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Tuesday, 7 December 1976


Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) -Supporters of the Government, including the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson), have spoken a lot about the Broadcasting Council and all the wondrous things it will do. How it might be set up is mentioned only in this clause. One could hardly describe 5 lines of explanation as a clear indication of how it is going to be set up. In fact, the clause simply states that the Broadcasting and Television Act will enable regulations to be drawn up to establish the Broadcasting Council. I was nearly prompted to contribute to the discussion on the previous amendment moved by the Minister when one of the Government supporters asked about government interference- any government, Liberal or Labor- in the planning of the broadcasting system. The Minister gave assurances, but I shall not go over them.

The point is that we are all being naive. The reality is that any government at any time can interfere with the planning procedures as specified in this Bill or in the Broadcasting and Television Act. It would be quite simple. As the question of political interference has come up, let us stop the humbug. It is possible to interfere with the Australian Broadcasting Commission even without touching the commissioners. It depends for its functioning upon finance. Ultimately the Government has the final say as to what finance it will receive. All the Government has to do is to cut the finance and that is the end of the freedom of any organisation dependent upon finance provided by the Parliament. So let us stop the humbug. I am not saying that the Liberal-National Country Party Government necessarily is going to do this. People can make up their own minds by judging the Government's performance. I admit that a Labor Government could do exactly the same thing. Whether the previous Labor Government did it or not I shall leave it to people to judge.

We are prepared to take this proposal concerning the Broadcasting Council seriously. It is suggested that it will do all sorts of things; among others, really keep an eye on what sort of planning is done. So let us treat the proposal seriously; let us set up the Broadcasting Council as a proper body. That is the point of the exercise in moving the Opposition's amendment to this clause. The amendment specifies how the Council should be appointed. I do not want to go into the mechanical aspects of it but I want to deal with the composition of the Council that we are proposing. We have heard rumours- we still do not know for sure whether they are correctfirstly, that there was going to be this lovely Council which had no powers, as far as I could tell, other than to receive details of the Government's planning proposals. But there it stopped. The Minister's second reading speech gives no indication of what the Council would do with those plans. I shall leave it to the ordinary Australian to decide what the Council will be told to do with its comments on the plans. But no vehicle exists whereby the Council could indicate to the Government what it really thought. We are suggesting, firstly, that the Council should have reasonable functions, and secondly, we are defining how it ought to be set up. As I recall the Government's proposal, it was that there should be 2 members from the commercial broadcasters, 2 members from the Australian Broadcasting Commission, 2 members from the public broadcasters and 2 members from the Post and Telecommunications Department.


Mr Eric Robinson (MCPHERSON, QUEENSLAND) - There was to be one independent chairman.


Dr CASS - Yes, my apologies, there was to be an independent chairman also, who presumably was to be the sole representative of the consumers. Rumours also have flown that the Government has been responding to pressures from the commercial sector of broadcasting and that now there will be 4 members selected from the commercial sector, two from the ABC, one from the public broadcasters, one from the Department, and an independent chairman. Our proposal is for a chairman, one representative of commercial radio; one representative of commercial television, 2 representatives of the Australian Broadcasting Commission- balancing the national sector of broadcasting with the commercial sector- two representatives of the public broadcasting sector. In our view, from what the Government said it expects that sector to hold a significant proportion of representation, so we suggest 2 representatives of that sector to balance the others- one representative of the Australia Council; one representative of the Australian Film and Television School; one representative of the Postal and Telecommunications Department; and one representative of the Schools Commission. In our view, all the members should be part-time except the chairman, who should be full-time.

That at least establishes a council in which the industry does not have a majority. In our view the private sector of broadcasting should not have a majority. In any case, there ought to be substantial representation from people outside the industry- from the important section of the Australian community, the consumer, the people for whom the broadcasting service exists. Hospitals do not exist for the pleasure of doctors or nurses; they exist to treat patients. The banking system does not exist for the pleasure of the bank managers and the people who work in banks; it exists to provide a service to consumers. In like fashion, in our view the broadcasting system should exist for the purpose of providing a service to consumers. So, on a council which is supposed to advise and to communicate with the Government on what should be considered necessary for the service it seems not unreasonable to have a significant proportion of the representation from the consumers. That is our proposal.

As to the functions of the Broadcasting Council, in the Minister's second reading speechnothing in this legislation indicates what the Council will do- he referred to the fact that plans prepared from time to time in the Department would be referred to the Council for comment. Bully for the Council! What will it do with its comments? Shove them up its jumper? No indication has been given as to it being able to do anything else with its comments. There is no indication that the Government will take any notice of the Council's comments or even that the comments will be taken and read by the Government. The Minister simply said:

The Council will have the opportunity to debate and record their views on the planning issues involved.

Beautiful! I do not object to the Council's comments being recorded, but what is going to be done with them? There is no indication that the Department will take the slightest notice of them, or even that the comments will be put to the Department. Our suggestion is that not only should they be put to the Department but also the comments should be tabled in this Parliament so the whole community can know what they are. Our proposals for the functions of the Council, as contained in the amendment which I shall move, are as follows: suggest and consider planning proposals for the introduction, extension or development of broadcasting services;

Suggest' means that the Council would have a right to make suggestions; in other words, to make up its mind what it thinks should be done in terms of development of the broadcasting service. The proposal continues with the words consider planning proposals'.


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


Dr CASS -The Minister said: 'Yes, that is right', but the Government is not giving the Council that power. It should be honest with the community. The Government is simply saying that the Council will have the power to record its views on planning issues involved which are put to it by the Department. What about allowing the Council to originate some ideas without these proposals being offered to it by the Department? Our next suggestion is: overview the administration of standards as defined in codes of broadcasting practice set out by the industry;

We accept the proposal that the industry should be self-regulating, but let the consumers see whether the industry is living up to its own claimed ideals. We have heard so much from lots of special interest groups about the standards. I could reflect on a lot- the lawyers and doctors included. I suggest it is time that bodies with representation from the consumers had a say in assessing whether these groups are adhering to their self-proclaimed standards. Our next suggestion is as follows: receive and respond to complaints on the administration of standards;

Again, let not these complaints be buried in departments where one never knows what happens. Let a semi-public body like this Broadcasting Council, with representatives from the community as members, consider the complaints. Let justice not only be done, but also let it be seen to be done. At the moment complaints go into the administrative machinery and we all feel that they get lost. The next suggestion is as follows: liaise with the broadcasting industry, the public and other interested parties,

That is sensible and rational. Let us find out what the industry wants, what it feels would be worth while. Let it communicate via the Council with the community at large. Our final suggestion is as follows: assemble industry data relevant to its functions.

That is a clear and sensible proposal. Mr Deputy Chairman, I move:

Omit the clause, substitute the following clause: "15. After section 134 of the Principal Act the following sections are inserted:- 135. (1) For the purposes of this Act, there shall be a Council, to be known as the Broadcasting Council, which, subject to this Act, shall have and may exercise the rights, powers, authorities and functions conferred upon it by this Act and shall be charged with and perform the duties and obligations imposed upon it by this Act.

(2)   The Council shall be a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal and may acquire, hold and dispose of real and personal property and shall be capable of suing and being sued in its corporate name.

(3)   All courts, judges and persons acting judicially shall take judicial notice of the seal of the Council affixed to any document and shall presume that it was duly affixed.

(4)   The exercise of the rights, powers, authorities or functions, or the performance of the duties or obligations, of the Council shall not be affected by reason only of there being a vacancy in the office of a member. 136. ( 1 ) The Broadcasting Council shall consist of eleven members, who shall be appointed by the Governor-General, comprising:

(a)   a Chairman;

(b)   one representative of commercial radio;

(   c) one representative of commercial television;

(d)   two representatives of the Australian Broadcasting Commission;

(e)   two representatives of the public broadcasting sector;

(f)   one representative of the Australia Council;

(g)   one representative of the Australian Film and Television School;

(h)   one representative of the Department of Postal and Telecommunications, and

(i)   one representative from the Schools Commission.

(2)   All members of the Council shall be appointed as part-time members, except the Chairman, who shall be appointed as a full-time member. 137. The Council shall be empowered to:

(a)   suggest and consider planning proposals for the introduction, extension or development of broadcasting services;

(b)   overview the administration of standards as defined in codes of broadcasting practice set out by the industry;

(c)   receive and respond to complaints on the administration of standards;

(d)   liaise with the broadcasting industry, the public and other interested parties, and

(e)   assemble industry data relevant to its functions. 138. Terms and conditions of members of the Council shall be as prescribed.'.".







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