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Letter sent to the Prime Minister, Postmaster General, Chairman and Board members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission



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PRESS RELEASE

THE SENATE

Senator The Hon. V. C. GAIR

Leader Democratic Labor Party Phones. Canberra, 705 Ext. 523 Brisbane, 310101 Ext. 436

23 April, 1969

The following letter has been sent today to the Prime Minister, Postmaster General, Chairman and Board members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Dear Sir,

I direct attention to the decision of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to grant privileges to certain candidates in the forthcoming Tasmanian State Election, which it denies to other candidates. This decision violates a principle of democracy that all candidates should be equal before the electors. It means

that Commonwealth facilities and finance are available to help some candidates at the expense of others. It is grossly unjust and undemocratic.

Apparently the Commission originally decided to refuse free time to two parties, the Centre Party and the D.L.P. It based this on previous rulings that a grant of free time would depend on polling a percentage of votes at a previous election and/or on representation in the Parliament. It is no secret that these rulings were made years ago to prevent the Communist Party getting free time. It is surely ridiculous when these rulings are used

to refuse free time to a National Party's State candidates when that Party polls about 600,000 votes in a National Election.

The D.Q.P. of course only 18 months ago in the Senate Election (the last where Tasmanians voted) polled well over the 5% in Tasmania required by the Commission's ruling. The Commission however will not accept this, Instead, it harks back five years

to the last Tasmanian State Election to find an excuse to refuse time to the D.L.P. This contrasts sharply with the manner in which the Commission bent over backwards to interpret circumstances which would enable it to reverse its decision on the Centre Party.

The Commission's attitude is particularly serious in Tasmania where elections are held every five years. This means that if a party fails to qualify at one State Election, it must seek to do so at the next, five years later. Then it waits another five years for the next Election.

Therefore, it will, under the Commission's ruling, be ten years before a party other than an established party can qualify for equal treatment on free time.

2.

It is surely time that the Commission developed a just and adult outlook on this issue such as operates in democracies elsewhere. The D.L.P. believes that a Government-sponsored instrumentality has no right to play favorites.

A proper ruling would be that the A.B.C. at all elections will grant equal free time - 30 minutes or 60 minutes -for the policy speeches of all parties contesting at least half the seats. If parties want more time, let them purchase it on commercial stations, as the compels the D.L.P. to do.

The A.B.C. has no hesitation in inviting Communists to speak. and participate in its commentaries and public questions sessions, where they seem to appear more often than D.L.P. representatives. It is surely foolish in the circumstances to •say that the present rulings on free time at elections prevent the Communists from gaining free time on the A.B.C.

Finally, as another instance of how the Commission's decisions are varied when pressures from major political sources are applied, I refer to the 1967 Nexus Referendum.- The Commission informed the D.L.P. that only one programme each evening from

each side would be permitted. The D.L.P. and the "No" team observed this ruling. The "Yes" team, backed by the Government and A.L.P., did not and the Commission allowed two and three "Yes" programmes a night on the last few evenings, when they could most

affect public opinion.

If the Commission claims the right to independence, it should administer even-handed justice.

Yours sincerely,

(V. C. Gair) Senator, The Honourable Parliamentary Leader Australian Democratic Labor Party