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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2861

Senator COULTER (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (8.53 p.m.) —As I indicated in my remarks in the second reading debate, the Australian Democrats are unhappy with the imposition—I use the word advisedly—on SBS of the carriage of advertisements and the use of sponsorship as a way of funding at least part of the SBS program. Therefore, we are moving the amendment to delete clause 45. As with those earlier amendments, a couple of consequential amendments flow from that, and they are amendments 2 and 3 on the sheet which has been circulated.

  Very briefly, the arguments that we would use would be that the carriage of advertising by SBS does not reduce the total cost of running the SBS. It still comes somewhere from the community. On the one hand, it comes by way of tax revenue through Government; on the other hand, it comes by way of an additional price on the goods and services which people buy and which then goes to fund that portion of the SBS which is paid for out of advertising.

  We would suggest that, as we have seen in the past, although the Government has denied that there will be any cut in funds as a consequence of the acquisition of some funding from advertising, in a number of instances those undertakings have been given and not kept. Of course, student fees was one classic case and there are numerous others. We believe that it would not be too long before SBS would be going cap in hand to government and would be told, `You got X million dollars from your advertising; therefore, you will not get more than so much' or `You will be required to raise more money from advertising', and SBS would then simply be going down that slippery road towards a full commercial operation.

  It is also important to recognise that SBS caters to numerous niche markets. Senator Collins indicated earlier that although he lives in an ethnic community, unlike the 40 per cent of Australians born outside Australia or whose parents were born outside Australia, he is one of the original Australians and yet he does not have access to SBS. He would recognise that it is indeed quite a small niche market and that once money is acquired from advertising there will be considerable pressure to appeal to wider markets, because it is wider markets of course that interest the advertisers. It is difficult to imagine an advertiser coming forward with too many tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise to the Aboriginal people to the north of Darwin. So the imposition of advertising will impose another source of pressure on the SBS.

  Finally, of course, the use of advertising as a source of revenue will, I believe, inevitably distort the selection of material which will be shown on SBS and, try as SBS might, it will be very difficult to avoid those commercial pressures. We need to recognise that any commercial company is interested finally and ultimately in its bottom line—its profits. It is not fundamentally interested in the serving of the public good and, consequently, when there is a conflict between profits and the public good the public good will be sacrificed in the interests of those profits. Consequently, pressure would be brought to bear on SBS, or, if this is the thin end of the wedge, eventually on the ABC to run certain programs in contradistinction to other programs, and that would again lead to the SBS not serving the interests of those for whom it was created. Accordingly, we oppose totally clause 45.