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Monday, 6 December 1976

Mr Eric Robinson (MCPHERSON, QUEENSLAND) - The Government opposes the amendment moved by the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass). I regret that I was unable to hear all of the contributions made by members of the Opposition this afternoon, but it seems to me that they have some idea that there is something sinister about this legislation. Of course all of their words amount to suspicion and speculation. Let them for a moment have an open mind and listen to a few facts because once they accept the facts they will not be concerned with speculation and suspicion.

First, the Government decided in April to initiate the Green inquiry. I was able to present some recommendations to the Government early in October. During the period between April and October about 600 submissions were presented to the inquiry. Ample opportunity was given to organisations and people throughout Australia to make their views known. They did so, and their submissions were valuable. During that period quite a number of informal useful discussions were held with interested parties. I find that despite that, despite the fact that the Green report was tabled in the Parliament some weeks ago and despite the fact that the Government's intentions have been known for some weeks people such as the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes), who spoke last in the debate, are still making erroneous statements. The honourable member for Melbourne is apparently concerned that the same rules will not apply to public broadcasting as will apply to commercial broadcasting. Let me state quite clearly that the legislation we are now discussing is in part transitional legislation and that public broadcasting will go through exactly the same format as commercial broadcasting. It will have exactly the same requirement to go before the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal for open and public inquiries as will commercial broadcasting.

We propose to disband the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, leave the new Tribunal with the quasi-judicial powers of licensing, the renewal of licences and, if necessary, the ability to revoke licences. One of the first jobs it will do will be to hold an open public inquiry into the questions of standards and self-regulation. It will be open to everyone and every organisation in Australia to make comment on those questions because it is desirable, if we can move towards self-regulation, to see whether this arrangement is available and acceptable to Australians.

Planning will go back to the Postal and Telecommunications Department but we have quite clearly ensured that the Department will not be able to interfere with the programming of commercial radio stations. That has never been the concept. To ensure absolutely that this is the thrust of the Government's policy the amendment about which I spoke in the House last Friday has been included. A lot of utter nonsense has been spoken- I regret to say even by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam)about the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It remains independent and its integrity is not at risk or under threat.

We would reject the suggestion that the ABC should be separate and apart from the Government's economic policy. This year the ABC's budget was decreased from $138m to $129m, a reduction of $9m or about 6 per cent. This reduction was much smaller than the overall across the board cuts in the Budget which were of the order of 10 per cent. It was a much smaller percentage than cuts in many other government departments and instrumentalities. It is known to the ABC and to Sir Henry Bland, as it is known to every other government instrumentality, that they can come back to the Government with a submission based upon costs which are unavoidable. Sir Henry is aware that his case will be considered on its merits when he chooses to send it to us.

Mention was made of representation on the Commission. We want all the States represented. The enlarged Commission will allow for that and for all the present Commissioners to serve their full terms of office. I never said that it would be otherwise. Reports to the contrary have all been based upon speculation and not upon any statements by the Government. I would have thought that the Opposition would have been pleased with the decision to establish the Broadcasting Council because this instrumentality will enable liaison to take place in a co-operative and consultative way between all the elements of broadcasting, from the national network, the public broadcasters, the commercial broadcasters to the Department. It is desirable that the Council can comment on planning.

The whole thrust of this legislation is to take politics out of broadcasting. The Minister will no longer have the right to decide as to who gets licences. The finding of the Tribunal will be the determining factor. The autonomy and integrity of ethnic radio and Radio Australia will be maintained because they will both be remaining within the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

That the words proposed to be omitted (Dr Cass's amendment) stand part of the question.

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