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Wednesday, 22 August 1984
Page: 132

Senator REYNOLDS —Is the Minister Assisting the Minister for Communications aware that many Australians are starting to refer to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as the Sydney Broadcasting Corporation because of some proposed policy directions which disregard regional listeners and viewers in favour of Sydney-based priorities? In view of the 12 1/2 per cent Budget increase announced last night, will the Minister seek an assurance from the ABC Board and management that these increased resources will be spread equitably so that the many Australians who live beyond the Sydney metropolitan area will have their share of ABC funding? In particular can the Minister seek details of ABC policy in regard to its review of regional television news programming, its policy in regard to the future of the ABC FM service, which has only recently been transmitted to many regional areas and which apparently is under some sort of proposal for dismantling in favour of a Sydney-based service, and finally staffing and resource priorities for regional ABC offices?

Senator BUTTON —I have no detailed information, but I am aware of the sort of suggestions implicit in Senator Reynolds's question about fears of concentration of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation activities in Sydney. I recognise how such matters are seen, particularly in Queensland. The question conveys concern that the resources of the ABC, supplemented generously as they have been by the recent Budget, should be spread equitably across the Australian community. I was asked about particular ABC policy matters and some of these items have received a good deal of attention in the Press. Much of that attention has been devoted to speculation, rumours and discussion papers emanating from within the ABC. Much of that speculation does not deal with matters of fact or concluded policy by the ABC. I shall obtain a detailed answer from the Minister about regional television news, but in respect of newspaper reports on the future of the ABC FM service, particularly as it relates to listeners of classical music, no decision has been made. It has been discussed within the ABC. Further, no decision has been made to substitute for the classical music service say an under-30-years- age service based on the 2JJJ station in Sydney. I understand that again has been a matter of discussion within the ABC.

Senator Reynolds also asked about policy in the allocation of resources to regional broadcasting centres of the ABC, and I presume she had in mind Townsville. Again, no final policy has been determined on that question. It is important to make the general point that the ABC has been going through an admittedly difficult period of restructuring and reorganisation of senior staff.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —Re-writing the language as well.

Senator BUTTON —And also re-writing the language, as Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle complements my answer. In all those processes many of these policy issues which have been lying dormant for many years are undoubtedly being vigorously discussed and reported on in the newspapers. It is appropriate that they should be matters of public debate. Finally, they are matters to be determined by the ABC and not by the Government. I shall seek elucidation of some of the specific matters pursued by Senator Reynolds and try to provide her with a more detailed answer. I do not think it will be a conclusive answer at this stage because these matters have not been finally resolved.