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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Senator ARMSTRONG (New South Wales) .- -I am pleased to associate myself with all honorable senators who have spoken in support of this bill. I congratulate the Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley) upon his second-reading speech, and upon the bill now presented.

Ibelieve that the measure will stand as a monument to him and to this Government. It is indeed an achievement to consolidate in this way the multifarious regulations which, in the past, have proved the bugbear of all who were concerned with their administration. The measure also unifies the organization and control of broadcasting in this country. That is an important step forward. I also congratulate the chairman and members of the Joint Committee on Broadcasting on their investigations. This bill is based upon their recommendations. All of us realize the energy and time which they directed to their duties. We know that the committee travelled to the four corners of the Commonwealth in the course of its investigation. The committee finally made over 70 recommendations; and so sound was its investigation that the Government has adopted practically all of them. In passing, I might remark that the appointment of parliamentary committees to investigate various subjects of national importance of this kind, and the willingness of the Government to accept essential recommendations made by such committees, represent one of the most advanced steps this democracy has taken since federation.

The bill is all the more important in view of the rapid developments which have taken place in the field of broadcasting. All of us admit that broadcasting is an essential service, and under present conditions, it must be operated as smoothly as possible. To-day, 1,324,000 persons out of our population of 7,000,000 are licensed as listeners. They represent 80 per cent, of the homes of the Commonwealth. We now have 30 national stations and 99 commercial stations devoted to satisfying the broadcasting. appetite of our people. This progress is most striking when we realize that a few years ago broadcasting was practically unknown in this country. In view of this progress the Government is to be complimented upon the embodying in one comprehensive measure all that is at present needed in respect of broadcasting.

A very desirable feature of the bill is the provision that each broadcasting station shall set aside a portion of its time for the broadcast of Australian music; 2£ per cent, of the total time must now be allotted to Australian music. This improvement is long overdue. I know the problems that have faced many young Australian playwrights and music composers in the past in endeavouring to have their compositions published. Undoubtedly, Australian publishers look at the matter purely from the financial point of view. They have told these young Australians that they would simply be wasting money if they accepted Australian songs, because the market for Australian song-writers is practically non-existent. Consequently, our publishers have consistently refused to publish songs by Australian composers, even though such compositions may compare more than favorably with imported songs. Under this measure these young

Australians will be given an opportunity to test their talent. It will provide them with a wedge to prise open the door of opportunity. I have no doubt that it will help to place Australian music on a much higher plane than is the case at present. The need for such opportunity is emphasized particularly at this time of crisis when our people are looking for songs which will cementthe relationship between Australia and its American allies. I have complete confidence in the ability of Australians to produce such compositions. We know that great songs are born in times of national stress. For instance, the Marseillaise emerged from the French Revolution. As a musical composition it is not of a very high standard; but it struck the hour and the day, and it will live for ever. I sincerely hope that, in a similar way, an Australian song will emerge from the present crisis. This measure will give encouragement to young Australian composers to produce such a song, which so far we have searched for in vain.

Another welcome feature of the bill is that closer control is to be exercised over advertising matter broadcast by commercial stations. Unfortunately, this supervision has not been so strict as many of us would like to see it. In this respect I refer particularly to the advertising of patent medicines. I am informed on good authority that the revenue received by many B class stations from the advertising of patent medicines represents an extraordinarily high percentage of their total revenue. No doubt those stations will suffer considerable loss in this respect; but like most business people they will soon find ways and means of making up in other directions revenue lost to them in a particular field.

I also welcome the provision restricting advertising in relation to political election campaigns. This kind of advertising has been responsible for many abuses in the past. For instance, honorable senators on this side, and their party political colleagues, have experienced the utmost difficulty in obtaining time in which to broadcast on commercial stations. In addition, we have been handicapped by lack of funds to pay for such advertising. On the other hand, because of the funds readily available to our opponents the latter have been enabled to blanket the commercial stations, and thus prevent us from getting on the air. Perhaps, this was one reason for our success at the last general elections. Apparently, our political opponents overdid broadcasting in this way, and thus lost the sympathy of the public. Nothing did the Labour party more good in the last federal elections than the fact that when the wireless was switched on there came the announcement that some aspirant for parliamentary status would fill the air with his vowels and consonants to such a degree that only the brave would dare to keep the instrument switched on. What did us the most good was that we could not afford to buy the time of the broadcast stations.

Regarding the A.B.C. Weekly, I am pleased that the committee has recommended that it should be continued. I have always felt that a journal of that kind in the hands of the Government could be very valuable as a means of propaganda.

Senator McBride - That is at least frank. Now we know the reason for the continuance of the journal.

Senator ARMSTRONG - As Senator McBride objects to the word " propaganda ", may I say that the journal could be of wonderful value in preserving the morale of the people. We know that the morale of the people is seriously in need of a boost.

Senator McBride - I hope that it will not have to rely on the A.B.C. Weekly.

Senator ARMSTRONG - I have always felt that the journal could be improved. It has a ready-made public.

Senator McBride - The records to-day do not prove that.

Senator ARMSTRONG - The readymade public is there. I am not by any means saying that the journal has played its part in the past, because I am of opinion that it has been sadly lacking. The bill, however, will give it a new lease of life. Every radio listener wants to know what is on the air.

Senator McBride - He does not look at the A.B.C. Weekly to find out.

Senator ARMSTRONG - That is as much the fault of the honorable senator's party as of any one else. When he opens his mouth, he condemns himself. The previous Government was in charge of this journal for months and did nothing but receive complaints; the present Labour Government has done something. It has brought down a bill which will make the journal not only profitable to the Government, but also valuable to the community. I feel that when Senator McBride has the opportunity to look back in six months' time, he will find the words I am speaking in the Senate this afternoon will have come true. In those days we cannot overestimate the value of good propaganda and morale-building for the people. The A.B.C. Weekly can take its place as an educational influence. It can tell the people what they should know, and thus bring out the best in them.

Reading the daily newspapers from day to day is the worst possible cure for a had morale. One day, they raise the reader's morale to the skies by emphasizing successes here and successes there ; but the next day they take generals or the Commonwealth Government to task. There is no stability of purpose in what they do. It is no wonder that in some portions of the country, the morale of the people on some occasions has been low. I am glad that public morale has been improved in the last month or six weeks. The question is whether the newspapers are acting in the best interests of the community, or whether they are presenting news in such a way that the people are misled. The people do not know from week to week what position the country is in ; they do not know what to expect or what measures they should take in these days of comparative security to prepare for days of insecurity. With the A.B.G. Weekly given a new lease of life, it can educate the people and become a profitable journal of value to the Government as well as the people.

The bill co-ordinates all previous acts, including amendments and regulations, that have been promulgated to control the broadcasting industry. It sets them forth in a way that can easily be understood by the general public, and it solidifies the whole organization. It will be of value to the commission, which will know where it stands, and to the community, which will become aware of the foundation of the organization and of how it operates. In these days, when radio reveals itself as the greatest single avenue of propaganda, it is good for the community that the bill has been brought down. That is particularly true in .country districts, where previously news was slow to arrive, but where now, by the simple switching on of a wireless set, reports of international and internal news can be received without delay. Its rapid growth has shown that radio is important in the life of the community. We know that our A class stations have been far from perfect, and that B class commercial stations have been open to keen criticism; but I feel that the bill will now start the industry off on a brighter future because it will go forward well organized and well controlled in a way that will bring credit to the Government and will earn the undying thanks of the community at large.

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