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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2852

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Shipping and Aviation Support) (6.27 p.m.) —I take this opportunity to speak to the whole amendment. I could move all these amendments together because they all relate to the one thing and clause 3 simply provides the new section that is necessary in the definition section of the legislation.

Senator Coulter —Mr Chairman, I rise upon a point of procedure. I wonder whether, in view of the hour and the several amendments circulating, it might be better to break for dinner now so that everybody can have a look at them. I agree with the Minister that they should be taken together.

The CHAIRMAN —At this stage the Chair is not quite sure what is going to be taken together, so Senator Coulter's suggestion is a good idea.

Sitting suspended from 6.28 to 8 p.m.

Senator COLLINS —Just before the Committee suspended for dinner we were about to deal with clause 3. The amendment to clause 3 is contingent on the major amendment being accepted. There was a discussion before the dinner break on this matter and I will be seeking some clarification from Senator Alston about it.

  Essentially, the Government is satisfied with the provisions that already exist in the legislation to provide for the Special Broadcasting Service board to set up its own arrangements for consultation. The Bill contains provisions for the Minister to do that if he is dissatisfied with the board's arrangements.

  Under the legislation, the consultative mechanisms for gauging community concerns are then established by the board. The Committee will find that the board is required under the Bill to describe these measures in the corporate plan of the SBS. Due to public interest in effective consultation, this element of the corporate plan will, under the legislation, be subject to alteration by the Minister if that is thought necessary. I must say that basically I think it would be an extraordinarily incompetent SBS board—which it is not—that would not be able to determine, with the kind of audience that it has to relate to—and which it relates to so successfully—what organisations it would consult.

  Personally, I have no doubt whatever that the board would exhaustively ensure that consultation was carried out, without a special committee having to be set up to advise it on the procedures it needs to use for consultation. It would be an extraordinarily incompetent board that would need that sort of assistance.

  However, if through the process that is outlined in clause 49(3) on page 18 of the Bill the Minister directs the board to vary the community consultative measures, the Minister may also direct the board to establish a community advisory council in accordance with such arrangements as are specified in the direction. I must say that I think that is a very appropriate way for expressing the concern of the Parliament that consultation is correctly carried out. At least in the first instance the board is given the opportunity to determine its own consultative mechanisms. But the Bill provides a fail-safe device that if, in the opinion of the Minister, the board does not do that adequately, he has the power to vary those measures and also direct the board, as a consequence, to establish a community advisory council if he is not satisfied with the directions. At least, on first blush, I think that is a fairly appropriate and reasonably staged approach to take with the board of SBS.

  For that reason, frankly, I do not see the need for either the Opposition's amendment or the Government's amendment. We would not have circulated our amendment if there had not been an indication that the Opposition was going to proceed with its amendment. Our amendment simply goes on to say that if one is going to set up this board pre-emptively—which the Bill does allow—and assume that it is not capable of doing certain things, it should be given some job to do. Rather than it meeting every three years—perhaps it would meet more than that but it would not need to—this amendment advises the board as to the processes it would need to use to actually consult. Having drawn particular attention to those parts of the Bill that already provide for this, I urge the Opposition to give some consideration to withdrawing its amendment. If that happens, the Government will withdraw its amendment.