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Tuesday, 7 December 1976

Mr COHEN (Robertson) - I was surprised at the comments of the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). He expressed surprise at the comments of the shadow Minister, the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass). We are all being surprised by one another. I happen to remember that, when the honourable member for Hotham was the Minister for Customs and Excise in a previous Government, he led the way in liberalising censorship. At that time he had great difficulty in defining the phrase acceptable community standards'. The same criticism that is now being made could well have been levelled at him at that time. I agree with his comment that the amendment moved by the Opposition is vague. But this aspect was vague at the time when he was a Minister. The phrase 'acceptable community standards' was difficult to define then and it is difficult to define in an amendment of this kind because it is a vague concept.

I think all honourable members know what we want to see in this Act. We want to see certain standards maintained and an attempt to lift the standards of television and the media. I do not think we should apologise for taking that attitude. I notice that the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) is smiling. Perhaps he is not smiling at me. Is it wrong to say that we should be slaves to the rating system? We have all turned on commercial radio and television, particularly radio, and have flicked from station to station. We find one station after another pushing out the same sort of program, whether it be in Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne.

I like listening to a certain percentage of popular music. I can tolerate even a little of Bay City Rollers. The point is that there is another listening audience. All honourable members will be aware that the eight or ten commercial radio stations in each city are aiming at that particular rating which gives them the percentage of the market which enables them to obtain advertising and make profits. The difficulty is that those stations are aiming their programs at 5 1 per cent of the listening audience. Those who want something different-who, in the case of radio want more current affairs and talk-back programs and, in the case of television, want more current affairs programs, serious music, ballet and so on-miss out because those programs do not get good ratings.

I would be opposed to any words that would enable any suggestion of censorship to be read into our amendment. I do not think that we can define in exact terms what we seek. It is the same sort of problem that the honourable member for Hotham had when he was the Minister and talked about 'acceptable community standards' about 5 years ago when he did such a good job of liberalising censorship in Australia. He had that problem as would any government. A problem which concerns me- it is not connected directly with the debate today because we are now getting down to a bit of the nitty- gritty- is the public debate which has taken place during the past few weeks about broadcasting. Almost all the debate has been about the ABC and criticisms of it.

Mr King - The ABC has been criticising the legislation.

Mr COHEN - The ABC quite rightly has been criticising the legislation because it has a great fear of what this Government has in mind. Government back benchers in the last few days seem to me to have come to their senses. I am not surprised that the ABC and the Opposition are fearful of what the Government has in mind after the vicious attacks that were made upon the ABC by the Government's spokesman, when it was in Opposition, the present Minister for Transport (Mr Nixon), who did not stop trying to label ABC staff as a bunch of left wing radicals, 'pinkoes', 'commies' and other abusive terms.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Hear, hear!

Mr COHEN -Do not interject; go back to getting girls to jump out of cakes. We do not want the poor man's Hugh Hefner displaying his wisdom. The problem that concerns me is that the Liberal and National Country Parties have hated the ABC for as long as I can recall. They have never stopped abusing it. They have never stopped trying to denigrate the ABC and accusing it of left wing bias. That is why I am sceptical of the sudden change of heart displayed by the Government. I propose to speak to a number of other amendments but I did want to make the point that somebody has to oversee the standards of radio and television and must attempt to lift the standards just a little; hopefully, the cultural level of programs will be lifted too. That might smack of elitism, perhaps it does. I do not think we need to apologise for it. We do not apologise for it in our education system. We do not apologise for it in a range of other areas. I do not see why we should apologise for it in our attempt to improve the quality of the media in Australia.

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