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Wednesday, 23 October 1974
Page: 1909

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) --I support Senator Guilfoyle. I think that it is quite apparent from what she has said that not only is she conversant with this Bill, what the industry is concerned to achieve and indeed what the Tariff Board has said about the industry, but she is also concerned about the import of what this Bill seeks to give by way of authoritarian power to the Minister. I want to stress the scope of the power which a Minister is taking in this vitally important area. I wish to stress a few things which are contained in this clause to which attention has not been given. Clause 10(1) gives a power to the Commission or an authorised person to serve upon a foreign corporation or a trading corporation carrying on the business of exhibiting films in a theatre or theatres in Australia a requirement in writing. Let us consider the import of who may serve this requirement in writing. It is the Commission or an authorised person. Who is an authorised person? It is any member of the staff of the Commission. So this great corporate body could be established, and any member of the staff could tell any theatre or group of theatres in this country what films it is supposed to show during the period that it is showing short films.

Senator Steele Hall - If there is a covering regulation.

Senator GREENWOOD -Leave aside the regulation. We will come in due course to the facade which Senator Hall has tried to build up. Let me stress that the power that is given to the Commission enables orders to be given to theatres as to the films which they may show at certain times. It is not just the Commission but it is an authorised person, which means any member of the staff of the Commission, which has this power. What may this requirement show? This requirement shall specify a period and a theatre. It shall say that in that period a specified proportion of the short films that are being shown shall be Australian short films. Australian short films, of course, are any films with some Australian content, of up to 60 minutes duration. Likewise, it may specify that not only a proportion of the films shown shall be Australian films, but also they shall be shown for a specified period of the total period that Australian films are shown. That may be 10 per cent, 50 per cent or 99 per cent of the period. There is no regulation of the length of that period. Nor does Senator Steele Hall 's supposed safeguard state anything at all which would limit the period or the proportion of the period which the requirement may specify.

So the Commission takes unto itself an enormous power to decide what theatres shall show. I would concede- I think that Senator Guilfoyle demonstrated quite clearly- that if we could get some safeguards in that area a worthwhile objective could be achieved, because that is what the Tariff Board had suggested. But what are the safeguards? They are not the futile efforts which Senator Steele Hall has put forward, because his safeguards are full of holes. In the proposed amendments which were distributed before this debate the Opposition suggested 3 areas in which safeguards could be imposed. We wish that we could move them now. We have not moved them because at an earlier stage another amendment which gives to the Minister the power to decide which films may be made was rejected. That ministerial power over the whole film industry, which is to be supported by this Commission, will give to the Minister the power to use the Australian Film Commission as a weapon of propaganda which is the sort of power that no democratic country which believed in its liberal traditions ought to give to any government. Until that position is changed the Opposition believes that the Minister should have no power of control over the Commission to determine what films shall be made and then to say that the theatres in this country are to show those films. That is the area of the Opposition's objection.

Senator SteeleHall has made great play of the supposed safeguards in his amendment. I will concede that he is trying genuinely to improve the clause, but I wish to point out to him where the amendment does not provide the safeguard. It states that a requirement which may be offered by the Commission shall not be made unless there is in force a regulation declaring that those requirements shall not be made on or after a specified date or that it shall not be made before a specified date. It then goes on to say that the regulations may make provision- I emphasise the word 'may'- with respect to any matter in relation to the exercise of power to make requirements under this section. It states later that that power shall not be exercised otherwise than in accordance with any regulations. One does not have to make regulations as to what proportion of the films shown shall be the Commission's films or Australian short films. One does not have to make any regulations for the period of time that Australian short films or the Commission's films shall be shown. If one does not make regulations there is no obligation upon anybody to comply with regulations. With respect to Senator Steele Hall, for him to regard his amendment as a safeguard is to misunderstand the import of the regulation that is put forward.

There is a third reason that this clause has a power in it which warrants rejection. Sub-clause (6) is remarkable in its width. With respect to Senator Douglas McClelland, only a Labor Government could expect the Parliament to give effect to it. It states:

The Minister shall give such directions as he thinks necessary for the purpose of ensuring the observance, in the exercise of powers under this section, of the obligations of Australia under-

I invite honourable senators to listen to the next part-

The Code of Liberalisation of Current Invisable Operations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the Commission or an authorised person shall comply with those directions.

I have a copy of this curious document called the Code of Liberalisation of Current Invisable Operations' which was made in November 1967. 1 do not know how it came to be made, with what authority it was made and what part Australia played in its operation.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - Which Government was in office at the time?

Senator GREENWOOD -A Liberal Government was in office, but it never sought to use a document of this character to give power under an Act of Parliament to a Minister of this country to do what he thought was necessary under that Code to tell theatres in this country what they should exhibit. This power virtually requires films to be given subsidies. There are no levies or taxes which might discriminate against imported films. There are various quantitative regulations which must be observed. Something which I find very difficult to ascertain in terms of Australia's obligations under this Code is the clause which gives the Minister the power to interpret it as he pleases. If this Government in the last 18 or 20 months had not shown that it was prepared to use authoritarian powers to achieve any objective which it wanted, if it had not shown that it was prepared to use patronage and money to achieve desired objectives, one might have viewed the intent of this particular clause more charitably than one does at present. But I believe that this clause, in the way in which the Minister now has a power to determine what films shall be made, is part and parcel of a great scheme to make the Film Commission an instrument which the Minister can use for Government propaganda, and we will reject it.

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