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Friday, 1 May 1942

Senator ASHLEY (New South Wales) (Postmaster-General and Minister for Information) . - inreply - I thank the Senate for the cordial reception given to this bill. I am sure that even honorable senators opposide will agree that such a reception was warranted in view of the fact that thic measure deals with a vitally important public utility which can be of great service to the nation if it is employed as it should be, namely, to give the greatest good to the greatest number of our people. I appreciate also the references which have been made to myself, but as 1 said in my second-reading speech, most of the credit for the basic principle underlying this measure is due to the Joint Committee on Broadcasting. Nobody can deny that the committee has done a wonderful job for th? people of this country. Its investigation? extended over a lengthy period and witnesses representing all shades of public opinion were examined. An open invitation was extended to all individuals who were interested in broadcasting to give evidence before the committee. Public notifications were always given of the date and place of the committee'* meetings.

I should like to join in the tribute* that have been paid to officers of my department for the assistance which the, have given in the preparation of this bill. I was glad to hear other honorable senators making complimentary remarks about these officials and I can assure them that their tributes were well merited. We have an excellent administrative staff. I regret that Senator Allan MacDonald saw fit this morning to comment on what he described as the smugness of Government supporters in regard to this bill. I thought that the honorable senator would have been the last person in this chamber to make such comments, because I am sure that he is just as interested as are other honorable senators on both sides of the chamber, in ensuring that our national broadcasting system shall give the best possible service to listeners.

Honorable senators opposite have requested that the bill be taken to the committee stage to-day, and that further consideration of it be postponed until honorable senators have had an opportunity during the week-end to examine the implications of certain clauses. As I said in my second-reading speech, I shall welcome any suggested improvements to the bill, and, for that reason, I intend to grant the Opposition's request.

I congratulate Senator Gibson upon bis splendid second-reading speech, and I express to him my appreciation of the assistance and guidance which he has given to me in the preparation of this measure. I have not been in office for very long and I do not claim to possess anything like the knowledge that Senator Gibson has in regard to broadcasting and postal matters generally. For that reason, I am extremely thankful for his interest. I agree with Senator Gibson that the technical services of broadcasting should remain under the control of the PostmasterGeneral's Department. The radio research work that has been carried out by that department has been invaluable, and I regret that, instead of being able to continue that work, these splendid technicians are now engaged on other activities, the aim of which, unfortunately, is destruction. However, that work is of vital importance to our war effort, and T often wonder if the people of Australia realize the importance of the work that is now being done. Many requests are received by my department for the installation of new private telephones, or for other minor services, and apparently few members of the public are aware that the men who formerly were engaged on the manufacture of telephone parts and other such work are now fully employed on war work such as radio location. I have no intention of interfering with that important work.

Senator Gibsonalso mentioned the balancesheets of commercial stations, and suggested that they should be completed by the 30th June of each year. I do not agree with that because T feel that it would interfere with the business administration of these stations. Some of them close their financial year in December and others in June, and I remind the honorable senator that the Taxation Department allows business concerns to end their financial year whenever they desire. However, that is a small matter, and no doubt it will he discussed by the proposed standing committee.

Reference was also made by Senator Gibson to the proposed State advisory committees. As the commercial stations are also covered by this measure, the advisory committees will he called upon, to deal with them in addition to the national stations.

Senator Allan MacDonald - When will they be appointed?

Senator ASHLEY - Immediately after this measure becomes operative. They will be able to help the Government in dealing with matters such as obscene advertisements and general complaints. It would not be easy, nor would it be competent, for me or for departmental officers to exercise the same degree of supervision as will be vested in these committees. For some time past committees attached to the Australian Broadcasting Commission have been operating in the different States to deal with subjects such as broadcast talks and plays. It is not the intention of the Government to interfere in any way with these bodies. The advisory committees are to be appointed by the Minister because committees appointed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission would probably not be acceptable to the commercial stations. I agree that it would be most unsatisfactory for them if such committees were to make recommendations to the Government in regard to commercial broadcasting.

Senator Amouradvocated the granting of free listeners' licences to schools. I investigated this subject with departmental officers, and we decided that it would be fair to grant free licences to schools having fewer than 50 pupils. Our chief purpose was to provide wireless facilities for schools in the out-back portions of the Commonwealth. There are many one-teacher schools in country districts with only a few pupils, whereas larger schools have better opportunities to secure sets. That is why this provision was included in the bill. Some doubt was also expressed by Senator Amour as to the result of transferring from the Postal Department to the Australian Broadcasting Commission an amount of ls. from each listener's licence fee. This change will involve approximately ?66,000 annually, and the honorable senator feared that the reduction of the Postal Department's income from licence-fees would restrict the technical work of the department. However, I have made inquiries and have been assured that the change will not impede in any way the research work carried out by the department.

Senator A.J. McLachlan referred to the right to broadcast descriptions of sports meetings held within enclosures. The Government has given consideration ro this problem, which involves many complications which are well known to ihe honorable senator. We have not neglected the matter by any means. Although the commercial stations have obtained a decision in their favour from the courts. I regard the matter in the same light as does the honorable senator. Those persons who provide such an entertainment, whether it bc a race meeting or a cricket match, have to pay for the use of an enclosure, and it is not fair that any broadcasting station should have the right to erect a microphone on the outside of the fence and broadcast descriptions of the events free of charge. For the time being, at any rate, I shall consider any objections that may be raised by sports meeting promoters to broadcasts of such a nature.

Much discussion has centred on the A.B.C. Weekly.Senator Gibson yesterday gave us the history of the journal. At no time has it had any degree of stability.

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