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Thursday, 8 October 1936

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - We do not agree with that.

Senator ARKINS - Nor do I. And 1 shall tell the Senate why. I have a friend who, for many years, has been interested in the entertainment of children. At one time he was an employee of the Education Department, and it was his practice to visit hospitals to entertain the sick children. In time he became known as " The Story-teller ". in this role he became quite well known and somewhat famous, for his skill in story-telling is rare. Recently he brought under my notice the nature of the entertainment given over Station 2.BL on each Sunday evening for the benefit of children. I can best tell his story in his own words -

One of the principal items broadcast each Sunday to children from Station 2BL is " Wattletown ". The principal characters in this item are Mulrooney, a policeman; Bobin, a hoy; his father; a Chinaman named Ah Lee; Mrs. Mulrooney.. and several minor characters. In almost every case, the policeman is ridiculed by the boy.

The policeman took action against a friend of Robin for stealing a pig. When the case comes for hearing, it is found that the solici tor for the defendant is deaf, the inference given is that lie is a fool into the bargain. This boy Robin takes the whole court proceedings into his hands, obtains a glorious victory, and ridicule is heaped on the policeman.

The boy is discovered by his father typing a letter. On being asked to whom he is writing, he informs his father lie is writing to the King about Mr. Mulrooney. The policeman has approached the council regarding the demolition of Murphy's shed, where his gang holds its meetings. The father suggests that a complaint to the King might mean that Mr. Mulrooney would be dismissed. Presently Mr. Mulrooney entered the room and remonstrated with the boy regarding his behaviour. The boy informed the policeman that he was writing to the King. Immediately the policeman backed down and begged the boy not to write about him.

This suggestion of disciplining the police by writing to representatives of the Government was again given some time later. The boy went to the sheep show in Sydney. Through the intervention of Mr. Lyons he is allowed to enter his dog Ginger in the sheepdog trials. After the other dogs had finished Ginger is brought in. He immediately grabbed a sheep and dragged it to the pen where it was guarded by two dogs, one of which belonged to the policeman. Ginger treated the other two dogs similarly. Then a great dog fight took place, causing great excitement among the spectators. The result was that Mr. Lyons gave a special prize of a guinea to Ginger and asked Robin to write to him. On his return, ho relates his experiences in Mulrooney's presence, and informs the policeman that he is writing to the Prime Minister all about Wattletown Mulrooney immediately bogged the boy not to mention him, and gave him two shillings for his football club, and told him to come round tlie next day, as Mrs. Mulrooney was making a big supply of cakes.

Right throughout this form of entertainment there is an obvious attempt to belittle the Police Force, which should be held in 'the greatest respect in a country like Australia. I say this because every honorable senator will recall the police riots which took place in Melbourne several years ago. The happenings there on that occasion showed only too clearly how thin is the veneer between respect for authority and revolutionary actions in a certain section of the community. I deprecate this form of entertainment from one of the national stations, especially on a Sunday evening. It is inappropriate that a brat of a boy should be depicted as holding a policeman up to ridicule. The effect of such an entertainment on the children must, I think, be pernicious.

Senator HARDY - To be logical, the honorable senator should take the same objection to the ridiculing of authority on the legitimate stage.

Senator ARKINS - Hy friend is wrong there. He forgets that an entertainment on the legitimate stage is offered to a limited audience; a broadcast entertainment is heard by an almost unlimited audience. The attention of the commission was drawn to this matter. The gentleman whom I have mentioned wrote to Mr. Cleary and protested against the nature of the broadcast. [Extension of time granted.] In his letter he said -

As a teacher I objected to any suggestions being made to children which would undermine our endeavours to make children respect policemen, and all the things for which they stand. I also took exception to tlie whole theme of the Sunday broadcast to children. I concluded my letter in somewhat these words, " One might be pardoned for expecting that national broadcast stations in a Christian community would respect Sunday and those things for which Sunday stands and make its broadcast to children in accord with the sacredness of the day."

Senator Brown - "Who wrote the letter?

Senator ARKINS - It was written by a man named Thompson, who for many years was connected with broadcasting, and with many charitable organizations whose object was to bring a little light and cheer into the lives of children in various hospitals of the State. He is well known in New South "Wales. Mr. Thompson's letter continued -

I received a nice letter from the general manager thanking me for my "constructive criticism " which I have found since is a stock phrase of the commission.

Since seeing you I have seen Mr. Moses, the general manager. He defended the broadcast because of its popularity. I could put across a very popular five minutes session each night if tlie police would let mc. So much for that defence.

That is perfectly true. It is because liberty unchecked leads to licence that I object to broadcasts of this nature. The commission continued with these broadcasts even when its attention had been drawn to them. "When the matter was brought before the manager his only reply was. " It is popular ". I am not criticizing Mr. Moses, for I believe that he is a good man for his job; but I submit that such programmes are not in keeping with the boast of the commission as to the quality and high moral tone of its programmes.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Does the honorable senator suggest that the commission indulges in back-scratching?

Senator ARKINS - Yes. That is probably one of the troubles associated with it. The commission has a duty to perform to the people of this country who provide the money for supplying programmes. In my opinion, the management of A class broadcasting has been poor from the very beginning. If ever a body of men had, as it were, the football at their feet and the whole playing area free to do as they like, the broadcasting commission was in that position. It had hundreds of thousands of pounds, and the services of some of the best artists in Australia at its disposal, but notwithstanding its wonderful advantages, it has failed in its job.

Senator BRowN - What would the honorable senator do if placed in charge of broadcasting ?

Senator ARKINS - It is not for me to say. Unfortunately, the Government appears to exercise no control over the commission. A comparison of the programmes broadcast by A class stations and B class stations is all in favour of the latter. That is probably because' the B class stations have to pay their way; they have not almost unlimited government money at their disposal.

Senator BrowN - Do not the B class stations send a lot of rubbish over the air?

Senator ARKINS - In the advertisements which they broadcast that may be so. I assume that Senator Brown favours the socialization of broadcasting; but I suggest that the programmes from the A class stations are not very conclusive evidence in support of that policy. If it were possible to record the number of listeners who " tune-in " to the different stations, it would probably be found that comparatively few listen regularly to A class programmes. Recently, there has been some criticism of the commission for having entered a field of entertainment in .which J. C- Williamson Limited had operated for a number of years. In spite of the attitude of the press and of many politicians, I am of the opinion that J. C. Williamson Limited, had ground for com-' plaint. I do not say that that company is 100 per cent, perfect; but, at least, it incurred considerable risk in bringing artists to Australia. I feel constrained to ask whether the artists brought here by the Australian Broadcasting Commission have repaid the commission for the expenses incurred. In view of the expenses involved in leasing the Sydney Town Hall, in providing supporting orchestras, and in advertising the performances of visiting artists, it is more than likely that the commission has made big losses in some instances. There are persistent statements that many people do not pay for admission to concerts arranged by the commission. There is a general belief that members of Parliament are admitted free to such concerts; but that is not correct. I, at least, have never received a free ticket, and I do not know of any other member of Parliament who has been given one. I should like to know what people are on the free list that is so freely spoken about. I do not agree with those who, while criticizing companies like J. 0- Williamson Limited, regard the Broadcasting Commission as something sacrosanct. I should like to see broadcasting taken away from the PostmasterGeneral's Department. Particularly do I urge that the public, which supplies the money, should be given some details of the expenditure of the commission. For Instance, they should know what it cost to bring to Australia Captain Adkins, of whom I complained earlier. They should know whether it is a fact, 03 rumoured, that new instruments for the Australian Broadcasting Commission band were acquired at a cost of some thousands of pounds. If a question is asked of the Postmaster-General, the reply is that the Government does not interfere with the management of the commission. In effect, the questioner is told, " The commission is there to manage broadcasting, and you are here to mind your own business." I should like to know whether the rumour that Sir Hamilton Harty was paid something like £S,000 for seven concerts is correct. If that be true, it may be that Dr. Malcolm Sargent, .who is now in Australia, will be similarly treated. Unfortunately, no one can get the facts. What is the reason for all this secrecy? If Sir Hamilton Harty's trip to Australia cost £10,000, 1 want to know why. Did Australian listeners receive value for tlie money expended? I have been told that Dr. Malcolm Sargent assumes a smug pose of intolerance towards these "ignorant Australians." There are many people who think that Australians have no appreciation of good music. Even the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) suggested that we should get another man from overseas. Are the musicians of Australia any less competent to deal with music thai are Australian politicians to deal with politics? But will any one suggest that we should get a man from overseas to be the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth? Whenever a man is wanted for a high position in the musical world there are people who would immediately rush across the sea to get him. Percy Grainger, who is among the first seven in the list of world pianists, is an Australian. Some time ago, after one of the Levisky concerts, a friend said to me, "What a wonderful performance: what marvellous interpretation ! We can never get such music from Australians. We must remember that hundred.0 of years of history, of trial and tribulation, have gone into the making of the soul of the man at the piano." I replied, "What nonsense! You have an inferiority complex; you think thai nothing good musically can como out of Australia." I then reminded him of the place occupied by Melba, and Peter Dawson, in the realm of music, and of the talent displayed by Norman Lindsay, whose drawings are probably unequalled.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - 'Some of Norman Lindsay's work is crude.

Senator ARKINS - These Australian? have behind them the same traditions at artists in the Old Country and other lands have. Not long ago a South Australian boy pianist, Phillip Hargreaves gave a rendition of some of the great masters that was equal to anything that the greatest musicians of other countires have ever contributed to music. I hope that the time is not far distant when Australian talent .will be recognized by the commission.

A friend of mine with an extensive knowledge of the Northern Territory, and possessing many original ideas concerning it, entered into an arrangement with Station 2BL, Sydney, to broadcast his views on a settlement scheme for Northern Australia, but before doing so, supplied the 2BL officials with the manuscript he proposed to use. Before the broadcast was to be made, he was astounded to learn that the document had been lost. It is easy for the officials of a broadcasting station to say that a document has been lost, and then to allow it to be used by some unauthorized person. The following letter was sent to Station 2BL, Sydney -

In confirmation of our conversation of this morning in reference to the broadcast of a lecture on the Settlement of the Northern Territory, and my request to cancel the arrangement for the 29th September. Owing to the obsolete nature of the equipment of 2BL and the utter stupidity of the regulations which govern the institution, I prefer to utilize the more flexible instruments and regulations of the private companies.

This man, who has had considerable experience in other countries and has broadcast in the United States of America, said that the equipment of the station mentioned is obsolete) and that the regulations under which it is governed are ridiculous. For instance, a person broadcasting must he seated, and the microphone must be at a fixed distance from the speaker. He entertained me for some time in pointing out the stupid conditions imposed. The letter continued -

You will readily understand my attitude when I mention that I have been closely associated with radio as a method of education all over the world, and that I personally assisted in the erection of the first aerial mast in Sydney in 1917 for Amalgamated Wireless. Whilst, I recognize that you are in no way responsible, might I suggest that the loss of a manuscript by a national institution would indicate a laxity in management that is regretted. I am in direct touch with Senator -McLachlan and will bring the subject of the rigid equipment and rigid regulations to his personal notice at the first opportunity.

Surely the Postmaster-General will admit that this man has a justifiable complaint when the matter which must have taken him many weeks to prepare was lost, and the officials could not explain its disappearance. He was. informed that it must have been left on the table and that someone must have thrown it into the waste paper basket. The manuscript, which was bulky and. was enclosed in an official envelope, could not have been mislaid. I do not wish to criticize the commission too harshly, but in view of the experience some of its members have had in controlling wireless transmission, a better service and more reasonable conditions should be demanded. Although certain honorable senators do not appear to be interested in the accusations I made concerning Captain Adkins I can only repeat that the commission should have exercised some control over him instead of allowing him to roam all over the Commonwealth insulting Australians at every opportunity. The leading Australian newspapers, which must have known what was going on, adopted a " hush " policy for reasons which have not yet been explained. Complaints concerning the administration of the commission are made from time to time, and as the revenue derived by the commission in the form of licence-fees is now approximately £800,000 annually, a thorough investigation should be made to ensure that those who provide the revenue get a fair return for their money. I know it will be said that Parliament has placed the control of broadcasting in the hands of the commission and that the Government is not responsible, but surely a minister should he able to answer questions which arise from day to day. I suggest that a royal commission be appointed to investigate every branch of wireless broadcasting, and to obtain sworn evidence from those who arc able to supply useful information. I am positive that if I had the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses I should be able to disclose an alarming condition of affairs. The Postmaster-General's Department is controlled by the highest paid public servant in Australia, who naturally desires to make the department more important, and in that way increase his authority and also his salary. I sincerely trust that something will be done to remove some of the grievances which I have perhaps inadequately presented, particularly to compensate those members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Military Band who were victimized because they refused to serve under

Adkins. Men such as Grieves are often dismissed because they possess greater ability than those under whom they serve. I could bring other facts under the notice of the Government, but I have been asked not to make them known because certain men would be victimized. The total amount paid by listeners should entitle them to be entertained by the best artists available and not only by those who please the members of the commission. It would appear that only those willing to knuckle down to the whims of this autocratic body have any opportunity to obtain engagements, while men who have the courage to stand up for their rights are penalized. It is the policy of the commission to give preference to " humbugs " from overseas rather than to Australian artists. I do not suggest that all imported artists are "humbugs" because many of them possess outstanding ability, and the entertainment theyprovide is appreciated by Australian listeners. I trust that the Government will be just to those who have been unfairly treated, and that if will seriously consider the appointment of an independent body to investigate the whole subject of wireless broadcasting so that the Australian people may eventually get the service to which they are entitled.

Sitting suspended from 6.15to 8 p.m.

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