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Tuesday, 7 December 1976

Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - I would like to support the amendments moved by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen). This clause is a terribly strange mixture. If we look at the description of the commissioners in a generic way we find a genus geographic, that is that there must be one commissioner from each State; a genus female, that is that there must be 2 women; and then a genus others, which I suppose can mean anything. It is a very strange mixture If one had to specify the strangest amendment I suppose it would be that which proposes that a commissioner should be elected from amongst the staff. There is an increasing tendency towards worker participation in organisations. The Parliament of Europe has discussed this matter and has referred it to those parliaments which are interested in it. There has een very wide ranging discussion on the subject throughout the world. Here we have that situation within the Austraiian Broadcasting Commission, despite what honourable members are reading out about opinions and so on, with what happened with Marius Webb. It is not provided for in the Act.

I forget whether it was the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) or his predecessor as Minister for the Media who proposed that the ABC staff should have an election to nominate a Commissioner. The honourable member for Maribyrnong has given me a note which he received after making his speech in the second reading stage. The note is from the ABC Staff Association in Sydney. It points out that Marius Webb is not a Staff Association representative but represents ABC staff. He was elected from more than 30 candidates from all the ABC unions. So there were at least 30 nominations, including such prominent people as Richard Carleton, who is very well known to honourable members. That illustrates the intense interest that was taken in that election. There was a recent staff meeting of 2000 ABC employees who reconfirmed their commitment to a staff-elected commissioner. At the election 3649 staff members voted, which is more than half of the total staff. From what I have heard from honourable members opposite, they would say that this was unheard of participation for a union-type election in Australia. There is no doubt that the members of the staff feel very strongly about this commissioner. Mention was made of Mr Duckmanton not being able to attend. He ought to stand to see whether he can be elected by the staff. After all, there were 30 nominations last time. Why should he not be one of them?

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Dr JENKINS - Before the suspension of the sitting in supporting the Opposition's amendments to clause 9 I commented on the strange generic origins of the Commissioners listed in this clause. I spoke to that Opposition amendment which deals with the appointment of an elected representative of the Australian Broadcasting Commission staff and pointed out that, while there had not been previous provision for this, it had been something that a previous Minister had allowed. I pointed out the response that had been received from the staff and their interest in this appointment. I do not think I need go on further with that subject.

The other amendment deals with the inclusion in the clause of the words: 'At least 2 of the Commissioners shall be women'. I think this is a most surprising part of the clause. Why do we not state that at least two of the commissioners shall be men, or whatever? To make this particular specification would seem to be a hangover from a bygone age. The fact that in the past we have had only one woman commissioner is no argument for showing our generosity by increasing the number to two. In fact, there is no reason why all the commissioners should not be women under certain circumstances. After all, surely judgment should be made on their suitability for the position on the Commission- on their particular abilities.

The honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Baillieu) and I serve on the State Advisory Committee of the ABC in Victoria. I should think that the membership of that Advisory Committee would be about half and half, male and female. I can assure honourable members that although advisory committees are pretty toothless tigers some quite interesting discussion goes on at their meetings. In many ways the female members of the Committee are ahead of many of the men who serve on it in their attitudes to standards and types of programs and in a real understanding of how the Commission should function. So I think it is most unfortunate that these words have been included in the clause. I think that discretion should be used and women should not be mentioned specifically in this way. Why should not all the commissioners be women? If the sex of the commissioners is to be specified, we had better say as well that at least two shall be men.

I have some doubts about the provision in this clause concerning representation from each State. I know that it is probably included because some of the smaller States might feel that they might become neglected. But I think what we should be looking for are commissioners with a real interest in and knowledge of the field, who are willing to put forward their views irrespective of the geographical area from which they come or, indeed, irrespective of their sex. In rebutting the argument for a staff representative, some mention was made of the Joint Consultative Committee. Most of these consultative committees tend to become toothless tigers. I do not accept that they are any substitute for the worker or staff participation that we would get with a commissioner elected from the staff of the ABC. I know there is a lot of public interest in this matter. I urge the Government to give serious consideration to those amendments which the Opposition has put forward.

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