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Friday, 23 November 1979
Page: 2929

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Senator McLAREN (South Australia) - I wish to raise two matters in the first» reading debate on this money Bill. I would not have had to raise the «first» matter I want to talk about but for the actions of the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Carrick) earlier today when I spoke, I thought quite reasonably, to a motion he had moved. All I asked was whether he could give us a guarantee that we would get answers to questions prior to the Senate resuming on 19 February next year. Of course, as did the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) during the debate on the Appropriation Bills, he became quite vicious and referred again to an overseas trip I had had this year as though it were something that I should not have undertaken and as though I had negelected my parliamentary duties during the course of that overseas trip.

I was elected by the Parliament to go on that overseas trip. A Government senator, Senator Thomas, went as well. If there is any criticism to be levelled at anyone it should be levelled at us both and at the House of Representatives who were representing the Parliament at an InterParliamentary Union Conference at Caracas in South America. Of course, the implication was that I had neglected my duties as a member of parliament in not attending Senate Estimates committee hearings. Mr President, as you well know, if one is at one Senate Estimates committee hearing one is unable to attend another hearing if it is being held on the same day. A senator has the right to ask questions in this chamber about those estimates, even if he has been a member of the committee which examined them. I was unable to attend those committee hearings because of my absence overseas. It was not a holiday jaunt, as has been implied by Senator Webster and Senator Carrick.

I wish for the record to remind Senator Carrick of some of the places that I visited outside my obligations as a delegate to the IPU Conference. I visited several provinces in Canada on behalf of primary producers, because I am the secretary of the Parliamentary Labor Party Resources Committee. On my way to Caracus I took the opportunity to talk to farmers, farmers' organisations and government representatives in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In order that honourable senators who sit opposite will not in future try to denigrate any member of parliament who goes overseas on parliamentary duties, I just want to put it on the record that I had discussions with the senior marketing officer of International Marketing in Calgary. I also paid a visit to the Lambco Plant which is a division of AADA in Innisfail. I also went to the Alberta Hereford Test Centre and visited the Little Red Deer Hereford Ranch.

I had discussions with Lord and Lady Roderick Gordon, who are major importers and breeders of Murray Grey cattle. I am sure that if the late Senator Prowse were alive today he would be very pleased to hear that I visited this property. I had the pleasure while I was there to present to Lady Gordon a trophy which they had won with one of their champion bulls. Then I went to Western Breeders Ltd and had a look at that company's property. The next day I went on a lamb tour, visiting farms whose owners are importing sheep from both Australia and New Zealand. Then I went to the Highfield Stock Farms and had discussions. I then had further discussions with Mr Ben McEwen, the Assistant Deputy Minister of International Marketing, followed by further visits to farming properties.

After those couple of days in Alberta I then went to Saskatchewan and had lengthy discussions with officials of the Saskatchewan Land Bank Scheme. I visited many wheat farms in Saskatchewan. I just wished to point this out for the benefit of honourable senators opposite, some of whom, when they go overseas, probably do not take the time that is available to them to talk to farmers and to find out how the marketing arrangements are operating in other countries and also to look at properties and visit personally the people who run them. I took the opportunity to do that. I think it ill becomes people like Senator Webster and Senator Carrick to make such implications in this Parliament. I was most consistent in debating the issues in the Appropriation Bills and in seeking answers, and that is used as an excuse for saying that I am wasting the taxpayers' money.

Another matter has arisen which is of grave concern to all of my colleagues. Senator Carrick stands condemned for this. When Senator Carrick was asked to grant pairs to Senator Mulvihill and Senator Sibraa so that they could attend the funeral at 1.30 p.m. today of the late Mr Bill Colbourne, who was the former Federal President of the Australian Labor Party and was General Secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party for a very long time, those pairs were refused. This is hardly the sort of treatment one would expect from a person who for a very long period was the Secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party. That was a quite genuine request, as was my request for answers in relation to the Estimates. That is the way in which we are treated. Yet it is being said around the corridors that honourable senators on this side of the chamber were responsible for the very late sittings of the Senate this week. It is not our fault at all. We were given a program some months ago indicating that the Senate would sit until Friday of next week. The Government saw fit to try to cram all of that legislation into this week and to force to sit here for long hours not only the members of parliament, but also- these are the people for whom I have sympathy- the Hansard writers, who have had hardly any sleep all week, and the officials who serve this Parliament. They are walking around and some of them need to prop open their eyelids with matches to keep awake. That shows the responsibility of the people who sit opposite; it is because of the stupid actions that they have taken. I hope they have learned their lesson from the way that they have carried on.

I have another matter to raise and I hoped to speak on it during debate on another Bill, but because of the shortage of time and the amount of legislation that has yet to be crammed through this Parliament, I will raise it now, to save time. It is the matter of television for the west coast of South Australia. For a long time this has been a burning question for the people who live in that area. There have been many false and misleading statements made to them by honourable senators in this place which are cheap political propaganda. Mr Wallis, the Australian Labor Party member for Grey, has worked untiringly over the years to try to get television for the people who live on the west coast. I want to refer briefly to some of the things that have transpired. I am referring to Senator Jessop, who has a real flair for making Press releases which in many cases- as we were able to show during our search for television for Leigh Creek- prove to be unfounded. In the West Coast Sentinel of 23 August last year is to be found the following headline: '4- Year Wait for Bay TV?' The article states:

People on the West Coast are up in arms over a statement by the Prime Minister that it could possibly be four years before there is any proper TV service in the Streaky Bay area.

Why was that criticism made? The article continues:

Liberal Senator Don Jessop, when contacted in Canberra yesterday, said that he would not accept responsibility for the statement he made prior to last December's Federal election.

That was in 1977. It further states:

He said then that he had received a definite undertaking from the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (then Mr Robinson) that a satisfactory television service would be operating on Eyre Peninsula and the West Coast within the next 12 months.

This is a definite public undertaking and providing the present Government is returned, people on Eyre pensinsula will be able to enjoy a decent television service at long last', Senator Jessop said . . .

Senator Jessopsaid that his statement was exactly what he had been told by the Minister at the time.

Of course, he was a member of the Government who went over there and made this promise to the people, and when the Government dishonoured its pledge he then dissociated himself from remarks of the Minister. One can imagine what criticism would have come from the people who made these statements if the Labor Party had done that when it was in government. On the same day that newspaper ran an editorial, stating that it was a scandalous situation. On 3 October 1979 that newspaper ran the headline: "No Money" for E.P. Television'. An editorial in the same newspaper on 17 October, headed Accusations', refers to that headline. It states:

A fortnight ago the Sentinel published an article headed No money for E.P. television' on page 1. This headline referred to a statement made by the «First» Assistant Secretary in the Department of Post and Telecommunications, Mr Payne, in the House of representatives on September 26.

There is still a lot of pussyfooting about on this matter. The only news that Eyre Peninsula people want to hear is when they can turn on their TV sets and get a good picture.

All the mumbo jumbo of planning, financing, surveys, estimates, allocations, locations, promises, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, is getting old hat. It's time for some action.

That is what the people on Eyre Peninsula want- they want some action. On 13 June last year I wrote to Mr Bruce Gyngell and told him that I would be grateful if he could advise me when the residents of the west coast area could expect to be provided with a television service. It was my understanding that this service was promised within 12 months of the 1977 election campaign, and residents of the west coast areas were anxious to know if this promise would be fulfilled. I received a reply from Mr Payne, from the Postal and Telecommunications Department, Post Office Box 84, O'Connor, dated 2 August 1978. In part, he stated:

Planning for the provision of television services to the Eyre Peninsula/Spencer Gulf area is still being undertaken by this Department. The size of the project, involving a currently assessed cost of approximately S2m, together with a number of quite complex technical problems which have required solution, has made it necessary to schedule the commencement of this project in the 1979-80 financial year. Provided funds are available in 1979-80, it is expected the necessary work will carry through until mid- 1982.

While the timing of this project is not as originally anticipated -

I interpose here to say 'as promised '- you are assured that the provision of a television service for this area has not been overlooked and that work will proceed as quickly as possible within the present constraints on resources available to us.

Yesterday in the Senate, Senator Jessop asked a question of Senator Chaney, the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley). Senator Jessop was again trying to pass the buck to somebody else. We remember that he would not accept responsibility when a statement he made on behalf of the Government was not honoured. I refer to page 2756 of yesterday's Hansard. It records that Senator Jessop asked when the extension program for television on the Eyre Peninsula would commence. His question in part reads:

Is it a fact that this delay is due to the indecision of the engineering section of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal? In view of the undertaking by the Government that the program will be completed in three years, does the Minister agree that the residents of Eyre Peninsula, unable to receive a reliable television service, could be excused for thinking that the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal is incompetent?

There again, he is passing the buck to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. In reply, Senator Chaney stated in part:

My recollection of the information I had at that time -

He was talking about answering previous questions from Senator Jessop- is that there is no financial problem with respect to this matter. The finance is available.

I received a letter from Mr B. J. Connolly dated 4 July 1 978 in which he said to me in part:

As you may know, under the provisions of Section 1 1 lc of the Broadcasting and Television Act, 1942, which became effective from 1 January, 1977, the Minister for Post and Telecommunications has the responsibility for planning the development of Australian radio and television services. The Tribunal becomes involved in the licensing process after the Minister has invited applications.

So the Secretary of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal tells us that the Minister is responsible. Yet yesterday Senator Jessop accused the Tribunal of being responsible for the television service not being provided. I refer to an answer which is quite contrary to the one given by Senator Chaney yesterday. It was an answer given to a question by Mr Wallis in the House of Representatives Estimates Committee B on Wednesday, 26 September 1 979. As reported at page 1 1 1 of HansardMr Wallis said:

This is something I have discussed with you before, Mr Minister. I refer to the provision of new television services . . . You may remember that two years ago statements were made that Eyre Peninsula would have television in 12 months but to date that has not been forthcoming. You have indicated that a program will go ahead in that area and you have indicated where the stations are likely to be, but do you have any idea when those stations will come into operation?

In reply, Mr Staley said:

I understand it will take some years to implement fully this very extensive program on the Eyre Peninsula. I am advised it will cost well in excess of Sim. . . . I cannot advise on which locations will begin «first» .

The Minister turned to his adviser, Mr Payne, for some further advice. The Minister asked:

Do we have an indication as to when the «first transmissions might begin?

Mr Paynestated:

I am sorry to say to Mr Wallis that there is no money. A $5m capital program has been approved this year for the extension and upgrading of television services but there is no plan to spend money on the Eyre Peninsula area.

So there we have it, direct from the Minister's adviser during the Estimates hearings. Yet Senator Chaney, in answer to Senator Jessop yesterday, said that finance is available. Mr President, I ask you, who is misleading the Parliament? Who is giving us the correct advice, Mr Staley through his adviser in the House of Representatives Estimates Committee hearing or Senator Chaney in this chamber? I hope that the person giving the correct advice is Senator Chaney. If he is correct, we can expect, mainly through the efforts of Mr Wallis, the honourable member for Grey, that the people on Eyre Peninsula will see the commencement of work for the provision of a television service on Eyre Peninsula without delay. That is another of the matters to which I was referring when I asked what I thought was a civil question of the Leader of the Government in the Senate and received that very vindictive answer. I will not say any more about it at this stage but, in conjunction with Mr Wallis, I will be pursuing this matter during the parliamentary recess by way of correspondence.

I would like to say at this stage that Mr Wallis, the honourable member for Grey, has been congratulated by many councils on Eyre Peninsula- I have the Press copies here- for the magnificent effort he has put in on behalf of the residents of Eyre Peninsula in an endeavour to get television receptions for them. He has not indulged in any cheap political tricks. He has been honest in his endeavours. I hope that his genuine endeavours on behalf of the people who live on Eyre Peninsula will be successful, in view of the answer that Senator Chaney has given today. If Senator Chaney has heard what I have said I hope that before the Parliament rises he will be able to give us a unconditional guarantee that his answer was correct and that the answer given by Mr Payne, at the behest of the Minister, was incorrect.

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