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Tuesday, 7 December 1976
Page: 3407

Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) - I move:

Omit proposed sub-section 1 11 a. (1), substitute the following proposed sub-section: "( I ) Subject to this Act, the Minister may, on the recommendation of the Tribunal and upon payment of the prescribed free, grant a person a licence to operate a broadcasting station or television station. ".

At the end of proposed sub-section 1 1 1a. (3) add: "in accordance with the recommendations of the Tribunal".

Omit proposed sub-section 1 1 1 a. (4).

I shall briefly explain these proposals. Referring to the first amendment, as the clause now stands the Minister decides entirely on his own judgment, as the proposed section reads, to issue licences to public broadcasters. There is nothing in this clause to suggest that he takes advice from anybody. We accept the proposition that the Tribunal be set up and we are simply seeking to amend this clause to indicate that the Minister, in relation to public broadcasting stations, will act on the recommendation of the Tribunal, and then there shall be the payment of the fee and so on. That is the first point about our amendment. I think it is perfectly consistent, if I dare suggest this, with an amendment which the Minister is proposing to move to this clause. He proposes inserting an additional section to ensure that whatever happens under this legislation there will be public inquiries? Is that correct?

Mr Eric Robinson (MCPHERSON, QUEENSLAND) - That is right.

Dr CASS - Since the Minister is saying that, why not show that he will be acting on recommendations from those inquiries? That is the sole point of the exercise. We are not suggesting anything that the Government is not itself seeking. The way the legislation is drawn at the moment it looks as though the Minister could act without taking any notice of or even necessarily holding an inquiry. I quite concede, by the Minister's proposed amendment, that there will be an inquiry so why not say that licences will be issued on the recommendation of the Tribunal? After all, that is what the Government is going to do for the commercial operators. There is nothing sinful in the suggestion. In fact it is a damn good idea. The Government is trying to get away from politicising the whole business. That is why it is proposing the Tribunal and why it is proposing that it should give advice in that way for commercial broadcasters. Why not do the same for public broadcasters? The Government then would not expose itself to any possible criticism of acting politically. I suggest this for the Government's own protection. In a way I do not mind if the Government leaves it out because then it lays itself open to unnecessary criticism. Bad luck to it.

I am putting this as a positive and constructive proposal. If the Minister does this, I do not think he needs the other part of that section which we are suggesting should be omitted. There is no point saying that licences will be issued for a whole string of specific purposes which are laid down in this legislation because that is what the Tribunal will be doing. The Tribunal will be inquiring into the need and it will be suggesting the sorts of conditions which should be imposed. Once again the Government is covered and it does not look as though it is applying political pressure. It will have a quasi-judicial independent Tribunal providing it with all the advice it needs and giving it the restrictions it might want to oppose. The Government does not have to do it so why expose itself to the suggestion that it is being political? If we were administering this Act we would not want that sort of odium either, so why put the potential for it in the Act? It is superfluous to the Government's needs and that is why we suggest this be omitted.

My second amendment seeks to add words to proposed subsection (3) which reads:

A public broadcasting licence or public television licence may be granted on such conditions, and in accordance with such form as the Minister determines.

We suggest the addition of the words: in accordance with the recommendations of the Tribunal.

I ask the Minister again: Why expose the Government to the charge that it is being political? Why not allow the Tribunal to make recommendations? The Minister does not have to take any notice of them. The final judgment is still left to the Government but at least it will be seen to be taking advice from an impartial quasi judicial body. That is the reason for our proposal.

Finally, we suggest the omission of proposed sub-section (4) which reads:

It is a condition of a licence granted under this Part that the broadcasting station or television station, as the case may be, is to be operated only for the purpose or purposes specified in the licence in accordance with sub-section ( 1 ).

Well, that is obvious. Why say it? Why clutter up the legislation with unnecessary verbiage like that? The station will operate under the conditions of the licence as suggested by the Tribunal and as the Government agrees when the licence is issued. Why does the Government have to say this? The Minister has already declared- he said this earlier in an earlier part of the debate on this Bill when we were discussing amendments- that the Tribunal will be the final arbiter about taste and the performance of the stations. In a way I agree with the Minister as long as he allows it to do it. If the Government is going to allow the Tribunal to do it for the commercial stations why not allow the Tribunal to do the same thing for the public broadcasting stations? Why try to take power unto itself, without any indication of support or advice or anything from the Tribunal, to just arbitrarily set conditions and arbitrarily issue licences? In my view the Government is exposing itself to unnecessary criticism of political control of the public broadcasters.

We proposed these amendments for those reasons. I hope the Minister recognises that they are not a Labor Party line. I am putting them forward as a commonsense approach to clarifying the legislation, to make it perfectly clear that decisions in all these areas are not going to be based on political considerations but on the advice of the Tribunal the Government is setting up and which is to be independent of Government interference and is to give clear unequivocal advice which the Government in any case is always able to accept or reject. We are not suggesting that the Government should be forced. We would not want to be forced either. We should be allowed to have the final say. If we disagree with recommendations of the Tribunal and if the Government disagrees with the recommendations of the Tribunal, which should be public, then we both defend ourselves. The Government has to give reasons and that is perfectly reasonable. That is what we mean by being accountable to the community. For those reasons we propose these amendments.

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