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Thursday, 17 October 1974
Page: 1804

Senator MULVIHILL (NEW SOUTH WALES) -I ask the Minister for the Media whether the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has received legal opinion that there is no valid basis for the Board to determine Australian content regulations under the existing Broadcasting and Television Act. Are the proposed amendments to that Act designed, amongst other things, to protect the employment of Australians in this industry which has been built up considerably by this Government? Is it also a fact that the right of the Control Board to determine the times during which children's and family programs may be televised has been the subject of challenge by at least one commercial station? Is it also a fact that the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations has been pressing for some time to be allowed more advertising content? Further, does the Minister agree that it is a somewhat hollow criticism on the part of these commercial pirates to say that the proposed amendments to the Act are harsh, dictatorial and lead to a suppression of news and information?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) -As I said yesterday, I will be seeing representatives of the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations today. I had arranged last Sunday to see representatives of the Federation of Commercial Broadcasters also today but I was told late yesterday afternoon by a member of my staff that probably they will not be coming now. It is a fact that legal opinion has been tendered to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to the effect that there is great doubt about the Board's ability under the existing legislation to lay down rules and regulations concerning Australian content. That arose from a challenge by one of the commercial stations. It is also a fact that the

Board's right to determine the times when children's and family programs may be televised also has been subject to change.

Probably in recent weeks the honourable senator has seen reports that the Board requested the deletion of certain matter from a television episode being shown in family and children's viewing time. The station merely transferred the time slot for the particular program from 7 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. without deleting the material that was considered by the Board to be offensive. At the same time the station scored tremendous publicity and high ratings by advertising that the time slot was being changed. That publicity was added to by Press reports and radio advertising about the sensational type of drama appearing in the program. The Federation of Commercial Television Stations in its recent annual report has admitted that, since this Government came to office, for the first time since 1965 sets are being turned on again. It admits that there have been more new homes with television than at any other time since about 1958. It admits that it has had great co-operation from the acting profession and that it has been comparatively free from air time industrial disputes.

All these things have been achieved as a result of frank consultation and co-operation between the Government, the management and the unions. I am very much afraid that, as a result of the propaganda being peddled by the commercial licensees about the likely effect of these amendments, I am becoming quite cynical about their political bias and I fear that while they adopt this attitude the industrial harmony that has been built up in the industry in the last 20 months will not continue very much longer.

Senator Sir Magnus Cormack - With great reluctance I take a point of order. It is true that under the Standing Orders answers may be sought from Ministers on the basis of obtaining information but it is becoming clear that, because the temptation is always in front of any Minister of whatever political hue, some Ministers are using question time as a means not of giving information but of making statements. I suggest that question time should be restricted to the basic answers to particulars asked and that Ministers should seek permission of the Senate for leave to make a statement at the close of question time.

Senator Marriott - May I speak to the same point of order? I am glad that this matter has been raised. I know that the Standing Orders prohibit questions being asked of Ministers relating to matters that are on the notice paper. What has happened in the last 2 days is a dangerous incursion into question time. Honourable senators and Ministers are using question time to peddle publicity on matters of Government policy that are on the notice paper of another place. If question time is going to be taken up by Ministers getting free publicity and trying to hoodwink the public by their answers on questions that are on the notice paper in the other place we are going to ruin question time absolutely.

Senator MURPHY -I would like to speak to the point of order. I submit that there is nothing in the point taken by Senator Marriott. What happens in the other House is no concern of this House. On the point of order raised by Senator Sir Magnus Cormack let me say that we well remember that he in his distinguished period of office as President adhered to the tradition and precedent which had been established over the years that Ministers answered questions as they saw fit. I do not think it is a novelty that some Ministers might introduce a little bit of publicity when answering questions. Maybe it is a matter of degree and the sense of the Senate but there is really no substance in the point of order. Over the years if there were any order which prevented it, it has certainly been honoured in the breach rather than the observance. I would submit that there is no real point of order at all.

The PRESIDENT - One of the finest developments of our Westminster system of government and Parliament is the right to seek information by questions without notice and it should be preserved at all costs. A Minister replying to a question has a discretion. I ask that Ministers make their answers as succint as possible. I intend to preserve that right of senators to seek information.

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