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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 869

Mr BERINSON (Perth) - In general, I can see no objection to any serious suggestion being considered by a committee; and that must apply all the more where, as in the case of the Joint Statutory Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, the committee has relatively little to do. But I want to make it clear, while I support the amendment on this limited basis, that, perhaps in contrast to earlier speakers, 1 will vote for the proposition only in the terms in which it is presented - that is, inviting an inquiry by a committee and certainly nothing more. Indeed, the committee would have to come up with some altogether unexpected findings to persuade me to change my present view, which is that we should oppose the televising of proceedings, apart from on the most exceptional and merely formal occasions.

Frankly, the prospect that we should provide yet another platform for grandstanding in the House does not attract me. It seems to me that we have enough such opportunities already. We have our proximity to the Press. We have the Hansard report, with its free copies of speeches for distribution. Above all, we have the radio broadcasts, with all the jockeying for position that they encourage. Just compare the eagerness of honourable members to speak on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the proceedings of the House normally are broadcast, with the position on Wednesdays, when normally we are off the air and the Senate has its turn; or consider the time-tabling of ministerial statements for the presumed prime times of 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. each day.

Just imagine how the attention gaining exercise would be magnified when, as even the motion of the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) realistically accepts, television at most could cover only part of our proceedings. Let us say we had a threequarters of an hour to one hour daily program of parliamentary excerpts. Now, let us try to anticipate the sort of material which a reasonable television producer would have to include. The formal opening, I would think, would continue to be one such example. I agree with the honourable member for Bradfield that the Budget Speech and the Leader of the Opposition's reply probably would be 2 others. A statement on which some special public interest or expectation had developed would be yet another. We have had an example of that this week in the statement of the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) on terrorist groups. For the rest, the limited time remaining almost certainly would be devoted to extracts from question time each day in the House of Representatives and the Senate. I think I would have the agreement of the honourable members for Bradfield, Franklin (Mr Sherry) and Ryan (Mr Drury) on that.

But what emerges from this combination of content? Firstly, a predominance in exposure of Government over Opposition and, secondly, a predominance in exposure of front bench members over back bench members. This is not to suspect some inevitable editorial bias. What it does suggest, though, is that the producer of any television extract hoping to attract an audience would have to compress the limited number of events of the day which are both important and interesting and these, including question time, are almost exclusively the preserve of Ministers - despite popular fallacies to the contrary. Backbenchers might be seen fleetingly as they ask their occasional question; for the rest they would be invisible or at the most part of the chorus, unless they deliberately set out to make themselves obstructive or objectionable. Arguments about real communication and bringing Parliament to the people, showing what we are really like, are unreal to this extent. We cannot show the people what Parliament is really like by condensing the hourandahalf when 100 or more honourable members are present in the chamber. We have to give at least proportionate time to the 8 hours a day when as few as 10 or 12 honourable members are present. But then, to be fair, the cameras would have to follow us where we went outside the chamber - to the Caucus room, committee rooms, our offices, the library, the bar and the coffee room as well. I do not believe that that will be seriously considered. It has been suggested by some honourable members that televising .vill increase attendance in the chamber but so far as I am aware no argument has been produced as to why that will necessarily be an improvement. The question is: Why would we then attend in larger numbers? Would it be because attendance at all times is intrinsically valuable and instructive or because, it might look bad on television if we were out of the House during screening times? Surely we have to face the fact that where we have, as we do, a tightly disciplined Party system, our attendance at Party policy-making meetings, is at least as important and sometimes more important than our attendance in the chamber when, even though we are impressed by an Opposition argument, we are constitutionally incapable of being converted by it. The exception, of course, is on the occasional free vote question that it is significant that attendance at these times is always large and participation always keen even where the issue itself is quite minor.

Honourable members will have gathered that I am not altogether an enthusiast of the prospect of televised Parliamentary proceedings but I do not want to be. uncharacteristically negative in my approach and I therefore make a suggestion to the committee which will be considering the motion. On overseas precedents it seems quite likely that the committee will be tempted to suggest a trial series, perhaps limited to our own private viewing, of daily television excerpts. That, apart from any other consideration, will be a very expensive proposition. I therefore ask the committee to consider, if it is so tempted, making readily available a much more economic trial of the daily condensed version of the present radio broadcasts.

As honourable members will be aware, existing procedures provide that on days when the House of Representatives and Senate respectively are not broadcast, their question times, to the extent of three-quarters of an hour to one hour, are broadcast during our dinner recess. This works especially well in Western Australia as the time differential makes re-broadcasts coincide with after-work traffic and I am told that they are widely regarded as light relief from the tensions of peak-hour travel. Accordingly my suggestion is that as a preliminary to any television proposition, and in any event to improve the standard of existing radio cover, the evening period now spent on a straightforward repeat of question time be devoted to an edited summary of the day's events, preferably with comment added. The high ratings of the A.M.' and 'P.M.' shows on the Australian Broadcasting Commission indicate that there could be a large and regular audience for a Parliamentary summary imaginatively presented. I hope that the committee will consider this possibility, which is of course within its overall charter, irrespective of the present motion. In any event, and with all my expressed reservations, I will be looking forward to the report of the committee with great interest.

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