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Tuesday, 26 May 1987
Page: 3294


Mr MILDREN —I direct my question to the Minister for Communications. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the comments on broadcasting licensing policy made by the honourable member for Deakin on the Sunday program? Will he explain to the House the Government's position on broadcasting licensing policy?


Mr Donald Cameron —On a point of order, Madam Speaker: The Standing Orders require Ministers to answer questions concerning matters for which they have responsibility. I suggest that any question asked about views expressed by an individual on this side of the House is not in accordance with the Standing Orders as they used to be practised.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! I find it in order for the Minister to answer the question.


Mr DUFFY —I thank the honourable member for Ballarat for his question. I have read a transcript of the rather confusing comments made by the honourable member for Deakin about broadcasting licensing policy--


Mr Beale —This is coming from Mr 43 per cent. You were rolled.


Mr DUFFY —The honourable member has interjected about audience reach, and has referred to me as `Mr 43 per cent'. That may have been the position at some stage in my career, but I have matured from that. If honourable members opposite ever get to 43 per cent, they will be delighted. The honourable member for Deakin seemed to be saying that the current broadcasting licence regime will be radically altered so that--


Mr Spender —On a point of order, Madam Speaker: The Minister cannot be asked a question about a matter outside his--


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will stop for a moment. The question was in order, and the Chair has ruled the question in order.


Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, I appreciate that you have ruled the question in order, and I am not canvassing that. I am saying that the Minister cannot be asked to comment upon what an honourable member has said outside the House. Those sorts of questions have been ruled out of order time and time again. We then come to the question of relevance, which is simply that if a Minister cannot be asked a question about or to comment on something that has been said outside this House, he cannot get in by the back door and say: `This is what he said; this is how I interpret his remarks'. I ask you to rule this interpretation out of order.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Chair has ruled that the Minister is in order. If the honourable member is challenging the Chair on that, he has every right to do so.


Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, the point that I was making related not to the question, but to the answer. The answer, in which the Minister is giving his interpretation of what the honour- able member for Deakin has said, is quite out of order.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Chair will hear the Minister. The honourable member for North Sydney will resume his seat.


Mr Hawke —Hopeless.


Mr Spender —Hopeless? You are hopeless.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! While the Minister has the call, the Chair would like to be able to hear the Minister. Under standing order 55, the interjections from both sides of the House are out of order.


Mr DUFFY —Thank you, Madam Speaker. This Government-I am commenting on government policy- supports the current system of broadcasting licensing which, until recently, had bipartisan support. It aims to confer new licences on the best applicants as judged by an expert independent body. This is not the first time that the question of an auction system has been raised. It is a matter which has been considered and rejected. One of the reasons for that is that basically we would move from looking at applicants on the basis of their ability to provide a service and would decide to go for just the richest-that is, this sort of policy is for the big end of town.

Opposition members interjecting-


Madam SPEAKER —Order! I suggest to those honourable members who are consistently bringing points of order before the Chair that they read their Standing Orders. Honourable members are totally out of order while they are interjecting. I call the Minister.


Mr DUFFY —Madam Speaker, I wonder whether there would be such forced humour from honourable members opposite if they were prepared at the moment to make these suggestions in the regional areas of Australia. The Government has recently released its policy on the expansion of frequency modulation radio into country areas and people out there are waiting eagerly for those hearings to start. In fact, there have already been four announcements for those applications. Of course many of those people have small and medium sized business interests and would be put in a position, if they went into an auction system, where they would not be able to apply for these licences. So we have seen a situation over the past few weeks where, first, we have off the top of the head a suggestion from those opposite that we call for a fourth licence in Melbourne and a fourth commercial licence in Sydney and then call for licences in other capital cities in a staged way. As I have already said, that indicates quite clearly that they do not understand the fundamentals of this industry and that in fact we have a situation where Australian production would be adversely affected. As I indicated previously, and as I will indicate again and again, it is difficult to know what those opposite have got against Australian producers and Australian actors--


Mr Hawke —They appear to hate them.


Mr DUFFY —As the Prime Minister interjects, they appear to hate them. More importantly in relation to regulation of the industry the same applies to children--


Mr Charles —They hate kids.


Mr DUFFY —As the honourable member for Isaacs interjects, they hate kids. I think they have now turned their guns on small business. As a matter of reality, so much for the Liberal Party's bleating about small business. I must admit that the proposal of licensing by auction is not inconsistent with many of the other ideas that have been recently espoused. It is not inconsistent with the view over there that more television should be given to the city areas while ignoring the rural people. There is only one thing that unifies this thought that they have that seems to go off in different directions every day, and that is the almighty market.


Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Minister was asked to comment about government policy in the area. He was not asked to comment about what might have come from other areas-from the Opposition or from anyone else. Therefore, he is clearly out of order and he should conclude his answer and sit down.


Madam SPEAKER —The Minister will bring his answer to a conclusion.


Mr DUFFY —Madam Speaker, the Government's attitude is that we reject what are not just radical free market ideas but absolutely lunatic ideas. They represent a fundamental hostility to the present broadcasting system that has operated very well in this country and that has in fact been a very acceptable broadcasting system from the point of view of the Australian television production industry, to which I return in relation to government policy.

The Government has been very concerned about breaking the two-station rule, about moving into an area where the medium sized players in the broadcasting industry in this country are able to expand and therefore to have a role in the production of television. These are things that are very important as far as this Government is concerned. I assure the honourable member for Ballarat that this Government will not go down the track of suddenly deciding that all that should be thrown overboard and that we ought to move into a situation where licences are auctioned. I have very grave difficulty in following what the policy of the Opposition--


Madam SPEAKER —The Minister will draw his answer to a conclusion. The Chair has advised the Minister to draw his answer to a conclusion.


Mr DUFFY —Thank you, Madam Speaker. I have very grave difficulty in following what the Opposition's policy is in this area of communications or, for that matter, any other area. I assure the honourable member for Ballarat and other members of this House that we on this side of the House are not about to tear up a policy in this area which has worked very well for many years.