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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Senator AMOUR (New South Wales) . - The chairman of the Joint Committee on Broadcasting (Senator Gibson) delivered a very comprehensive and eloquent address, and I compliment him upon the manner in which he has handled this complex subject. In his secondreading speech, the Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley) paid a tribute to the committee for the manner in which it had prepared its report. However, he said, among other things, that the committee had done nothing towards bringing about any radical change of broadcasting practices in Australia. I say that the bill itself provides for some radical changes in connexion with broadcasting. Nevertheless, I fa'il to understand why, after reading the committee's recommendations, the Government took the line of least resistance in regard to several phases of its investigations. The committee suggested the granting of free listeners' licences to schools, but the Government decided to grant free licences only to schools with fewer than 50 pupils. A paragraph on page77 of the report reads -

We have signed the above report and desire to state in amplification of our views that we believe that the whole of the broadcasting system should be nationalized. The platform of theLabour party to which we have subscribed contains a plank to this effect.

Senator Spicer - That was signed by only three members of the committee.

Senator AMOUR - Yes, but the committee was unanimous in stating on page 55 that -

At least two alternatives are open -

(1)   To nationalize the commercial system and place it under a commission (which might be the Australian Broadcasting Commission) or a director.

(2)   To provide machinery by which the commercial stations themselves would assist in guiding, controlling and developing the industry.

We are divided as to the advisability of nationalizing the commercial stations as in New Zealand.

That is a plank of the Labour party's platform.

Senator McBride - What edition is that?

Senator AMOUR - This is the platform, as amended at the Labour party's federal conference at Adelaide in July, 1936. It has not been amended since. The platform advocates the nationalization, among other things, of wireless transmission, including broadcasting. I cannot understand why the Government failed to give effect to this plank of its party's platform, particularly in view of the favorable recommendation made by members of the committee. If the Government will not nationalize broadcasting now that it has the opportunity to do so, I imagine that there is little hope of it nationalizing the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, as has been advocated by one Minister. The committee investigated the problem of nationalizing broadcasting very fully, and in order to gain information on the subject, it wrote to the Prime Minister of New Zealand. In his reply he made the following statements: -

So far as users of the broadcasting services are concerned, there is ample evidence of the satisfactory operation of both services. So far as the national service is concerned, since its operations were brought under direct government control in 1936, the number of registered licence-holders has increased from 183,830 to 366,079, while the last published accounts of the National Commercial Broadcasting Services show that for the year ended the 31st March, 1941, that service derived a revenue of £207,764 from sales of station time, &c., and made a net profit of £52,084. In the annual report of that service for the year, it is stated that the service found difficulty in finding placement in its schedules for all the business offering, and a considerable volume of very desirable business had to be deferred or rejected in order to avoid overcrowding the programmes with advertisements.

Previously the committee had been told in evidence that the New Zealand broadcasting system had been unpopular since it had been nationalized. However, that letter, which is dated the 16th February, 1942, indicates that letters came from all parts of New Zealand expressing appreciation of the improvements which the change had accomplished. Although the Government has not seen fit to nationalize the broadcasting system in the Commonwealth, I support the bill, and compliment the Postmaster-General on the Government's proposals to give effect to the recommendations of the committee. These contain a semblance of socialjustice, for, although the old-age pensioner will not receive a free listener's licence, he will be able to get a licence at half rates, and schools with fewer than 50 pupils will get a free licence.

When I became a member of the committee I confess that I did not know a great deal about wireless broadcasting, but as a result of the committee's investigations its members soon realized how vast are the ramifications of the broadcasting system. The committee had most valuable assistance from the DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs, Mr. McVey, and from his predecessor, Sir Harry Brown. The valuable information furnished by them should be appreciated by the people of Australia. Men. in the Postal Department like Messrs. McVey. Whitt, Martin and Malone have shown genius in regard to wireless broadcasting, and I do not know of any men or organization throughout the world who have done as good a job with regard to broadcasting services for the people of Australia as has the Postmaster-General's Department. I am hopeful that the loss of1s. of its share of the revenue from the listeners' licences will not mean that the department will be robbed of the sum of £66,000 which is required to enable it to continue its investigations with regard to radio developments. I trust that the Government will give to the department whatever money is required by it for this important scientific work, such as developments with regard to television, frequency modulation, and facsimile broadcasting. The fact that Australia could not counteract propaganda from Japan and Germany was not the fault of the Postal Department, but was due to the actions of past governments having failed to erect in Australia broadcasting stations capable of replying effectively to that propaganda. As Senator Gibson has said, overseas broadcasts should be picked up, recorded and then broadcast over the most popular wavelength. Following the representatives of the Postmaster-General's Department, evidence was taken from Mr. Cleary, the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, who has been villified by ill sections of the community. For years the press advocated his dismissal, but, at a nominal salary of £500 a year, lie has rendered service that has not been excelled by any other public servant. He saved this country thousands upon thousands of pounds, because he refused to be stampeded by those who made demands upon him. It. should be realized that Mr. Cleary has done good work for the Parliament and the people.

Senator Gibsonreferred to the A.B.C. Weekly, and said that Mr. Errol Knox had denied that any member of his association had written to the commission demanding the payment of advertising rates for the publication of its programmes. It was stated by Mr. Knox that the Sydney Morning Herald, which was outside his organization, might have done so. "When the committee began to prepare its report it received the original letters which had been sent to the commission from the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily News, the Sydney Sun, and the Sydney Daily Telegraph. The three last mentioned were members of the organization of newspaper proprietors, and they had claimed that they desired to be paid advertising rates for the publication of the wireless programmes. The commission estimated that it would cost between £70,000 and £90,000 a year for the publication of the programmes in the metropolitan newspapers and fifteen country newspapers. That would have meant that immediately the programme was printed every body in an outback country town would have demanded that the programme be printed in the local newspapers, and the cast would have been tremendous. The coinmission put the case before the then Postin aster-General (Mr. Cameron), and. it was decided to inaugurate the A.B.C. Weekly. Although that journal was established on a very poor basis it has now been stabilized. It is losing a certain sum of money annually, but it is not large compared with the amount thai would have been paid to the newspaper? of Australia for publishing the programmes.

Senator Foll - Neither can the circulations be compared.

Senator AMOUR - Had the commission been of a more permanent character, and been sure of a continuity of appointment, a better agreement might have been reached in regard to the printing and publication of the journal. The committee's report records that members of the committee made a general investigation of this matter. They visited various bookstalls and newsagents' shops. When they asked for the A.B.C. Weekly, the vendor produced it from under the counter, or from under copies of other periodicals. Whilst the newsvendors displayed many copies of the Wireless Weekly, they did not display copies of the A. B.C. Weekly. At one place in Victoria, a newsagent informed the members of the committee that he had been threatened by a newspaper company that if he sold the A.B.C. Weekly the company would not supply him with its ordinary daily newspaper. It is no wonder, therefore, that the A.B.C. Weekly was not given a fair run. However, I am very hopeful that it will come into its own in the near future, and will serve the purpose for which it was established. No one can dispute the fact that it is an excellent journal.

The committee recommends that the commission to control broadcasting consist of five members, one of whom shall be a woman. That is the basis on which the present commission is constituted. We believe that very many people in Australia are well qualified to undertake the duties of a member of the Broadcasting Commission. I sincerely hope that the Government will re-appoint Mr. Cleary as the chairman of the new commission. Senator Gibson, who was the chairman of the Joint Committee on Broadcasting which investigated the subject, has covered the matter very fully in his speech. Anything which I could say in respect of the committee's report would be but repetition of the honorable senator's observations. Therefore, I do not propose to deal with the report.

The bill now before the Senate will achieve many changes in respect of broadcasting generally in this country. The committee's recommendations have been acclaimed by the press as a whole, and by all sections of the community. I trust, therefore, that the measure will lie given a speedy passage to enable the Government to appoint the new commission in time to assume its duties on the 1st July next.

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