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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 687

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(4.03) —There is a continuing and growing concern throughout the national broadcasting industry, both in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and in the Special Broadcasting Service, that the Government may be contemplating wide changes, whether by legislation or otherwise, to the industry. Some three weeks ago I asked-I direct the attention of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt) who is in the chamber to this matter-this question of Senator Walsh who represents the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy): Is the Government contemplating any kind of legislation within the field of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Special Broadcasting Service? He said he would get me an early answer. Three weeks have gone by. There has been no answer. They are plain words. This is a simple matter. I invite the Minister to let us have that answer.

There is no doubt at all that there is a feeling that considerations have been given by the Government to some kind of new amalgamation in which the SBS would be absorbed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I know that there has been some consideration by the Government as to the working of the new broadcasting provisions of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Nothing that I say now should be taken as any indication that I want to interfere with the independence of the Corporation. Nevertheless, I believe that the Government has not done the fundamental things. It has not been able to institute a system of management which could be effective management of a commercial or business kind so that there could be adequate staff management, adequate staff promotions, talent could be promoted and initiative encouraged. I believe that there has not been the use of initiatives as used in the commercial area to employ by contract, to contract out. I believe that generally the overall structure of the Corporation is such that it has not been a total success.

I know that the Government has in fact reflected much of my concern. I know that discussions have taken place within the Government as to ways of rectifying the situation. My inquiry is: If that is so, in what direction? I do not believe that one should interfere in such a way as to destroy independence. I believe that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the SBS have fundamental roles to play. I have always acknowledged that. I would fight very hard for their independence. I do not think we have achieved it. In many ways what is happening at the moment is not a good thing. I do not comment on some of the innovations. They are matters of judgment and taste. It is a matter of judgment whether, for example, as I understand it, something like one quarter of their resources are used for this new news and news commentary. Frankly, I like my news straight and undiluted by comment but that, like kissing, goes by favour. Nevertheless, I want to say that it is vital to the very democracy of this country that what we do in future with our national broadcasting should be done so that it is both highly efficient and free, that it understands that the independence it has is not a licence to libertine actions but one to carry out comprehensive broadcasting. It is for that reason that I speak on this matter. I have invited the Minister to provide the information which I think is vital to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.