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Tuesday, 7 December 1976

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) -I am rather surprised that this amendment comes from the Labor Party, particularly when the honourable member for Maribyrnong is leading for the Labor Party in this debate. This clause virtually allows the most stringent censorship of our television screens. I know what the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) is driving at on the question of standards. I sympathise with him. But I am rather persuaded to the view of the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) that we ought at least to give the private commercial interests and the Australian Broadcasting Commission a chance to be selfregulatory in the question of standards. They are the experts and they, I think, know what the public wants. They can assess what the public wants. If commercial interests assess wrongly their ratings go down. A self-regulatory process is already m the system.

The honourable member for Scullin suggested that the ultimate arbiter on this matter should be Parliament. God forbid that we should have politicians determining television standards and what is in the best interests of the public. I wonder, with great respect, whether this amendment has been thought out very clearly. Let me quote the words of the amendment. They call for a subjective judgment. The amendment, which refers to the Tribunal, reads: to ensure that adequate and comprehensive programs-

What the hell do 'adequate' and 'comprehensive' mean? The amendment continues: are provided by commercial broadcasting stations and commercial television stations in the best interests-

Can somebody tell me what that means? Does that mean that the best interests are served by putting on television a whole host of religious programs? If so, what religion? Should we be preaching for chastity before marriage or nonchastity before marriage? Should we say that the best interests of the people lies with cowboy and Indian shows? The more one discusses this the more absurd the situation becomes. The last part of the amendment is classic. It reads: of the general public.

Politicians, I think, spend most of their lives trying to search for that very elusive person, the general public. Who is he? Where is he? Are the honourable member for Scullin and the honourable for Maribyrnong saying that, with a show such as Alvin Purple- I raised this matter in the House previously- which extraordinarily grabs 33 per cent of the viewer ratings, somebody can say that it is not adequate and that it is not comprehensive. From reports I have heard, certain scenes are very comprehensive, but I was never privileged to watch any of them. Will anybody say that Alvin Purple is not in the best interests of the general public? The amendment seeks a very subjective judgment. It smacks of censorship. For that reason alone I would oppose it.

The honourable member for Scullin did not deal to any great extent with an area about which I am deeply concerned, that is, the self regulatory functions of local content. I hope I do not misquote the Minister, but I understood him to say that the Government has made no decisions on this and that this is one of the things that the Government will ask the Tribunal to look at. I would not want to pre-empt the considerations of the Tribunal about whether commercial stations should determine their own local content. I agree with the honourable member for Scullin that here is an area where Parliament ought to step in and give some direction or indication to the Tribunal. I am completely persuaded that our national and commercial television should contain ample local content. I hope I am not mistaking the position, but I understand that all the licensees promised, when they got their licences, that they would include at least50 per cent local content in their programs. I am informed that last year- I think it is worse this year- local content was down to 36 per cent. That 36 per cent local content included things such as the news, weather reports, sporting fixtures, sporting replays, Moomba parades and so on which certainly -

Mr Jull - Those programs use a lot of staff too.

Mr CHIPP -Agreed. I thank my friend for the interjection. I was about to say that these local content programs are certainly good. Perhaps I should be more specific and say that I would like to see the preservation of drama and the usage of local talent such as actors, writers and directors. I propose to cite some figures given to me. I do not vouch for their veracity. They were given to me by the Actors and Announcers' Equity Association of Australia and I put them on record. Whether they are believed or not does not matter. If somebody can assail these figures as being untruthful it would be useful to the debate.

In 1974, 6000 actors and 15 000 others were employed in drama- that is, serials and other series. The number dropped in 1975 from 6000 actors to 4000 actors and from 15 000 others to 9000 others. In the same period local content dropped from 44 per cent to 37 per cent. Ongoing drama production dropped from 421 weeks of production in 1974 to 269 weeks in 1975. I am not blaming the commercial television stations. People involved with the commercial television stations, thank goodness, are very responsible and able businessmen. The commercial television stations are all public companies. They have shareholders. Of course they are impelled to maximise their profits. They are not in the business of idealism, altruism, or nationalism. I believe that we in Australia are very fortunate with the calibre of our productions and television stations. If we gave them laissez-faire, of course they would buy the Kojak series.

Mr Cohen - You don't like Kojak? He is the only one who is any good.

Mr CHIPP - It is my favourite program. I think it is fantastic. Why should it not be? It costs $400,000 an episode to produce and our commercial television stations can buy it for something like $5,000. I am told that it would cost $50,000 to produce a comparable Australian program. If I were the managing director of a commercial television station I would go for Kojak rather than the Australian production. But it is important that we maintain the good Australian productions. I think that a nation has to have an ability to look at itself, to laugh at itself and to be critical of itself. We might all cast aspersions on Number 96, The Box and Alvin Purple which are produced here- they do not capture my fancy- but at least in these programs an Australian can see himself mirrored. One of the problems about Australia and Australians is that we do not laugh at ourselves enough and we do not fully see ourselves as we really are.

Dr Cass - Ludicrous.

Mr CHIPP -I think it is important and I think it is basic. This is all I propose to say about the matter When the Tribunal examines the selfregulatory functions concerning content, I would be very distressed if that was left entirely to the commercial television stations.

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