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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator McCLELLAND (New South Wales) . - I agree with the submissions that have been put by Senator Wright. I expressed my views in my speech in the second reading debate last night, when I said that the manner in which this important legislation is hurriedly presented to this Parliament at the death of the sessional period is most unsatisfactory. I am pleased that Senator Wright has drawn the attention of the Minister and the relevant Department to this very provision, because I had intended during the course of the debate in Committee to do likewise. At this stage, on behalf of the Opposition I refer to clause 7, which reads in part -

Division 3 of Part IV. of the Principal Act is repealed and the following Division inserted in its stead: -


" (6.) In this section, ' the prescribed date ' means the seventeenth day of December, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four. and I move -

In sub-section (6.) of proposed section 92, leave out " seventeenth day of December, One thousand nine hundred and sixty-four", insert " eighth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and sixty ".

Before I address my remarks to the amendment-

Senator Anderson - Is the amendment circulated?

Senator McKenna - It is available.

Senator Anderson - I want the amendment to be available to honorable senators.

Senator McCLELLAND - While the amendment is being circulated, might I say, in addressing myself to the matter that I raised in my speech on the second reading of this Bill and to which Senator Wright has just adverted, that the Minister used as an excuse last night in regard to this matter that, in any event, a statement by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) was presented outside this Parliament on 17th December last and that this legislation was introduced in another chamber a week ago. Nonetheless, despite these matters, the members of the Committee have not been able to direct their complete attention to the complex nature of these provisions. Indeed, after the legislation had been introduced into another place, some five amendments were moved by the Postmaster-General, thereby indicating that, after he had introduced the legislation, he and his advisers had had a second look at thematter. Certainly, this is the type of bill to the consideration of which a day could well be devoted in Committee. I say in all fairness that the Postmaster-General obviously has tried to cover every conceivable situation that might arise. I ask the Minister for

Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson), who is in charge of the Bill in this chamber, why the Government has found it necessary completely to rewrite Division 3 of Part IV of the principal Act as set out in clause 7 of the Bill. The Minister said last night in reply to Senator Cohen that the acquisition of shares in United Telecasters Sydney Ltd. by the Ansett company, Austarama Television Pty. Ltd., was not responsible for the introduction of these amendments. If that is so, I should like the Minister to tell us who has been involved in a breach of the Government's policy. The PostmasterGeneral said in his second reading speech -

The 1960 amendments represented a sincere endeavour on the part of the Government to ensure that its policy in respect of the ownership and control df television stations would not be frustrated.

Being frank, he said - 1 must, however, be frank and say that our expectations in this regard have not been completely realised.

I now ask the Minister for Customs and Excise to be a little more frank than the Postmaster-General has been and to tell us the real facts by naming those who are considered to be the real culprits in this matter.

Last night Senator Webster said that the Ansett company misses out under this legislation because the company, as it exists at present, has not the facilities of a network with which to compete against the Packer, Murdoch, Fairfax and Williams networks. No doubt that is so at this stage. Certainly all the benefits that have been won by the newspaper magnates who control this monopoly will be retained under this legislation. In any event, Ansett's problems regarding networks can certainly be corrected by amendments to the regulations.

Senator Wright - In what respect is the honorable senator referring to the regulations? The provisions of the bill cover the regulation of programmes, do they not?

Senator MCCLELLAND - Yes. As the Minister has admitted, there has been a monopolisation of programmes in recent times and it has been brought about principally by the operation of networks.

Senator Wright - What is this monopolisation of programmes? A man buys a programme and he expects to control it.

Senator MCCLELLAND - Yes. These programmes are distributed throughout a network. They can be purchased at a cheaper price by reason of the fact that the cost of the purchase can be spread throughout all the stations operated by the network. If a man owns only one station, then he has to bear the whole cost of the programme. This is one matter in relation to which those who come into the industry in the future will be at a disadvantage in competing against those who at present control the industry.

Senator Hannan - Is not the price charged related to the viewing audiences, regardless of whether the material is being distributed throughout the network?

Senator MCCLELLAND - That may be so.

Senator Hannan - I am merely asking the question; I am not arguing.

Senator MCCLELLAND - That may be so, but the fact remains that the cost of a programme can be distributed throughout the whole of the network involved. However, I refer particularly to the amendment which I have moved and which is designed to make the provisions of the Bill retrospective. The Postmaster-General has taken action to close the loopholes that have existed in the 1960 legislation, but he has closed them only as from 17th December 1964. As I said at the second reading stage and as my colleague Senator Cohen pointed out last night, many companies and many people seem to have got away with a great number of things which, as the Minister rightly pointed out, although they were not in breach of the law, because it was bad law, certainly were in breach of the Government's policy. As I said, that has been admitted by the Minister and by his advisers - that is, the members of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board - in their reports.

We contend that the 1960 legislation was designed to curb practices that this Bill has been designed to curb and that therefore it should be made to operate retrospectively to rope in everybody who has operated in this important industry in the past and who will continue to operate in it or who will have acquired a licence after 17th December 1964 and have established a business for the first time in competition with the various networks. The Postmaster-General himself gave some consideration to retrospectivity, as he indicated in his second reading speech. He said that the provisions of the legislation were fairly complex and could best be dealt with at the Committee stage. He then went on to outline the broad import of those provisions and pointed out that he had come to the conclusion that there would be serious difficulties in certain cases in making them retrospective. This is a pertinent question to ask: With whom would those serious difficulties arise? Would they arise in the administration of the Act? Would they arise in relation to the members of the general public? Would they arise in relation to the monopoly controllers of this industry, for want of a better term? The Postmaster-General said in his second reading speech -

Apart from being required to divest themselves of interests held directly in licensee companies, the persons and companies involved would, in many instances, be required to divest themselves of shareholdings in companies other than licensee companies. The acquisition of these interests may have come about in the normal course of business and involve indirect interests in television companies which, although not significent in terms of the existing legislation, might well become significant under the new provisions. For this reason, as indicated in my statement of 17th December 1964, it is proposed that no shareholding arrangement existing as at that date will be invalidated by the new provisions or will constitute an offence against the Act as amended. However, if a person or company who has acquired excess interests prior to 17th December 1964 subsequently divests himself or itself of such interests, he or it will not thereafter be entitled to recapture those excess holdings, although he or it will be able to participate in any new issues of shares which may be made.

There seems to be some inconsistency there, because the Minister stated that, if a man had excess interests in a company prior to 1 7th December and has disposed of those interests, under the terms of this legislation he will not be entitled to recover them. But if by the holding of his shares in the company he obtains a new issue of shares which may be made in the future, he is entitled to take that issue.

The Opposition believes that this Bill is designed to curb undesirable activities that have occurred in the past, but we also believe that the undesirable activities in breach of Government policy that have occurred in the past should be caught up in a general roping in provision. Difficulties may be involved in the inclusion of such a pro vision, but as Senator Cohen suggested last evening - and I think Senator Webster also made the suggestion - a phasing out clause could well be included in the Bill.

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