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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- Section 51 of the original act reads:- (1.) The Minister may, from time to time, by notice in writing, prohibit the commission from broadcasting any matter, or matter of any class or character, specified in the notice, or may require the commission to refrain from broadcasting any such matter. (2.) The Minister may at any time revoke or vary any requirements made in pursuance of the last preceding sub-section.

The joint parliamentary committee considered that that provision ought to be amended, by the insertion of the words " Subject to this act " in order that the Minister might not be able to do anything contrary to the act, and that the commission might be safeguarded in some degree.

Mr Holt - What limitation is imposed on the prohibition by the words " subject to this act " ?

Mr CALWELL - It was considered that the Minister might tell the commission that it should not do something which had no connexion with the act. I cannot indicate where the restriction is actually imposed; but the spirit of the provision is, that the Minister shall not do anything by way of prohibition except subject to the act. The further amendment was made, that if any such notice were given orally, the Minister should forthwith confirm it in writing. We considered that it would be unfair if the Minister were to telephone the commission that it must not do a certain thing, and then refuse to confirm his notice in writing; because, if there were criticisms of the action later, it would be the word of the commission against that of the Minister as to who had been responsible for the prohibition. Should a Minister desire to give instructions, he should be bound to accept the responsibility of his decision. It might be that a Minister would not give an instruction without confirming it in writing. On the other hand, it might conceivably occur that a Minister would give such an instruction and subsequently, if difficulties arose on account of its observance, refuse to confirm what he had done. We considered that the commission was entitled to be protected against capricious action by the Minister.

Mr Holt - Does the honorable gentleman believe that there should be some classification of the matter or the class of' matter in respect of which the Minister may exercise his right? Is it not a most dangerous provision to place in the hands of a Minister?

Mr CALWELL - The general directive power should remain with the Minis,ter. Qualification would defeat the object of the provision. Provision can not be made in an act for all the possibilities and contingencies that may arise. Any attempt to do so would lead to the Minister being so limited that the provision would not be effective. The Parliament is entitled to protection against the capricious use of power by the commission. The Minister is the responsible agent of the Parliament, in seeing that the commission does not do what may be undesirable from a public point of view. But, having exercised his power, he should give the notice in writing.

Mr Blackburn - The Parliament should know.

Mr CALWELL -- There have been occasions when a. Minister has asked the commission not to do certain things, and the commission has subsequently asked for confirmation in writing. In _ one instance, confirmation was not given. Evidence of that was placed before us. Whilst the commission is entitled to protection, and much as I have faith in the probity and integrity of the present commissioners I can visualize the possibility of its being necessary for a Minister to act very quickly and peremptorily. It is germane to quote section 53 of the original act -

The Governor-Genera! may, whenever any emergency has arisen which, in his opinion, renders it desirable in the public interest bo to do, authorize the Minister to exercise during the emergency complete control over the matter to be broadcast from the national broadcasting stations . . .

Other powers are conferred upon the Minister in the same section. That provision has been repeated in this bill. J do not think that the powers of the Minister should be limited to a greater degree than is proposed, namely by authorizing him, subject to this act, to prohibit the commission from broadcasting any matter, or matter of any class or character, specified in the notice, or requiring it to refrain from broadcasting any such matter. That is a discretionary power which ought to repose in the Minister at any time. Should he abuse this power, Cabinet or the Parliament may take him to task subsequently.

Mr Blackburn - How will they know that he has abused his power?

Mr CALWELL - -He will have to confirm the notice in writing to the commission. There will be a standing committee, to which the commission may refer any matter at any time, including s matter of this sort. The commercial stations may similarly refer any matter at any time to the standing committee. Therefore, any abuse of power which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) may have in mind, will probably be found, in the light of experience, to occur no more frequently in the years ahead than it has occurred during the last ten years, in which thi3 provision has been in the original act.

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