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Wednesday, 28 October 1964

Senator BUTTFIELD (South Australia) . - I wish to address my remarks to Division No. 835 - Australian Broadcasting Control Board - and Division No. 838 - Australian Broadcasting Commission. I wish also to refer to the Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Pro ductions for Television, as did Senator Cohen. Whilst I believe that there is some value in a select committee of this type, since most of its members were lay people its main value lay in the broadening of their knowledge of the problems of people in the television industry. I think that there is a great deal more value in a committee such as the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review, to which Senator Cohen also referred. Its members were lawyers and experts in their field. The members of the Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television were not experts in the field of television. However, I should say that the Select Committee's report to the Parliament is of benefit because, as members of Parliament, we learn more about television from the report.

I believe (hat there is great danger in lay people trying to criticise, examine and generally pull down the morale of those who are doing their utmost to give the best service they possibly can through the television stations. I refer particularly to the commercial television stations. They are faced with a great many difficulties. Although they sincerely want to present programmes with the best Australian content possible, obviously it is uneconomic and impractical for them to give more in that respect than they are giving at present. I think that the commercial television stations intend to increase the Australian content of their programmes when it is possible to do so. The Government may be acting upon some of the recommendations of the Select Committee. I believe some of the recommendations tend to cause a reaction in the opposite direction from that intended. I am referring particularly to the Australian content of programmes.

Senator Ormonde - Then the Select Committee was wasting its time?

Senator BUTTFIELD - I think in many ways it probably was wasting its time. I think that there is danger in the recommendations that licence fees should be increased or that additional taxation should be imposed on successful television stations. A station which may have been building up its advertising would become liable for additional taxation in proportion to its increased advertising revenue. As a result it may have to cut down in some other way. Commercial television stations are in business to make profits and not to act as a charitable service to the community. They must make some form of profit. They are certainly not making excess profits, as a study of the Sixteenth Annual Report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board shows. In the last financial year, according to the report, 22 commercial television stations were operating. The total net profit made by those television stations was less than £3 million. It is ridiculous to expect the commercial television stations to pay a higher percentage of taxation to the Commonwealth out of their profits, just because they are being successful. I admit that 1 1 of the television stations did not make a profit; but that does not mean that the Commonwealth Government has any right to penalise the stations which are successful and are increasing their advertising revenue by making them pay higher rates of taxation.

The result of that policy is already apparent. The activity of the commercial television stations which must suffer is the expensive part of its production; that is the Australian content, in many cases. I know of at least one television station in South Australia with a very good orchestra and ballet company which were in the process of being trained. With growing experience the better they became. But now they have all been dismissed because the station did not feel that it should be asked to pay increased taxation on its advertising revenue, increased licence fees and lose at least one-third of its business because another commercial television station is to come into operation. Each of these factors penalised the station in one way or another. That seems most unreasonable to me.

Examining the Estimates I ask myself: For what are they being penalised? Perhaps it may be said that the commercial television stations should pay the expenses of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. I ask the Minister whether he believes that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board is entirely concerned with the activities of commercial television stations. In other words, is it the responsibility of the commercial television stations to keep the Board in operation? I do not see why some portion of the viewers' licence fees should not go towards the costs of the Board. Why should not. the viewers be expected to pay some part of the Board's costs, just as the commercial television sta tions are expected to contribute towards them? I would like to know whether the Board is concerned with national and commercial television. The Estimates show that the costs of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board are not excessive. For this year the amount to be appropriated for expenditure under the Broadcasting and Television Act for the Control Board is £381,000. When we see that licence fees from the commercial stations amount to £112,000, or nearly £113,000, admittedly it is not half of these costs. Nevertheless, I think it should be expected that a certain amount of the total expenditure should be covered by licence fees. A little further down we come to Division No. 843. Item 01 concerns the maintenance and operation of transmitting stations, and I presume that has nothing to do with the commercial broadcasting side. That must refer to national stations although, if I am wrong about that, I would be glad to be corrected. Item 02 concerns the provision of landline services for national stations. That has nothing to do with commercial stations. Item 03 concerns the issuing and recording of viewers' licences. The proposed expenditure is £230,000. But I would like to know how much revenue the Government receives from viewers' licences to balance against the cost of issuing them. Item 04 relates to inspections, observations and research. Perhaps a part of that item concerns commercial television stations, but it does not entirely concern them. The proposed vote for that item is £100,000.

In respect of Division No. 844 - Acquisition of Sites and Buildings, I would like to know how much of the sum of £52,000 could be directly attributed to the commercial broadcasting stations. In Division No. 845 - Rent, I presume that sum is attributable to the national stations. I would think that this might also be said of Division No. 846. I refer now to Division No. 848 - Buildings, Works, Fittings and Furniture. In respect of item 03, Australian Broadcasting Control Board, there is a sum of £1,000. I would think that of the amounts relating to the five items under Division No 848 which totals just over £1 million, only £1.000 could be attributed in any way to commercial broadcasting. In Division No. 849 - Repairs and Maintenance, item 03. Australian Broadcasting Control Board, there is a sum of £1,500.

I say that there is very little of the proposed expenditure for Broadcasting and Television Services which amounts to £22 million odd which can be attributed to commercial broadcasting stations. Therefore I think it is most unreasonable to press, through a select committee, that there should be added penalties on the stations which I believe are giving us the best services. I think I am not alone in that view because the ratings show that the majority of people like to watch the commercial stations in preference to the national stations.

Senator Ormonde - Do you believe in ratings?

Senator BUTTFIELD - Of course I believe in ratings. There is no other way of judging what people like. If the people prefer these stations then we have no right to penalise them.

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