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Thursday, 6 October 1983
Page: 1484


Mr DUFFY (Minister for Communications)(5.52) —In concluding the discussion of the estimates for the Department of Communications I wish to comment briefly on a few matters that honourable members have raised. I say, with some reservations in relation to the Opposition which I will deal with in a moment, that the contributions from the Government side and from the Opposition side were constructive. I thank honourable members for their contributions. I was a little concerned by the problems that the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) has had this week in not being able to persuade members of the Opposition to give him priority for a question which he wanted to direct to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). It is hardly a problem for this side of the chamber that he has been unable to get the call all week. One would have thought that if the matter were of such enormous significance to those opposite he could have arranged to ask the question. It is unfortunate that he had to take up time in this debate on a matter about which Opposition members were obviously not prepared to allow him to ask a question.

I wish to take up the comments of the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) who raised firstly the question of the industrial disputes in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Australia Post and the pilots dispute. He expressed concern that there had been no contact in respect of the ABC matter. He raised that matter at Question Time on 5 October. He, obviously, is able to get the call whereas the honourable member for Dundas has some difficulty. The honourable member for Murray asserted that no contact had been made with the ABC . As I indicated at Question Time yesterday, as far as I am aware the ABC has not contacted any Minister in this Government in relation to that matter. It is a matter for the ABC to deal with at this stage. That is the position. It is not , in my view, the role of the Government to interfere with the ABC in any way. Obviously, that is not the view of those opposite but it is certainly the view of the Government. There is a considerable difference with respect to Australia Post because Australia Post sought advice on the question of the payment of strike pay. The honourable member for Dundas indicated when he read a Press release to the Committee this afternoon that he supports the non-payment of strike pay by Australia Post.

The honourable member for Murray made a rather stupid point but nevertheless one that was interesting in a sense. He said that the Government may have become involved in the dispute with Australia Post because those involved in Australia Post, being members of the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union, may well have been supporters of the Australian Labor Party. He distinguished our involvement with Australia Post from our actions in respect of the pilots dispute. He said that considerable action was taken by the Government in relation to the pilots dispute and some very strong statements had been made. I think it ought to be pointed out that the fact that strike pay has not been paid has not pleased the members of the union involved in the dispute-the APTU. The decision taken by Australia Post is not likely to make any friends in this Government so far as that union is concerned. It is really quite ridiculous to suggest that we are treating one union in one way and another union in another. I can assure the honourable member for Dundas that the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) has been working assiduously on the Australia Post dispute. It is certainly hoped, for all the reasons that the honourable member for Dundas put forward, that it will be resolved at a very early date.

Matters concerning broadcasting were raised by various honourable members. I wish to take up a couple of the matters put forward by the honourable member for Murray, particularly the question of the funding of the ABC. The 1983-84 funding for the ABC represents an increase of 5.35 per cent, but if expenditure on the Commonwealth Games in 1982-83 is discounted the increase over last year is 7 per cent. As to the other matter raised by the honourable member for Murray in respect of the ABC I point out that other matters related to the ABC have involved considerable expenditure. The first of those is the proposed second regional radio network for the ABC. Secondly, there is the question of addressing the remote and underserved communities over a three-year plan with television services to 42 communities and radio services to twelve sites in for example southern New South Wales, north-western Tasmania and north-eastern Victoria. Also, an amount of $3.7m is to be provided to the ABC over four years for satellite conversion. The internal breakup of the amount allocated to the ABC is, of course, a matter for the ABC. I again point out that we on this side of the House respect the independence of the ABC. How it allocates its money is a matter for it.

The honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) raised the question of self-help programs. I think it should be said that since 1977 there has been a build-up of unprocessed broadcasting planning proposals within the Department of Communications. This is due in part to the introduction of major new services- public radio, FM broadcasting and the remote area television service. The other factor has been the limits imposed in recent years on staff resources. Those limitations were, in fact, imposed under the Fraser Government. In a pre- election policy announcement this Government stated that it would allocate $1m specifically to update the Broadcasting Planning and Operations Division of the Department. This amount has been agreed upon and it has been spread over two years. Six staff members will be added, and there will be expenditure on consultant fees and equipment within the allocation of that amount of money. Part of those resources will in fact be directed to the self help programs which were raised by the honourable member for O'Connor. Therefore, the Government, having been in office for six months, has carried out its commitment in relation to the planning backlog in the Department of Communications caused, as I have indicated before in this place, by the previous Government's miserable, penny pinching attitude of allocating resources to that Department over a long period, certainly since 1977.

The other matters which were raised by the honourable member for Murray and also by the honourable member for O'Connor related to Aussat Pty Ltd. I was somewhat surprised and, I must say, disturbed because the honourable member for Murray seems to be getting his advice from sources which are different from mine . He said that all people associated with Aussat are concerned that time is running out. It would be very interesting if at some stage he could substantiate that statement by showing that it has some authoritative backing or indicate whether it is a figment of his imagination. The fact of the matter is that the launch is on schedule for July and October 1985. I am at a total loss to understand what the honourable member for Murray means in relation to some claim that Aussat has said that in fact time is running out. In relation to the other matters raised, the remarks of the honourable member for O'Connor were dealt with fairly adequately by the honourable member for Deakin (Mr Saunderson) in relation to what could best be described as an Australian Telecommunications Employees Association bash. I will not go over the ground that was adequately covered by the honourable member for Deakin.

The appropriations for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Special Broadcasting Service, the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and the funds for capital works operation and maintenance paid to Telecom Australia to undertake the functions of the Department of Communications will be the basis of a good year in the area of communications. The decisions were eagerly sought today by those who were in office for a long while and who made decisions in the communications area which has suffered from seven years of permanent paralysis. I can assure those people that they will not have to wait very long for decisions to be made which will affect broadcasting in this country into the next century.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Progress reported.