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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2845

Senator COULTER (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (5.46 p.m.) —The Australian Democrats will be supporting the principal thrust of the Special Broadcasting Service Bill but will be moving an amendment, which I had hoped would have been circulated but which will be circulated shortly. The Bill seeks to corporatise SBS along the lines of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and to put it on a footing similar in every respect to the ABC, with the exception—and this is where we would differ very strongly from both the Government and the Opposition—that the Government is seeking to legislate to allow both sponsorship and the carriage of advertisements on the SBS channel.

  It does not seem to have dawned on the Opposition that if an organisation gets money from the Government to run—in this case—broadcasting, that money comes from the community by way of a tax. If the organisation seeks its funding alternatively from advertising revenue, that money still comes from the community. It comes from the community by way of a tax which essentially is the profits which are made on the sale of goods and services by the companies that run the advertising. It still comes from the total productivity of the community. It just comes by a different route. It costs the community exactly the same, whether it comes by way of a tax through government or by way of a tax on goods—in other words, the additional profits which are made on the goods and services which are advertised sufficient to pay for that advertising.

  The difference, of course, lies in the fact that if it comes by way of a tax through government sources the organisation remains free to carry out its charter in terms of best serving the ethnic community in a fully professional way which does not then impede professional judgment, nor does it distort in any way the sorts of programs which the carrier is able to carry. If, on the other hand, funding or part of the funding comes by way of commercial interests, then one sees the intrusion of those commercial interests into decisions as to what will be carried, what will not be carried or how much of what will be carried. For instance, SBS currently runs advertisements for Coca-Cola. Can one really imagine Coca-Cola sponsoring a program to do with the dental hygiene of children in the ethnic community? I find it extremely difficult to imagine that Coca-Cola would want to sponsor such a program or advertise in such a program.

  It is for these sorts of reasons that we are strongly opposed to the advertising or the sponsorship of programs on either the ABC or the SBS. We will be moving an amendment on those lines to delete clause 45 of the Bill, which deals with sponsorship and advertising. There are several other consequential amendments to clauses 56 and 72 which mention advertising and sponsorship.

  We see this also as to some extent the thin end of the wedge. If the SBS broadcasting system is allowed or encouraged to carry advertising and sponsorship, we feel that before very long there will be further pressure on the ABC to do the same sort of thing. Once having gone down that road even to a small extent, one simply is on the greasy pole which leads eventually to full commercial operation of both those organisations, with the quite disastrous consequences that Australia will be in even a worse position in respect of its media if it loses the two substantially independent sources of information which the Australian community now has—the one that is serving the community as a whole and the other that is serving specifically the ethnic community.

  The Opposition in the lower House moved several amendments. I am not sure whether the Opposition is proceeding with those amendments in this place.

Senator Alston —Yes.

Senator COULTER —Perhaps I will deal with those amendments during the committee stage. We will be supporting one of those amendments relating to the advisory committee that is proposed in the Bill; there is another amendment that we will not be supporting. In general, the Democrats will support the corporatisation aspects but we strongly oppose the carriage of advertising or the introduction of sponsorship into the SBS system.