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Friday, 3 December 1976

Mr Eric Robinson (MCPHERSON, QUEENSLAND) - by leave- Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) and the House for their courtesy this afternoon. Earlier, the House was given a number of amendments which we will discuss next week in the debate on the Broadcasting and Television Bill (No. 2) 1976; but I believed that it would be helpful to that debate if this afternoon I gave information on the amendments that have been circulated.

The first of these is in relation to clause 9 of the Bill which deals with the composition of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The basic intent of this clause is to provide for representation on the Commission from each State as well as ensuring that at least two of the commissioners will be women. It has now been decided that, during the implementation of this intention, provision should be made for all present commissioners to serve out their remaining terms of office. This, in tura, leads to the desirability of providing some flexibility in the numbers of members who may be appointed to the Commission so that State representation and an increase in the number of women on the Commission can be achieved, without prejudice to the unexpired periods of office of the existing commissioners.

Accordingly, I now propose that the Commission shall consist of not less than nine, and not more than eleven, commissioners. Because of the intention for the Commission to comprise a representative from each State and also at least 2 women, as well as the Government's intention to retain all existing commissioners, it will be necessary to deem certain of the present commissioners as representing a State. This is now provided for in the new amendment. I emphasise that this will have no effect on the remaining terms of the present commissioners. It will also be necessary to change the quorum provisions of the Act in the light of the number of commissioners who may now be appointed to the Commission.

Clause 6 of the Bill provides for a new subsection 16 ( 1 ) (c) of the principal Act. This subsection empowers the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal 'to determine the hours during which programs are to be or may be broadcast or televised by licensees'. This provision differs from the original wording which gave similar power to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board in the principal Act, by the addition of the words 'are to be or'. These words were included on the advice of Parliamentary Counsel, and their purpose was to remove any doubt which may arise if the validity of this provision rested on the words 'may be' as is now the case in respect of sub-section 16 (1) (c) of the present Act.

However, there have been a number of representations to me on this amendment and as the present legislation is largely transitional in nature, I have agreed to withdraw the words 'are to be or' from sub-section 16(1) (c) of the present Bill. Clause 13 of the Bill introduced interim provisions for the licensing and administration of stations in the public broadcasting sector. Section IIIB of that clause was drafted to provide that, in this transitional legislation, public broadcasting and television stations would be subject to the same licensing, regulatory and administrative procedures as commercial broadcasting and television stations. However, the drafting has been interpreted by some to enable the public inquiry process to be avoided. Because of this I am proposing a further amendment to make it abundantly clear, that a public hearing will be necessary before a licence of this type can be granted under the Broadcasting and Television Act.

I stress again that legislation to be prepared for introduction next year will provide in detail for the administration of this new and important sector of our broadcasting system. I also propose an addition to clause 14 to provide for clarification of the responsibility of the secretary of the Postal and Telecommunications Department as detailed in section 1 1 ID. This section vests the planning responsibilities for the development of the Australian broadcasting system in the department. Future plans will be heavily oriented to social and economic issues as well as to technical considerations. It is necessary, however, to ensure that this important overall planning responsibility cannot be interpreted as permitting the secretary to direct stations in matters of program content. Accordingly, the new provision is designed to make it quite clear that clause 14 will not convey a right for the secretary to in any way require changes in the program formats of stations, on either an individual or collective basis.

A further amendment proposed is that section 1 1 lc of clause 14 of the present Bill be deleted. This section was originally included as one of a number of machinery amendments which reallocated the powers and functions of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. It provides that the Minister may, subject to the approval of the Treasurer, provide financial assistance to commercial broadcasting and television stations to ensure that programs of adequate extent standard and variety are provided in the areas served by those stations. Apart from the possibility that a provision of this nature could lead to some commercial operators applying pressure on the Government to make assistance available to alleviate financial difficulties resulting from their own commercial practices, the inclusion of such section in the Act does not, in reality, provide the Minister with any additional powers. The Executive Government may, at any time, provide assistance to a particular industry, should it so desire, from funds appropriated for that purpose by the Parliament. It therefore does not need legislation as now provided for in section 1 1 lc of clause 14. I look forward to the debate next week.

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