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Wednesday, 28 October 1964

Senator COHEN (Victoria) .- I address myself to Divisions Nos. 835 and 838 which deal with the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the Australian Broadcasting Commission respectively. I direct attention to the lamentable failure on the part of the Government to do anything whatever about the report of the Senate's own Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television, lt is a very serious indictment of the Government that it is twelve months tomorrow since the Select Committee presented its report to the Senate in the dying hours of the last Parliament. The Senate Select Committee was an allparty committee set up on the motion of a Government senator. It had a majority of members from the Government side - four out of seven. The Committee sat and deliberated for almost a year, and then brought down a report which, apart from some reservations on the part of Senator Wright, who was a member of the Committee, were unanimous.

The Committee drew attention to the sad state of programming in the television industry. It had some important things to say about the standard of television programmes of both the Australian Broadcasting Commission and of commercial television stations. The Committee set out for the attention of the Senate and of the Government a very large number of recommendations relating to the quality of Australian programmes on television and to proper methods of increasing the Australian content of television programmes.

I do not want to canvass the whole of the work of the Committee in this debate on the Estimates, but I do suggest that the report has been treated with scant courtesy by the Government. The report has been debated in this chamber on a number of occasions. So far, eleven members of the Senate have spoken, including six of the seven members of the Select Committee. Unfortunately the chairman of the Committee, because of ill health, has been unable to take part in the discussion. Not one Minister has risen to indicate the attitude of the Government. I was told by the former leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Sir William Spooner, in answer to a question, that no Minister would speak until the Government had taken decisions about the report.

We have waited a year, and in my opinion it is just not good enough to treat the Senate with contempt, as the Government is doing in relation to this report. We have had other examples of pigeonholed reports. The Joint Committee on Constitutional Review made its report in 1959, but so far the Government has not said whether it agrees or disagrees with any part of the proposals contained in that report. Other committees have dealt with aspects of law reform involving the Bankruptcy Act, copyright, designs, restrictive trade practices, and so on. These are all matters about which we have waited a long time for indications of the attitude of the Government. They were not all the subject of special reports but are all matters that have been in the melting pot of policy formation for a long time.

The Senate set up its own Committee to investigate television programmes. It cannot be suggested that the Senate was coerced into setting up the Committee. The Committee was balanced and achieved a great deal of harmony in its deliberations. But we have yet to hear a solitary word from the Government as to what it intends to do. The position is such that bodies of citizens outside the Parliament believe that some kind of stimulus should be given to a discussion of the Committee's report which made a very wide impact on many sections of the community.

Recently I was informed by circular of the formation of a convening committee of a congress to support the implementation of the recommendations of the Senate Select Committee for the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television. The convening committee has a very wide membership. It has been formed by bodies of persons directly interested in the whole question of encouraging Australian programmes for television and it includes representatives of the Actors and Announcers Equity Association of Australia; the Australian Cinematographers Society; the Australian Council for Child Advancement; the Australian Film Producers Association; the Australian Radio, Television and Screen Writers Guild; the Australian Songwriters and Composers Association; the Australian Women's Charter; the Fellowship of Australian Writers, the Film Editors Guild of Australia; the Producers, Authors, Composers, Talent Co-operative Ltd.; the Producers and Directors Guild of Australia; the Professional Musicians Union of Australia; the Poetry Society of Australia; the Sydney Realist Writers; the Australian Society of Authors; the Theatrical and Amusement Employees Association, and the New South Wales Teachers Federation.

These bodies call for action by the Government to implement the recommendations of the Senate Committee. They say that the recommendations do suggest solutions to many of the unsatisfactory aspects of television programming and that therefore the findings of the Committee are of the greatest possible concern to all Australians.

The Australian Broadcasting Control Board, which came in for its fair share of criticism in the report of the Senate Select Committee - the Committee directed attention to a number of shortcomings on the part of the Board in the fulfilment of its statutory obligations - noted in its sixteenth annual report recently presented to the Parliament, the important fact of the Senate Select Committee's report. In paragraph 171, the Board said -

A notable occurrence during the year was the appointment by the Senate of a Select Committee to inquire into and report upon the encouragement of the production in Australia of films and programmes suitable for television. This Committee made a large number of recommendations, which are understood to be under consideration by the Government, and the debate in the Senate on the Committee's report had not been concluded at the time of writing this report.

Understandably enough the Australian Broadcasting Control Board apparently thought that it should not engage in any discussion on the Committee's recommendation while the matter was still being debated by the Senate. The Board does not say so explicitly, but one would suppose that is the reason why the Board has chosen not to enter into any elaborate discussion on the report of the Select Committee.

I ask the Minister to tell the Senate what is wrong, and to tell us why we have not yet been accorded the courtesy of an indication of the Government's attitude. In the recent Budget the Government increased the charge for a viewer's television licence. It also increased the fees payable by licensees of commercial television stations. I had the privilege of being a member of the Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television. The Committee recommended many practical ways in which Australian talent could bc encouraged. It set out a number of precise avenues of action which would involve, of course, the expenditure of public money. The Government has chosen to raise revenue from the telvision industry and from television viewers through measures included in its last Budget. Yet there is not a single indication in the Estimates relating to broadcasting and television services that one penny of the amount raised in this manner will be spent to implement any of the recommendations of the Select Committee. All the money collected will go into Consolidated Revenue. Surely if the Government is sincere in wanting to do something to raise the standard of Australian productions for television, some of the extra revenue obtained from licensees of commercial television stations and from television viewers should have been earmarked for implementation of specific parts of the Select Committee's recommendations.

All over the world there is a realisation that television is the great instrument for enlightenment of our time. It is a dangerous instrument if what is shown on the magic box does not amply and properly reflect the civilisation of which it forms a part. The

Select Committee drew attention to the preponderance of programmes depicting crimes and violence. Many of them are imported from the United States of America. The United States Senate recently reported, as was announced by the Australian Broadcasting Commission the other day, on the whole question of television programmes, through one of its special committees. The committee specifically emphasised the relationship between programmes containing scenes of horror, crime and violence, and juvenile delinquency.

A great deal of research is being done into this subject, some of it by officers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. The Select Committee had before it a great deal of evidence in relation to that question. It is an important question and cannot foe ignored by this Parliament. It is not being ignored toy responsible people outside the Parliament. My plea to the Minister is to give us an indication that there is a positive response by the Government not only as a matter of courtesy to the Senate, which set up the Committee, but also out of courtesy to all those who assisted the Select Committee in getting together a comprehensive report. We ought to be able to get from the Minister a definite indication in this respect. It is not fair and it is not right that so much effort and so much interest displayed by the more serious minded sections of the population should be allowed to drift away in the sands of time. One year has elapsed. Will another year and another year after that pass before we hear from the Government? Are we to have the same position with the Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television as we have had over the years with the Joint Committee on Consitutional Review? I hope that the Minister will heed my remarks. I would like to think that what I am saying is not merely the expression of a party viewpoint but would be endorsed by all Senators and certainly by all members of the Select Committee on both sides of the chamber.

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