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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 746

Senator COATES (12.26 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the report.

I would like to briefly refer to the matters that have been raised in the report because I think it is important that the broadcasting arrangements be well and truly brought up to date considering that most of the general principles and determinations date back to the 1940s and 1950s. I would particularly like to emphasise the change that is proposed to allow more flexibility in the allocation of broadcasts between the two houses.

  Over the years, people have complained about the inflexibility of broadcasts. The House of Representatives was broadcast on Tuesday and Thursday and the Senate on Wednesday. That allocation was observed regardless of the importance of or public interest in a debate in the other house. I was a member of the committee some years ago when there was a change of day. It was early in the period of the Whitlam government when the then Attorney-General, Senator Lionel Murphy, was making a very important statement in the Senate on a day that would otherwise have been a House of Representatives broadcast day. The committee altered the allocation of broadcasts on that occasion to allow the change. I think 1973 was the last time when that happened.

  The committee has taken the view that there should be more flexibility in the allocation of days, and even within a day, to allow for a change of broadcast to the other house when an important matter is being dealt with. In that way we would not have the ridiculous situation of, for instance, the Senate being broadcast while the Prime Minister is on his feet in the other place announcing an election. Of course, it does not have to be as significant an event as that. If there was an assessment that for a particular period of a day the allocation should be swapped to the other chamber, the proposal that is recommended would permit that to happen. The overall concern is that, over time, there should be a more or less equal allocation between the two houses.

  As far as the standard allocation is concerned, it is proposed that the Senate be broadcast live on radio on Tuesday and Wednesday and the House of Representatives on Monday and Thursday. In the event of both houses sitting on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the proposal is that the House of Representatives would be broadcast on Friday and Sunday and the Senate on Saturday. Such a determination would obviate the annoyance that occurred when we did sit on a Saturday a few months ago and people were not able to access the broadcast from either house because of a previous determination.

  The other significant thing I would like to draw attention to is the proposal by the ABC to use the parliamentary broadcast network for news broadcasts at times when the service is not required for parliament. The committee has indicated that it does not oppose this proposal, with certain provisos. I support the ABC proposal and, depending on how the news is presented, I think it is a good use of the resource that is there.

  The committee draws attention to a suggestion, which I hope can be developed eventually to a proposal that can be adopted, to use the parliamentary broadcast network to rebroadcast at greater length—rather than just replaying question time, as happens at present—the proceedings of the chamber which was not broadcast live on a particular day . As we know, the rebroadcast of question time at present involves some editing. When there is an unanswered question or a point of order or when an answer to a question leads to a later personal explanation, those matters are edited out of the rebroadcast.

  If there were to be a substantial rebroadcast beginning with question time, and the suggestion is perhaps four hours or something like that, that would allow for a rebroadcast not only of question time but also of any personal explanations that arose from it. It would allow coverage of MPIs, urgency motions or significant ministerial statements that are made later in the afternoon. It would also obviate the need for the editing of the rebroadcast because balance would occur over such a substantial period. That proposal for further use of the network I think deserves to be worked into a more definite proposal.

  I certainly support the ABC using the rest of the time for its proposed round-the-clock news service. Even when rebroadcasts of a significant period of debate in the other house are happening, the ABC could interrupt that rebroadcast for five or 10 minutes every hour for a news broadcast, in recognition of the fact that, once the promotion of this network happens to a greater degree, people will look to it to catch up on the news. With those brief comments, I endorse the report of the committee and look forward to the Senate debating and, I hope, adopting the recommendations and the new, simplified and more up-to-date principles that are proposed by the committee.