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Monday, 6 December 1976
Page: 3322

Mr JULL (Bowman) -Three weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) brought into this House a matter of public importance concerning political interference in the media. Anyone who read the speeches on that matter would realise the folly of the move. Unfortunately this afternoon we have heard quite a deal more along the same lines as we were dished up on that Wednesday 3 weeks ago. One of the prime accusations that the Leader of the Opposition seemed to have made this afternoon was that this Government is prepared to stack the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) was to have spoken in this debate. He spoke to the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) about incorporating in Hansard a 9-page document. It is a fairly enlightening document. It is a transcript of an interview with Mr Marius Webb, the staff elected Commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, at the eighth interstate executive meeting of the ABC Staff Association in Sydney on 18 November 1975. In reply to the Leader of the Opposition 's comments on stacking the Commission I quote from page 3 of that transcript. Mr Webb was asked whether staff representation on the board of management would be supported by the board of commissioners. In reply Mr Webb said:

The Commissioners are all now Labor appointees. Although a couple of them its a bit hard to work out why. Connie Benn, Richard Harding, Haskett Lashwood, Smith and Harris and Jacobsen are all pretty much on side. Harris is a funny mixture. He is a typical pin-stripe suited businessman in many respects and yet he seems to be about the only contact Clem has with the Commission. He makes extraordinary judgments. We had to view the TDT program of the week before because there had been an outcry because Carlton was supposed to be biased- the interview with Fraser- and everyone decided that Carlton had been fairly subjective in his selection of facts in the introduction to the interview. Harris went so far as to say that he thought he was very biased but he liked his reporting like that.

Mr Kelly - Who said that?

Mr JULL -That was Mr Marius Webb. The Leader of the Opposition wondered exactly why this legislation was coming into the House. This legislation is a direct result of the Green inquiry. It is interim legislation to change the very nature of the broadcasting system. This had to be done for a number of reasons, some being technical. We heard honourable members this afternoon speaking of the problems in the allocation of frequencies. Frequencies in this country are very special resources, resources that are fast running out. A number of problems have arisen from decisions of the past few years. Because licences were issued under the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1905 the spectrums were becoming overly full. One of the major recommendations of the Green report was for a restructuring to sort out technical requirements. This is included in the legislation.

The Green report is the first major investigation since 1942 into the media and the problems that face it. It will help in establishing frequency modulation radio in Australia. It will help to get the whole spectrum sorted out. It will help in the proper establishment of public broadcasting stations. It will help in a very real way, I think, to make the ABC a much more efficient and much more viable body. I would like to talk to members of the ABC Staff Association as I had the pleasure of doing in Brisbane on the Friday before last and also when its delegation visited Canberra. I do not really think that the ABC Staff Association does itself a lot of good in putting out publications such as the latest edition of Channel- it is the Staff Association magazineand another little gem of a brochure from the Media Workers Council whose address is care of the ABC Staff Association at St Leonards, N.S.W., called The Facts on the Media Takeover. Some rather stunning statements were made therein. Nine out of the 12 statements were completely incorrect. This legislation does not deal with things like disbanding the Australian Broadcasting Commission's symphony orchestras. This legislation is not dealing with the subjects stated in this brochure. This legislation is to set up a new system for the governing and allocation of technical aspects of the broadcasting industry in Australia. The ABC Staff Association should be aware of the moves in this legislation to make the ABC a much more viable enterprise. The legislation certainly will make the ABC a much more efficient exercise. I believe the ABC must be accountable to its shareholders; and the shareholders, of course, are the taxpayers of Australia.

I am not here this afternoon to bash the ABC. I am here to make some constructive suggestions to members of the ABC Staff Association and to show them just how they will be assisted by this new legislation. One of the biggest problems that I have found in my talks with members of the ABC is that they do not have enough room to manoeuvre with management and that they do not have the opportunity to become involved in decisions which affect the ABC. Written into this legislation is the provision for consultative councils that will operate between the Commission, the management of the ABC and all arms of the Staff Association. It will give an opportunity to members of that Association, technical people, members of Actors Equity and everyone who is connected with the ABC to become involved with the management processes of that organisation. It will take the ABC away from the Public Service Board. This has been one of the real problems of the ABC. ABC staff morale has been particularly low during the time I was involved with the industry. Because of the public service nature of the ABC it was very difficult for people with talent to progress within that organisation. Consequently there is a big bureaucracy within the ABC. It is very hard for people of real talent to make any progress in the ABC. This legislation, by allowing the Commission to be able to negotiate conditions and salaries and to make provision for people to work their way up the ladder into areas of real decision-making, will assist staff to a marked degree. That aspect and the fact that there will be real worker participation, because this legislation gives consultative councils some real teeth, will certainly help the ABC Staff Association to get deeply involved in the ABC.

The other aspect of this legislation deals with the formation of a Broadcasting Council and a Broadcasting Tribunal. As I said at the beginning of my speech today, one of the reasons for the changes in the structure of broadcasting in Australia is a real effort to get politics out of the media. I firmly believe that politics should not be involved in the media. Certainly in the last few years it was. We saw it not only happening in the ABC but also in the commercial sector. There will be a split of functions between the Broadcasting Council and the Broadcasting Tribunal. We will see the disbandment of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. The technical aspects of the operation of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will become part of the Postal and Telecommunications Department. A very real need exists for the Department to play that part in that aspect of broadcasting.

As I mentioned earlier, the allocation of frequencies is a very real worry. The stations have to meet technical standards. We want our broadcasting system to be one of the most technically perfect in the world. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) mentioned problems associated with the Broadcasting Council. The Broadcasting Council will be an advisory body that will be established to represent the interests of not only the ABC and commercial broadcasters but also the public broadcasters. The Broadcasting Council will discuss problems that are facing the industry and will take initiatives for the benefit of the industry. One point about which I am a little worried in that regard is the fact that the Council does not really have the necessary teeth. It is to be established as an advisory group. It will not make hard and fast decisions.

If the Minister is prepared to consult with that Council and to listen to some of its arguments concerning the various aspects of the media, well and good. But under the present terms of this legislation it would be possible for the Minister not to take any notice of what the Broadcasting Council might say. On the other hand, the Broadcasting Tribunal will be established to grant licences, to renew licences and, indeed, to suspend licences. It also will have the capacity to make public inquiries into various aspects of the media and to involve the public and all interest groups in those inquiries. I understand that the Minister has in mind that one of the first jobs for the Tribunal will be to investigate the whole aspect of self-regulation, of Australian content and other allied areas that involve the media in its every day operation.

With the introduction of this legislation and the establishment of the Tribunal sometime after 1 January, the rules that were set up by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will apply for some time. We hope that the Tribunal will get under way as soon as possible and will make these investigations, especially in the field of selfregulation. Self-regulation is an interesting example. I have done some study on this and have observed how it operates in the United States of America. In actual fact, there is probably a much tighter control of media in the United States because of self-regulation than we have ever experienced in Australia. It would seem to me that if special guidelines could be set up for all branches of the media the Tribunal in this respect could achieve a great measure of success in the broadcasting field. Self-regulation is - \

Mr Chipp - Are you speaking of standards?

Mr JULL -I am speaking of standards that will be set by the Tribunal after a public hearing. Everyone can be involved in the public hearing. It will be a chance for the ABC, the ABC Staff Association, commercial broadcasters, public broadcasters and members of the public to go along and to discuss the standards that should apply. Standards, of course, are another point which has been brought forward. We have been accused of trying to do away with Australian programs and Australian content. I do not believe that that is so. I would think that the most ardent commercial broadcaster is most interested in the development of the Australian television industry for the simple reason that Australian programs get ratings. While the Australian programs are getting ratings- they are getting ratings right now- the commercial broadcasters are interested.

If we as a Government want to make a very real contribution to improving Australian television standards, why do not we, as a Government, look at the possibility of providing subsidies for television programs? We have provided subsidies for a number of years- since the time of the Gorton Government- to the film industry. We have provided money for that industry in Australia. Australia has now taken its place amongst some of the world's great film producers. Our films are doing exceptionally well. Why cannot the same be done for television? One of the biggest problems that has been facing television in this country over the last few years- as was rightly mentioned by the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass)- is money. It is true that the American television producers can afford to spend $500,000 on a television program. The highest amount spent in Australia on a television program is some $50,000 only. Much has been said in this House over the last few months about the quality of Australian television programs. We should provide support for the Australian television industry to go ahead and to make quality programs. whlen we talk about Australian content one would hope that we are talking about a quality program rather than a cheap quiz type program that may cost next to nothing.

If we examine some of the problems that exist at the moment under the present points system, we find that many television programs are working with budgets of $30 and $40. That statement is not untrue because I have seen programs produced for that amount of money. That is pretty frightening. I do not think that that is really the sort of content in which we should be interested. We should encourage quality programs. We should be helping Australia look towards an export market for its television shows. A number of Australian television producers have managed to crack the overseas markets and they have done exceptionally well. One hopes that this inflow of dollars from overseas countries into the Australian networks and into the Australian production houses will help the industry to establish itself as one of the leading television producers in the world. That, of course, applies also to the ABC because the ABC has had some rather marvellous successes in the last few months with some of its joint productions. I refer to programs such as Rush which have been sold overseas and which have done very well indeed. Of course, this is an important point about the ABC. When the ABC is given a go and the real talent within that organisation is given an opportunity to express itself the ABC can hold its own as a leading production house in the world. This legislation is designed to help the ABC do just that. No longer must the ABC be a home for burnt out disc jockeys or some of the dropout media hacks. We must encourage the very real talent within the ABC so that it may become a leading production house in the world.

I am not completely happy with all the aspects of the Green report. Indeed, much more public debate needs to be held on that particular report before many aspects of it reach the legislative process. As I said at the beginning of my speech, the Green report is being acted upon in this legislation only inasmuch as we have a new structure for the broadcasting system. In actual fact, many aspects of the Green report are highly frightening and need a great deal of public discussion and public debate before we think about bringing them into operation. I should like to warn honourable members about some of those things that are happening now. One of the aspects about which I am not particularly happy is that the Green report recommends that the Commonwealth take over all transmission facilities for radio and television in Australia. To my mind, that sort of action would be frightening. The justification for that recommendation is that with so many additional stations coming into spectrum at the moment we will have technical problems with literally hundreds of television and radio transmitters scattered across the country. This certainly has not happened overseas. I am sure it would not happen in Australia under this Administration. I believe it would be frightening if one body controlled every transmitter and tower in the nation. What would happen if industrial problems occurred during a time of crisis? Every transmitter in Australia could be switched off and all our communications could be broken down. Other aspects similar to that are contained in the Green report and I think they ought to be looked at carefully before they finally become part of the legislative process.

There is one other aspect of the current legislation, that is a result of the Green report, about which I am not 100 per cent happy. I am referring to proposed new section 1 1 Ida ( 1 ) (a). I ask the Minister whether, later in the debate, he can explain to the House the exact implication of that clause. It is the clause which concerns the operations of the present Department. We know that the Department is to be used for planning purposes and we know that it has a real role to play in the planning of our technical services and in the allocation of frequencies within the spectrum. Before I am completely happy with that clause, I should like the Minister to inform me what else is involved with the Department. To my mind this is a grey area. If this power were in the wrong hands perhaps it could involve some political interference within the media that should not occur. Perhaps the Minister could explain that clause to me later in the debate.

I think that the broadcasting industry ultimately will find that many advantages are contained in this legislation before the House today.

I repeat my statement to the Australian Broadcasting Commission that some of the provisions in the Bill, so far as the staff consultative bodies are concerned- for example, the opportunity for advancement, the opportunity for better remuneration and the opportunity for better negotiations as far as working conditions are concerned- can be of great advantage. May I say to the public broadcasters too, that now is their opportunity to be recognised as a legitimate part of the broadcasting system in Australia because their licences will be on the same standard and plane as those of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the commercial television and commercial radio industries in Australia. I support the Bill.

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