders for supplementary questions in order that matters could be pursued in some depth. It is ridiculous that at Press conferences this can be done by members of the Press but that honourable members in this House have no opportunity to pursue matters in any depth at all. This would require a revision of the practice of the House. In relation to the televising of important debates this should be done only when both sides have agreed. This would prevent the Government from using this device for televising debates when it feels it can score, and the same applies for the Opposition. Agreement would have to be reached on both sides as to what debates should be televised. I do not believe that this would create any great difficulty. For example, the introduction of and reply to a Budget would be accepted as being important. Similarly a no confidence motion would be accepted as an important debate. 1 should think that there can be no question that the matters going on today both in another place and in this place in relation to the Australian Security ' Intelligence Organisation and the activities of certain Croatians are important matters.

If my proposal were accepted then it would not involve any question of editing, except so far as the production of the material is concerned. It would involve simply a matter of curtailment of the number of speakers who might be televised in taking part in an important debate. 1 now draw attention to certain proposals made in the House of Commons lately. The House of Commons at Westminster proposed a television Hansard. From this would be extracted, at the end of the day a program that might be called: 'This Day in Parliament'. It would, of course, be an edited version of the day's proceedings dealing with the more important questions and answers, statements and replies, speeches in debates and so on. This would depend upon the integrity of the people doing the production and the editing. lt was proposed in the House of Commons that this television Hansard of parliamentary proceedings should also be available to the various television stations for extracts in connection with news commentaries and current affairs programs. If, for example, there were a question relating, .shall we say, to kangaroos asked by the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) and if a television station were interested in that matter it might show the question being asked or part of the question and part of the answer sufficient to convey the idea.

So far as my proposals are concerned, while they would involve some curtailment of the numbers of speeches telecast they would not involve editing except insofar as the production was concerned. On the other hand, the proposals from the House of Commons would suggest a good deal of editing and selection for the purposes of balance, fairness and so forth in producing a half-hour program such as This Day in Parliament'. As to the second part of my motion, the manner in which parliamentary telecasts should be undertaken, this involves, as I have already said, 2 questions - production and transmission. Pausing for a moment on the question of production, quite obviously any performance, whatever it may be, can be televised in different ways. It depends on what pictures you choose to take or do not choose to take. In the House of Commons there was a concensus, I believe, that this should be done by a television unit of the Parliament under the control of the Speaker and the President and perhaps assisted by a committee, such as the Broadcasting Committee that we already have, to ensure balance and objectivity. This is a question not of censorship but of ensuring balance and objectivity in production and to ensure that the method of television should not result in abuses. For example, a member might be making a most eloquent speech, a genuinely eloquent speech and the camera in a reaction shot could switch on to some member who might happen to be asleep at the time or a member who may be picking his nose and spoil the whole effect of that magnificent peroration. This would be unfair because the honourable member who happened to be asleep obviously was asleep only because he was very tired, not because the speech was a dull one and therefore if the reaction shot were taken it would give the wrong impression that the speech was a dull one. That would be unfair and that is the kind of thing that Mr Speaker and the committee would have to watch.

As to the transmission of such parliamentary programs, remembering always that I am suggesting that merely a portion of the proceedings and not the whole should be televised, this might conceivably be done by the Australian Broadcasting Commission taking over the fourth channel in Sydney and Melbourne as has been rumoured of late is the intention of the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) and the Government - and I would not regard the loss of the present station, certainly in Sydney, as being an important loss - or it could be done by hiring time on commercial stations. These obviously are matters that only a committee could go into. None of us in this place could reach any conclusion upon these matters at this time. It may be that the whole project is impracticable. But if the argument is put forward that Parliament should not take up time on television because there are more important matters, I suggest that westerns and crime dramas could be regarded by some as a little less important than the televising of some parts of the parliamentary debates. In any event I would suggest that although Parliament is for most of the time a workshop it is also sometimes a theatre. Sometimes television can be quite exciting and I would think that televising the proceedings of the House could, on many occasions, be quite exciting as, I suggest, some recent matters that have been before the Parliament would indicate.

Why should parliamentary proceedings or some parts of debates be televised? I say that Parliament should not be cut off from the most used and powerful medium of mass communication today. The House of Commons years ago excluded the Press and indeed I believe that until about 1908 it was technically a breach of privilege to report verbatim the debates in the House of Commons. We are doing precisely the same today. We are excluding the most potent medium of mass communication. It is mass communication because within our population in Australia of about 13 million people there are almost 3 million television sets. In other words there is a television set to every 4 or 5 people. So it cannot be said that we are excluding large numbers of people from the privilege of seeing parliamentary proceedings televised in some respects. That is the first reason.

The second reason why proceedings should be televised is that the Parliament would restore communication between it and the electors. It is impossible today with electorates of more than 60,000 people for a member to have real communication on political matters with his constituents even if he spends every evening of his life going to meetings of parents and citizens associations, meetings of progress associations and being present whenever the council cat had kittens. He still would not be contacting any substantial number of his constituents nor indeed would he be discussing with them matters of political importance. So the telecasting of parliamentary proceedings would tend to restore communications because there would be a feed back and if members had this or that to say in the course of questioning or otherwise they would get a feed back from their electors, so communication would come both ways. Again, I believe that it would stimulate the Parliament not only to modernise its procedures - indeed, something of this has already been done in regard to, for example, Budget debates - but it would improve the standard of speeches and debates. Who puts his best into a speech when he knows that nobody is going to listen? I suggest that if honourable members knew they were on their mettle their speeches would improve and this would be good for the institution. I believe that it would revive what is now a dying institution. Why is it a dying institution? Statements which ought to be made in the House are now being made outside. Statements are being made to Press conferences that are not made here, nor are they subject to criticism within this place. Press officers have proliferated and hand-outs are the means of communication rather than statements being made in the House.

During the period of the duumvirate, as one might call it, between the date of the elections on 2nd December and the meeting of the House on 1st March, fundamental changes of policy were made without debate in this place. It is not enough to say that there was a mandate. The convention is that this is the place where important matters should be debated by the people's representatives. There has been a usurpation by the media of the function of Parliament as the great forum of the nation. The Press no longer bothers to report debates. One reason for this is that there are news broadcasts on the radio every few hours. But the people learn through the Press only the views of commentators and commentators are often more concerned with personalities-who is winning, who is losing, who is quarrelling with whom and matters of that kind - rather than with the real issues that ought to be before the people.

As far as television is concerned, we are in a situation where the subject and the' timing are chosen by executives in this or that broadcasting organisation. Journalists produce the program, choose the participants and conduct the discussion. This is all stage managed. The people do not have the opportunity to see those who are responsible making statements for themselves so that the people may judge for themselves. Does this matter very much? I suggest it does because people are sent here - and this is the distinctive characteristic of this place - by the people, because they are elected; they are sent by their constituents. People in the media are appointed by somebody over whom the people themselves have no control whatsoever. This is the distinctive characteristic of the Parliament and that control should be restored to the people rather than that the Parliament should be ignored or trivialised in the fashion that has been common in recent times.

Of course, there are many objections to the televising of parliamentary proceedings. I have not the time to go into them, nor is it, indeed, my function to do so in proposing this motion.

I do not deny that there are many problems. But I think that many of the objections are not important. The possibility that Parliament could become 'showbiz' is the most important objection of all. That development is for us to resist. People will make their own assessment of those who clown. If parliamentary proceedings are televised, speeches will not be made directly to a large audience; they will be made to people in their homes. The man who has great rhetorical skill will have no advantage. The man who can persuade people in their homes is the man who will succeed in this House. So, if anybody thinks that there is any advantage to the rhetorical speaker through televising of debates that person is entirely wrong.

People are concerned with genuineness. If a man who represents a coal mining constituency is speaking, people will not care whether he drops his aitches or whether he stumbles. When he describes how he feels as he hears the creaking of the roof in a coal mine when a pillar is being taken out people will know that he is talking about something with which he is familiar. He will receive much more attention than the glib matinee idol. So, let honourable members not be concerned about this aspect.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired. Is the motion seconded?


Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.







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