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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) (Minister for Aircraft Production) . - In my opinion, it is correct to say that this bill represents a compromise between honorable senators on both sides of the chamber. The redeeming feature is that honorable senators opposite have seen fit to go part of the way towards the Labour party's policy. Obviously this measure does not represent that policy in toto.

Senator Allan MacDonald - It is not even a second-cousin to it.

Senator CAMERON - Honorable senators opposite have gone part of the way towards our policy because this bill provides for a greater measure of control over broadcasting than existed previously. I attribute that concession to the fact that the opponents of nationalization of broadcasting are being educated, not by a process of abstract reasoning, or study, but by self-revealed facts which are the outcome of practical experience. It is obvious, after listening to Senator Gibson, that as our opponents gain more and more experience they can see in a clearer light the value of the policy for which the Labour party stands. I think that it was an Italian philosopher who said, in about 1898, that there were times when we had to wait for- the hard school of disillusionment to educate where our reasonings had failed. So, gradually but inevitably, our uncompromising opponents on the other side of the chamber are beginning to realize the value of the policy for which Labour has stood for many years and stands to-day. I have no apology to make for this compromise. Frequently, when addressing public meetings, I have said that in time of war I should much rather compromise on minor issues with the enemy within than take the slightest risk with the enemy without. Lt is not the desire of this Government to make a major issue of what, for the time being, is a minor matter. We have compromised all along the line. We have compromised with respect to the reduction of wages, taxation, dilution of labour, and on many other issues in regard to which we should not have been prepared to grant concessions in times of peace. We have compromised because we realize that the war is the major issue. Senator Leckie has suggested that we have " turned dog" on our principles, but that is not correct. Our opponents asked for a compromise; they asked for the abolition nf party politics, but when we grant these requests they object. Obviously it is quite useless to endeavour to please them. Senator Foll referred to what he termed a free press. In fact, the press is not free in the absolute sense. It is free to its owners but to nobody else. It is only with the greatest reluctance that the privately owned newspapers allow their political opponents to present their case. Take the question of invalid and old-age pensions. I well remember the time when hardly a line appeared in the press in regard to invalid and old-age pensions, but now that public opinion has changed because of experience, argument and criticism, we find that the press, by force of necessity, allows space for the expression of views in regard to invalid and old-age pensions which previously were denied expression. I agree' that it would be better had the hill provided for the nationalization of our entire broadcasting system rather than allowing part of it to remain in the hands of capitalist monopolies. In my opinion, if broadcasting were completely nationalized, the views of minorities would have a better chance of being heard. Under existing conditions, there is far too much censorship, and I say that realizing fully that those individuals who are in charge have to pay some heed to that intangible and undefinable thing that we call public opinion or public feeling. If it is felt that a minority would strike a note which would antagonize the majority, then that minority has very little chance of being heard. If there has been any improvement in recent years, it is because of criticism directed against those who quite unjustifiably acted in the capacity of censors. It will be recalled that some time ago I had occasion to draw attention to the fact that drastic censorship had been applied to an address which was to have been delivered by Judge Foster. That gentleman held a responsible position in Victoria, and no doubt he prepared his address in the full light of his responsibility; but, to his amazement and disgust, when he submitted his manuscript to' the individuals in charge of the Australian Broadcasting Commission at the time, it was emasculated and blue-pencilled to such a degree that it had practically no meaning. If that policy be continued, and broadcasting matter is confined to expressions of the views and ideas of people who are acceptable to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, then, as the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) has said, there can be no raising of the cultural or intellectual level of the people. If the commission continues to censor broadcasts as it has done in the past, we can expect very little in the way of improvement. If it gives just reasonable consideration to the views of the minority, then I have no doubt that an improvement will be effected. It does not necessarily follow that if those who represent the .minority join issue with the majority, an unseemly harangue must develop. If reasonable care is taken in the choice of words it is quite possible to broadcast the sharpest difference of opinion without imputing motives, or indulging in undesirable expressions. One phase of broadcasting of which I am afraid is its tendency to encourage people not to endeavour to think for themselves. I seem to see, rightly or wrongly, a deterioration in the art of intelligent conversation and debate. Opinions are now often second-hand, whereas, before the advent of broadcasting, one could find people at almost every little gathering in any part of the country who were concerned more with expressing their own views than with expressing the views of others.

Senator Gibson - Especially on the Yarra Bank.

Senator CAMERON - Yes, and probably the honorable senator's education would have been considerably improved had he attended more meetings on the Yarra Bank. Some of the finest speakers and most intellectual men that I have ever met have spoken under the canopy of Hea ven on the banks of the Yarra and in the Domain in Sydney. Unfortunately, they are not appreciated by the kind of people who could be classified as the "educated ignorant" or the "literate illiterate". That is one of the effects of broadcasting. We are now fighting one of the bloodiest wars that the world has ever known. When werecall how broadcasting has been used in Germany to create a feeling of mass antagonism to the allied nations, we see that it can be an instrument for ill. Had it notbeen for the facilities for communication provided by wireless broadcasting, I venture to say that such a feeling could not have been aroused in Germany, or anywhere else. Therefore, an instrument such as broadcasting is what we make it; it can be used either for good or for ill.

SenatorFraser. - The same as a razor.

Senator CAMERON - Exactly ! You can use it to cut the other fellow's throat or you can shave your own chin with it. You take a risk both ways. That brings me to the point of my argument. It is beyond question that broadcasting can be a useful instrument. But everything depends on the way in which it is used. A policy or a scheme on paper may be the very best that the human mind can devise, but in the hands of ignorant, unscrupulous or ill-balanced men, it can easily become the worst policy or the worst scheme. That is why I emphasize the importance of management.

Now I come to the question of listeners' licences. I agree intoto with Senator Brown that wireless should be free; it should be installed in every house and no direct charge should be madefor the broadcasting service. That is exactly what will be done in the future. As an illustration, I point out that at one time we wore charged for the privilege of travelling on the roads. Every few miles, the traveller had to pay a toll, and that levy went towards the upkeep of the roads. At that time, members of the parties now represented by the Opposition said that they could not conceive of the day when roads could be used free of charge. They called that idea a dream of the Utopians, just as the Opposition now refers to the conception of a free wireless service. However, as time passed, and as the requirements of the people became such that they could no longer tolerate a system of that kind, the roads became free, so that the person without a penny in his pocket now has the same right of access to them as has the person whose pockets are overflowing with money. There we see how we have evolved from a restricted economy to a free economy with respect to roads. The cost of the national broadcasting service could come out of Consolidated Revenue. What would that mean? It would mean that those with the biggest incomes - those who draw the most, from the wealth created by the people - would pay the most towards the maintenance of our wireless service. That would be as it shouldbe. Why should a man on the basic wage - or as it was before the war, a man on the dole, because then the nation had no use for some men - be compelled to pay the same fee as gentlemen in the position of honorable senators and others who are even more favorably situated financially? The whole thing is preposterous. We should have free installation in the same way as we have free roads, free parks and free libraries. All of these institutions, which are free to the people and paid for indirectly, have evolved from the lessons of practical experience learned by people who could not bo taught in any other way. For these reasons, I say that Senator Brown has an excellent case in support of his advocacy of a free wireless service.

We should have free wireless, not just in schools with fewer than 50 pupils, but in all schools. This ignorant, narrow view of the economic position that is entertained .by most honorable senators is doing more to retard the progress of this country than anything else. I trust that when next a bill relating to broadcasting is brought forward, the government of the day will keep these facts in mind. Senator Brown referred to a free telephone service. That should be in the same category as a free wireless service. The people should have telephones paid for out of Consolidated Revenue, into which those who draw, most from the common fund pay the most, and those who draw the least pay the least. That is the only way in which we can finance instrumentalities such as this with justice to all people. Senator Gibson said that people who are poor and ignorant, tl rough a combination of circumstances in which they play a conspicuous, but not sufficiently conspicuous, part could all listen to wireless broadcasts through community loud-speakers. They should have ideal cottages, or flats with soundproof walls, with a wireless receiving set built into every wall and telephones and other modern conveniences. These homes have been paid for, not by the rich but by the working people, who build up a fund out of which the rich draw huge salaries and incomes. Senator Brown's vision is not Utopian, but I regret that the conditions that he envisages will not be brought into being merely by talking about them. However, I am optimistic enough to believe that one of the outcomes of this war will be a big move, not only in the direction of free wireless and telephone services, but also in the direction of free transport and other facilities. The war, as I have said in this chamber before, is acting as an accelerator on economic development. As the Leader of the .Senate has pointed out, it has taken one of the most tragic wars in the history of mankind to' bring people to a realization of -what they have to gain by collective effort instead of cut-throat competition, which impoverishes all but a few and causes duplication of services and enormous waste. The war is compelling people to close down on these things and to rationalize industry. This involvesthe organization of industry on a more efficient and more economical basis, and, in turn, the increased production of wealth by fewer men and women working under existing conditions. After the war, there will be no such thing a3 the restoration of the status quo ante - a return to the old conditions. The war will constitute a driving force which will bring into being the improvements to 'which 1 have referred. Positions will have to be found for the fighting men who are demobilized and the workers who are thrown out of work when -war-time industries are closed down. They must be given opportunities to earn a livelihood, and opportunities cannot be provided under conditions similar to those which existed in pre-war days. The Government in power at that time, 'whatever its political affiliation may be, will be compelled to make the improvements which I have mentioned. This will require a greater measure of nationalization of industry than exists to-day. We can never have nationalization true to name and at the same time increase our national debt. Take as an example the position of the Victorian Railways Department; it is similar to many other examples which I could mention. Twothirds of the department's revenue goes to pay the interest due to bondholders, and already the payments of interest are almost equal to twice the amount of capital expended on that railway system. The financial obligations of a government, or the authority in charge of the railways in this instance, determine its policy. Therefore, a government cannot give effect to a national policy which is true to name, and at the same time continue to pay out huge sums of revenue to private interests. This is another aspect of the problem, but it all has a bearing on the bill now before the Senate because the suggestion that we should nationalize the broadcasting system leads to the suggestion that there should be complete control by the people of an essential utility. There can never be complete control by the people of any essential utility whilst they are under the obligation to pay enormous sums of interest as they are to-day.

The best-paid writers, and those in whom I believe least, are those who write advertisements. We hear advertisements broadcast from the B class stations, extolling the merits of all kinds of articles which are known to be not true to name. The owners of the stations are not concerned as to whether the articles advertised are true to label, whether the price is reasonable, or whether the public would benefit from their use. All they are concerned about is how much they can get for advertising various concoctions, and the result is that many people are grossly misled. The credulity of the public or those members of it who suffer from various kinds of ailments, either real or imaginary, is capitalized. I can well conceive of a time when advertising will not be allowed unless it is proved to the satisfaction of those in charge of the stations that the commodity advertised is true to name and that the price is as it should be.

Senator Ashley - That matter is regulated in the bill.

Senator CAMERON - What appears on paper may be beyond question, but we should consider how the law is to be administered. If we have persons in charge who take everything for granted, all the good intentions of the Minister will be nullified. The fact is that, through the medium of the press and of broadcasting, the public is robbed. If broadcasting were nationalized it would be under greater control than it is under the present system. Then those in charge of the commercial stations would not depend on the revenue received from advertisements, but would be interested only in telling the people the truth. As 1 have said, the bill represents a compromise, and provides for improvement of the system that has been in operation in recent years. In view of that fact, the Government is to be commended for the introduction of the bill. It is not fair to say that the Ministry has departed from any principle that it has espoused in the past, because the implication is that it, would prefer a political upheaval to giving the necessary attention to the prosecution of the war.

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