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Thursday, 15 November 1973

Senator HANNAN (Victoria) -The Opposition will not oppose this Bill, with perhaps one exception. I have indicated to my colleague Senator Laucke that I will oppose the motion for the second reading of this Bill. If the Senate does not divide on the motion for the second reading, I wish it to be recorded that I am opposing the Bill. This Government is using broadcasting as a milch cow, and there is a limit to the amount that can be drawn out of it. The amount of $ 120,000, which is the amount of revenue involved in this measure, is not likely to wreck the industry. Nobody suggests that for one minute. I do not think the amount is terribly significant. However, I do ask the Government to have a look at the figures produced in the latest report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. I do not have a copy of the report in front of me, as the Bill was called on a little unexpectedly; but I see that the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) has one. My recollection is that the number of broadcasting stations making a loss in the year ended June 1971 was only nine. However, last year's figures show- the Minister can check this-that there are now 19 stations losing money. If the number of stations losing money has doubled in 12 months, this seems to me to be a particularly inappropriate time to increase the licence fees for the stations.

Radio stations, like all other industries, are faced with rising costs- the cost of equipment, the cost of material, the cost of wages and the cost of the program material which they have to use. So, this impost really is more a symbolic one than a serious economic attack on the stations. I agree with my colleague Senator Laucke that that is in fact the case; but it is the principle to which I take some mild exception. For that reason I intend to vote against the motion for the second reading of the Bill. Where is this likely to stop? Very wisely the Government says: 'We do not intend to increase licence fees in respect of television stations'. Why? The answer is that television is faced with the cost of the introduction of colour, and everybody knows and everybody agrees that this must cause a substantial increase both in capital costs and in operating costs. So, television stations are exempted from this increase in licence fees.

But I ask the Minister for the Media- this is a matter in relation to which I have given him considerable credit previously- to recall bis interest in frequency modulation broadcasting. Possibly due to his own initiative, it looks as though the introduction of frequency modulation broadcasting may be speeded up. Although this is likely, one cannot be sure, because under the provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act the Government has to call for applications for licences, and so on and so forth. But it seems to me a fair probability that some of the people who will receive frequency modulation licences will be people who at present are operating the amplitude modulation stations to which these increased fees apply. So these stations will be faced with the increases in capital costs and operating costs brought about by the introduction of the more modern system of sound broadcasting, namely, frequency modulation broadcasting.

I do not want to go off on a red herring in relation to frequency modulation, but the Senate will appreciate that the Government, as a result of a report by the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts- I see that my friend Senator Milliner is in agreement with me on this- proposes to refer the question of the frequency band in which frequency modulation is to be introduced to a new independent investigator or inquiry. I commend the Minister for this and for the way in which he has listened to a proposal contrary to the one which was adopted by the previous Government and which he was proposing to adopt. I appreciate his flexibility in saying that this matter is worthy of a further examination. I do not know what the end result of it will be; but, whichever band is chosen- whether it be in the very high frequency band or in the ultra high frequency band- the end result will be that radio stations will be faced with increased costs. Those things being so and having a particular interest in these matters, I think that this is a bad time- it is a time of raging inflation, the effects of which the stations have to meet, in common with the rest of the community- to increase the licence fees of the radio stations. I intend to vote against the motion for the second reading of the Bill.

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