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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1855

Mr O'NEIL(6.19 p.m.) —-I had intended speaking on the Special Broadcasting Service Bill very briefly because I am a great supporter of SBS and the services that it provides. I will come to that in my speech shortly. I am tremendously disappointed by the attack on the honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous) by the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock). It would be quite remiss of me not to say something about the honourable member for Calwell. Nobody in this place has a more compassionate and caring attitude for people from overseas than the honourable member for Calwell, who himself comes from overseas. As the Chairman of the Government's immigration and ethnic affairs committee, he does an absolutely sterling job. I cannot sit in this place and hear the outrageous attacks made by the doubtful honourable member for Dundas; I understand that his seat will be abolished and he might be the honourable member for North Sydney next time.

I think it is quite outrageous that attacks can be made on my honoured colleague. I have no brief for him, but I must say that he is absolutely superb in his representation of people from overseas. I think it is very important that I put those comments on the public record because I do admire him deeply for the work that he does in trying to assist migrants and disadvantaged people, particularly those from the less fortunate communities. I represent an area with 65 different nationalities, and he has spoken to those people first hand. I know how dedicated he is to improving the lot of people from overseas.

However, I want to talk about the Bill. We seem to have gone away from this Bill and the reason for it. This Bill provides SBS with a new charter and the full range of corporate powers appropriate to an independent public authority. The decision to develop the Bill was announced in the Government's national agenda for a multicultural Australia launched in July 1989. The agenda defines the Commonwealth Government's multicultural policies and the goals that underline them.

The national agenda for a multicultural Australia emphasises that the nation's cultural institutions, including the media, have a critical role to play in both mirroring and shaping Australians' image of themselves. Our institution needs to be responsive to Australia's diverse community in which four out of 10 Australians are immigrants or the children of immigrants, half of them from non-English speaking backgrounds. The Government regards the SBS as both a special service for Australians of non-English speaking background and as a genuinely multicultural broadcaster for the benefit of all Australians, regardless of their background.

The establishment of separate legislation for the SBS will secure the future of the SBS and will guarantee the multilingual and multicultural character of the broadcaster. I say that simply because for a long time in my electorate people have been crying out to get multicultural television--SBS. They really like it, and I agree with them. I believe that SBS runs the best news service in Australia. It is sad indeed that all Australians do not have the opportunity to see the SBS news service which, as I said, is absolutely excellent.

It is sad that the programs that are shown in the cities by SBS are denied to country viewers. I will be extremely delighted when, in 1992-93, SBS will become available in the Spencer Gulf region of my electorate. It will be a great day indeed and I certainly hope that either the Minister for Transport and Communications (Mr Beazley) or the honourable member for Calwell will have the opportunity to visit my electorate for the inaugural launch of that SBS service. As I said earlier, the honourable member for Calwell is held in extremely high esteem by all nationalities represented in my electorate.

This legislation defines the charter of the SBS and sets out its structure, powers and responsibilities. It removes from the Broadcasting Act the provisions relating to the establishment and management of the SBS. The principal effect of the legislation will be to establish the SBS as a statutory authority with similar powers and operational structures to the ABC, taking into account the statutory authority and government business enterprise reforms where appropriate.

The tremendous thing about this is that not only will the SBS services continue to be as good as they have been in the past, but also they will be able to be built upon. When SBS is available in my electorate, the standard will be lifted quite significantly. All of the national sporting and cultural events that people long to see from their own countries will be available on SBS--for instance, the World Soccer. Many people in my electorate love to see the soccer. Denying them the opportunity to watch World Soccer is akin to a tragedy in the family. The opportunity for them to view programs of that type will be a tremendous improvement. I am sure that this legislation will allow the SBS people to raise money to obtain better programs and better programming, and that can only be a plus for the SBS services.

The new legislation provides the Government, the SBS and the public with a clear statement of the SBS's intended role. It also establishes management advisory accountability and staffing structures appropriate to the functions of the new corporation. I believe this is very important indeed because people want to know where the SBS is going and where multiculturalism is heading in this country. It is indeed appropriate that people from overseas who have made significant contributions to our country still have the opportunity to keep in contact with their own families and the programs of a high standard produced in their former countries. It is also a tremendous opportunity for Australians who have not been overseas to experience the culture and lifestyle of people from other countries as they carry out their day-to-day dealings. It is a wonderful educational opportunity that will be provided by an expanded SBS. I believe that this is a tremendous piece of legislation. It is very positive, effective and constructive legislation.

I certainly am quite disappointed that the honourable member for Dundas has seen fit to pick so many holes in this legislation. I am one who believes that immigration, multiculturalism and ethnic affairs should be something that we should deal with in a bipartisan manner. I would never get into an argument with anybody about the colour of his skin, his origin or where he came from. It is quite disappointing indeed that this sort of thing creeps into the chamber.

Mr Ruddock —-Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. That is very unreasonable and I would hope that the honourable member would retract that, given my position on issues of race. I regard it as being grossly offensive to suggest that in this debate the issue of race has been raised in the comments I have made, and I ask for an immediate retraction. The comments are offensive to me and the remarks ought to be withdrawn immediately.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Dubois) —-Order! The Chair did not understand that those remarks were attributed to any member, least of all the honourable member for Dundas.

Mr Ruddock —-Mr Deputy Speaker, the remarks were made in a contribution to a debate in which I am the only person who has participated.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —-No. The Chair understands that the comments were made generally and did not relate to any member at all. There is no point of order.

Mr O'NEIL —-Mr Deputy Speaker, I accept your ruling. If the honourable member for Dundas is so sensitive of the fact that I called him a racist, there is something ludicrously wrong with him because that is not in my make up. If the honourable member thought that--

Mr Ruddock —-I do not know what you are doing now.

Mr O'NEIL —-The honourable member is the only one in this chamber who takes that interpretation on board. Nobody else does. I am sure that none of his colleagues in the House would either.

Mr Ruddock —-That is a specious comment and totally uncalled for.

Mr O'NEIL —-If the honourable member is going to take that on board, I am sorry for him.

Mr Ruddock —-I insist, and I must say that the Hansard record now discloses, that the honourable member has called me a racist. That is grossly offensive. It is something that should not happen in this chamber and it is something that should be withdrawn immediately. I am the only one who has put my career on the line to cross the floor in relation to matters of that sort and I will not have it said and I will not have my integrity impugned in that way.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —-The Chair did not hear the honourable member for Grey call, accuse or refer to any other member as a racist. The Chair can stand reminded if that did happen, but the Chair did not hear the member for Grey accuse the member for Dundas of being a racist.

Mr Ruddock —-The record can be checked.

Mr O'NEIL —-Because we are getting near time, can I say that there is no way that I would have been calling the member for Dundas a racist.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —-The Chair accepts that.

Mr Ruddock —-I accept that too. It was a misstatement.

Mr O'NEIL —-If the honourable member for Dundas believes that there was some interpretation by me that he is a racist, I would most certainly apologise, but I do not need to apologise because I did not put that interpretation on what I was saying. As a matter of fact, I am quite upset by the fact that the honourable member for Dundas would think that I would call him a racist, because that is not at all in my make up. I understand his Christian beliefs. There is no way that I would put any interpretation on the fact that he is a racist.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.