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Monday, 6 December 1976

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles (ANGAS, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -Order! I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition might return to the Bill.

Mr E G Whitlam (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will have to return to my remarks about the Minister Assisting the g resent Treasurer. Having established the Government's real attitude towards the Australian Broadcasting Commission, we are better able to examine the purposes of this Bill. It is hastily and carelessly prepared, deceitful in intent, transparently political in its motivation and utterly indifferent to the interests of listeners and viewers. The smokescreen for the Government's objectives and the smokescreen for the Bill is the report of the Green inquiry. The more we study the Bill either in its original form or in the light of the amendments circulated by the Minister last Friday, the harder it is to discern any resemblance to the spirit and intentions of Mr

Green's report. The fact is that this hasty and illjudged legislation was drafted with 2 simple objectives in mind, both of them destructive. It was designed to stack the ABC with commissioners of the Government's own choice and to abolish the Broadcasting Control Board.

Last week's capitulation to public opinion and the staff of the ABC has merely forced the Government to accomplish its purposes another way. Instead of restructuring the Commission by sacking it outright, the Government will replace it a little more slowly. It is now proposing to increase the number of commissioners to eleven, four more than Mr Green recommended. He wanted a reduction of two in the number of commissioners. The Government is proposing an increase of two- waste and duplication a la Fraser. Why this latest departure from the Green report? We can forget the hoary old pretext about State representation. How many States does the Government think there are? Even with the Northern Territory there will only be 7. That still leaves a few surplus ABC commissioners. The reason for the increase is to enable the Government to stack the ABC by appointing extra commissioners. If it cannot have its way by replacing the old commissioners, it will have its way by appointing more. Having yielded to staff pressure and retained Mr Marius Webb as the staff representative, the Government has decided that Mr Webb will be outnumbered. If he cannot be replaced, at least he will be isolated.

It ought to be noted that although the Government is retaining Mr Webb's services for the time being, there is no guarantee in the Bill, or from anything the Minister has said, that a staff commissioner will be appointed in future. The Minister has not mentioned the future of the staff commissioner, let alone promised to keep him. All the Government's pious talk about staff relations and participation obviously counts for nothing. At least we can take satisfaction from Mr Webb 's reprieve. Marius has staged a comeback; Sulla has been vanquished. The farce, the dishonesty of this Bill is that if the present commissioners are to be allowed to stay, why is it necessary to change the Act at all? It is necessary, as I say, merely to keep Mr Webb in his place, to ensure the Government's domination of the ABC. I simply do not understand why the Prime Minister shows such antipathy to products of Xavier College and Melbourne University. Just because the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) is discredited, why take it out on Mr Webb too?

We know the legislation was drafted in haste. In his second reading speech, the Minister said:

The legislative amendments required to fully implement the decisions of the Government ... are quite extensive and it has not been possible for parliamentary counsel to complete all of the necessary drafting in time for consideration in this session of Parliament.

Why bring in the Bill at all? Why not wait until the Government can do it properly? A Bill that was botched and incomplete in its original form is to be made more botched and irrelevant by the foreshadowed amendments. Obviously the Government had hoped to make the emasculation of the ABC and the abolition of the Control Board a fait accompli to forestall the growing public suspicion, the growing anxiety amongst its own supporters and the mounting disquiet of the ABC staff, its management and, now, its Chairman. The more people study the Green report and this Bill, the more obvious it is that the Government is misrepresenting and undercutting the Green inquiry, just as it is misrepresenting and evading the Fox report on uranium. Whenever the Fraser Government finds the advice it receives unpalatable, it either ignores it and distorts its meaning or it suppresses the report altogether.

I have said that the Government has ignored Mr Green in its treatment of the Commission. It is ignoring Mr Green also in the way it is replacing the Control Board. True it is that the Government is creating the Tribunal recommended by Mr Green but the Tribunal is only one of the two new arms of administration intended to replace the Board. The other is the proposed Broadcasting Council. Mr Green recommended that the Council should have 2 representatives of the commercial media. The Minister has announced that he will double the commercial representation to four. In this way the commercial stations would have little difficulty in dominating the Council. The Government is using the same technique with the numbers on the Council as it is using with the numbers on the Commission.

Stranger still is the vagueness of this legislation with regard to the whole future of the Council. Will it be set up at all? The provision for the Council in this Bill scarcely exists. The Bill says merely that the Minister may set it up by regulation. There are no details about its function or its composition. Presumably these are among the minor details the Government still has to decide. Yet the Council's function, as envisaged by Mr Green, was crucial. Among its responsibilities was overseeing and administering program standards. As a result of this hasty and incomplete legislation no one will be responsible for administering standards, as Mr Green recommended. The 2-arm concept of administration is apparently discarded.

The Government apparently has no firm machinery in mind for administering the standards of the commercial stations. It is doubtful whether the Tribunal will do it. The Minister's speech contained the following particularly strange passage:

Should the Tribunal find that the community favours more autonomy being given to the broadcasters by allowing them to develop and largely administer their own codes of programming and advertising practice, the Tribunal would then withdraw from the day-to-day administration of standards, and examine only those significant matters of standards or regulation referred to it by a representative body of the broadcast operators, such as the Broadcasting Council designated in this Bill.

So we have a situation in which the Tribunal is expected to withdraw from the administration of standards and hand this responsibility to the Council. Yet no firm provision is made in this Bill for the Council to be established at all. The curious thing about the Broadcasting Tribunal is that it is almost identical in its structure and functions to the Broadcasting Control Board which is being abolished. Why then is it to be established? The answer is so that the Fraser Government can make its own appointments. Just as it hoped to do with the ABC, it wants to get rid of the existing members of the Control Board, some appointed by previous Liberal Governments and some appointed by my Government, in order to stack it with people of its own choosing. The sacking of members of the Control Board, like the sacking of ABC commissioners, would violate a basic principle of statutory bodies- that their members are appointed for fixed terms. The point of this convention is that statutory corporations can remain as free as possible from Government pressure. Of course this is not the first convention of parliamentary democracy to be overturned by the Fraser Government. Nothing shows more clearly how reckless and ruthless this Government can be when statutory bodies stand in its way. If it is ready to sack the ABC or the Control Board, what is to stop it sacking the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission? If it is prepared to intimidate one commission, it will be prepared to subdue another.

The history of this Government, and this Prime Minister in particular, has been that the unthinkable quickly becomes the possible and that the possible becomes the inevitable. If this Government can contemplate the sacking of the ABC, does anyone imagine that the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission is safe? The things being said about the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer last week are very similar to things that were said by Ministers, particularly Country

Party Ministers, about the ABC in past months. The Fraser Government is the most repressive and reactionary for SO years. It might try to do to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission what the Bruce Government tried to do SO years ago. The Government has been forced to allow the ABC commissioners to serve out their terms. It should allow the existing members of the Control Board to serve out their terms as members of the new Tribunal. If it is ready to admit that its actions in relation to the ABC were wrong, it should admit that its actions in relation to the Control Board are equally wrong.

The history of the Liberal policy on broadcasting has been one of intimidating the ABC, deceiving the public and entrenching private interests. For years Liberal governments maintained the fiction that there were not enough frequencies to accommodate more AM radio stations. My Government showed that to be untrue. Under a Labor Government the Control Board acquired teeth; it began to take its job seriously; it began doing what it was originally intended to do. We appointed some vigorous new members to the Board. The Board began initiating research into matters the commercial stations wanted to keep hidden- the economic structure of the industry, its news gathering resources, its standards and efficiency. That is why the Board is being abolished. The Labor Government showed that it was technically possible to license additional stations in the AM band and we did so- commercial as well as national stations. We licensed the first new commercial stations for 40 years. We approved new ABC stations- 2JJ and 3ZZ. We approved new ethnic radio and community access stations. We launched FM broadcasts in 4 States. We gave the ABC greater financial resources to expand its programs and develop Australian productions.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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