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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr SPOONER (Robertson) (2:17 AM) . - As one who was not a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Broadcasting I greet, with pleasure the proposal to appoint- a standing committee to review certain aspects of broadcasting from time to time. I believe that it is a contribution towards the solution of a very difficult problem of public administration which has confronted parliaments in the British Empire and the United States of America in recent years. It has been necessary for parliaments to decide what authority should be given to such bodies as the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In order to provide an authority free from political interference, we have established a commission which is autonomous and which can bc completely divorced from public thought and parliamentary control, unless the Parliament decides to amend the legislation, which is not an easy matter and may create misunderstanding. This state of affairs has caused a great deal of resentment amongst the people. The public generally dislikes boards and commissions, because of the autonomy which must be vested in such bodies. Those who are given powers of administration and control in boards and commissions sometimes forget that they are public officers with a duty to the Parliament, and they use in a very arbitrary manner the powers that Parliament has conferred upon them. This tendency has been very difficult to overcome. It is not easy for parliaments to avoid that autonomy and, at the same time, prevent political interference with ordinary administrative matters. These boards and commissions frequently do things to the public that no Minister of the Crown would dare to do. They thus tend to destroy the very system which Parliament has endeavoured to set up in the interests of the public. I regard the proposed parliamentary standing committee as an experiment which may overcome this problem. When we make the slightest breach in an act governing a board or commission, for the purpose of infusing government policy into the administration of the undertaking, that breach frequently permits the water of political interference to pour through unchecked, thus creating a situation worse than the one which the appointment of the board or commission was intended to overcome. The problem of arriving at a happy medium has puzzled many governments. It is true that the proposed standing committee will consider only such matters as are referred to it by the Parliament or the Minister. If its services are not called upon it can complain, and the public can complain. I hope that it will be used. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works is not used so often as I believe was intended by those who framed the legislation providing for its establishment,, but that is no reason why the proposed Standing Committee on Broadcasting should not be used. If it should be used, it will win respect for itself from the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The commission will know that the committee is acting as the ears and eyes of Parliament, and that any report which it makes to the Parliament upon the functions and administration of the broadcasting system will receive very careful attention. The committee will also create a great respect for itself on the part of the Government. Whatever government may happen to be in power will know that, if it seeks to interfere politically with the administration of broadcasting, the committee will make a report to Parliament that will receive careful consideration. I agree with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) that the committee may take some time to shake down into its work, and alterations may have to be made from time to time to its methods of functioning, but there must be a starting point. The principle represented by the formation of the committee is important. If it works satisfactorily it will be a contribution towards overcoming the unfortunate situation in which we either have a board or commission entirely independent of the Parliament or the country, which goes on its own sweet way without regard to the fact that it belongs to the public and is an instrument of the Government, or, as the opposite extreme, the Government seeking to interfere with the administration of things that should be free of political influence. If the committee is successful the Government may be glad to extend this system to other spheres of administration in due course.

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