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Tuesday, 17 November 1964

Senator BUTTFIELD (South Australia) . - I rise again to say a few words on this Bill, which I call a most unfortunate Bill. 1 have not been particularly impressed by the arguments against pressing this request that have been given by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson), except for the last one, which he passed over very rapidly. That was to the effect that we had repealed legislation and were now in a state of hiatus, and that no licence fee would be chargeable if we were to continue pressing the request.

I do not believe that definition is a difficulty at all. I think it is quite within the capacity of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to state clearly what is an Australian programme and what is Australian content. The fact that the Minister was able to read from the Board's report a statement that it was about to re-define, or was in the process of re-defining, the basis for calculating Australian content indicates that the Board is capable of doing this and would be able to do it. I see no difficulty in defining what is musical or artistic content.

As to administration, there may be some difficulties, but I do not think they are insurmountable. As I pointed out the other day, there is already a monitor who has to decide what is an advertisement filmed in Australia. If it is possible to have a monitor for one thing, it would be possible to have a monitor for another. Is not the making of decisions on matters of this kind what the licensees are doing all the time when they are making up their income tax returns or, in this case, the returns for assessing their licence fees? They present their figures and facts, which are examinable by the Commissioner of Taxation. After all, he has been given plenty of scope to make decisions in a Bill we passed last week. It would be quite possible for him to do the same thing in this connection. So I do not think that administration would be an impossibility.

What I am concerned about in the present assessment is that there is to be no allowance to a station for the cost of production of an expensive programme. When a programme is expensive it may mean that it has a better Australian content. That does not necessarily apply, but generally it is a better programme. For that reason the licence fee will be increased. This does not seem a sensible method of assessing a licence fee, and it is having a disastrous effect. I set out. to point that out, and I think I have achieved that purpose.

The fact that we are now in a state of hiatus leads me to say that I will not press for the request to be repeated. I regret that the Government has not been willing to accept this amendment. The effect of the present system - which I do not think was calculated before - is to make it much more difficult for Australian artists and Australian stations to give us the type of programme we are looking for and hoping for. The request we made was purely a gesture. It was token in its effect. For that reason, I think it is not necessary to repeat the request. I am satisfied with the assurance given by the Minister that he is going to consider this matter as a whole, so that he may come up with some worthwhile proposition in order to try to solve this difficult problem. I expect that to be done, and I will certainly be waiting for it with great expectation in the next session of the Parliament, after I am returned to the Senate.

I believe also it is a great pity that this huge impost has been put on the stations when they have had a great many difficulties imposed on them in the last few months. That is unfortunate. But since this is a budgetary measure, there is little we can do about it. I think it is most disturbing to the artists themselves to see the tendency of stations to dismiss some of their artistic personnel in order to cut down expenses. This is something we do not want to see. We know that we are likely to lose many of our artists who seek overseas experience, but we hope that they will return to Australia. We must see that there are plenty of opportunities for them to be employed here.

I hope that when the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) is ready to come up with his worthwhile proposition, to use the words of the Minister for Customs and Excise, he will consult with both the licensees of the stations and the artistic people - Actors Equity and all the people concerned. I hope that he will get them to say what they feel would be the best way to solve this problem, but I hope also that they will not endorse the suggestion put up by the Opposition for a Government controlled pool of money. I do not think that is a solution.

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