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Wednesday, 4 March 1970

Mr HULME (Petrie) (Postmaster-General and Vice-President of the Executive Council) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend those portions of the Broadcasting and Television Act which affect the financial operations of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and to make some changes to the existing provisions regarding the ownership and control of broadcasting and television stations. The Bill also makes certain other changes affecting the Broadcasting Commission and extends broadcast listener's and television viewer's licence concessions to several additional small groups of pensioners. 1 do not intend to go into detail as to the financial provisions of this Bill. As drafted they represent what is nowadays a standard approach to statutory authority financial legislation. The existing provisions in the Act have been recognised for some time as being inadequate and indeed the Public Accounts Committee, at the time of its inquiry into the financial affairs of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, expressed interest in the comparison between the financial provisions of the Act as they relate to the Broadcasting Commission and similar provisions relating to other statutory authorities.

Both the Treasury and the AuditorGeneral's Office have been consulted with a view to amending the Act, both in relation to the Broadcasting Commission and the Broadcasting Control Board, so that its provisions will adequately reflect the modern approach to statutory authority financial regulation. The Bill has been drafted accordingly to achieve this purpose and in particular to update the banking provisions, provide for the proper keeping of accounts and records and to amplify the audit provisions in accordance with more modern legislation. The Bill also makes certain other changes affecting the administration of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Section 40 of the Act at present provides that the Commission may delegate ils powers, except the power of delegation itself, to a Commissioner or the Genera) Manager. In an organisation such as the Broadcasting Commission, which operates in all States of the Commonwealth, this restriction on delegation of powers has led to administrative difficulties in that only the Commission or the General Manager may, for example, incur expenditure or issue contracts. The Bill therefore amends section 40 to provide that the Commission's powers may be delegated to any person in the employ of the Commission. The delegation of the power to appoint permanent officers of the Commission is, however, still limited to a Commissioner or the General Manager.

Amendments to sections 61 and 62 are included in the Bill to liberalise the conditions under which the Broadcasting Commission may, without the approval of the Minister, purchase and dispose of property, or enter into .any agreement involving expenditure. The Act at present places a $40,000 limit on these transactions and directs that no agreement may be entered into for a period in excess of 5 years. In view of the changes in values since these provisions were first drafted in 1942, the Bill proposes that these limits be raised to $100,000 and 10 years respectively. In addition, the existing section 71 is repealed. This section provides that the Commission may not pay compensation to a member of the Commission or its officers or employees in excess of $300 without the approval of the Minister. The purpose of this section is not known and since it has no counterpart in other legislation, and the Commonwealth Employees Compensation legislation provides adequate cover, there appears to be no reason for its retention.

The Bill provides for 2 new Sections, 90aa and 91ab, to amend the ownership and control provisions of the Act relating to broadcasting and television station licences respectively. The effect of the new provisions, if passed by the Parliament, will be that interests in broadcasting and television licences acquired by funds maintained for the purpose of providing pensions and retiring allowances or other personal benefits for the employees of a company shall be deemed for the purposes of the ownership and control provisions to be beneficially held by the company concerned. Honourable members will be aware that the Act now places important restrictions on the number of television and broadcasting stations that can be controlled by any one person or company. In this connection, it will, I think, be agreed that there is obviously a close association between company employees benefit funds and the companies with which such funds are associated. Experience has shown that there is an increasing trend for pension funds associated with companies already having extensive interests in broadcasting and television stations to invest also in companies having interests in such stations. If this trend is permitted to continue unchecked it could have a material bearing on the control of television and broadcasting stations. After a full review of all the circumstances, the Government came to the conclusion that such a development was contrary to the intentions of the ownership and control provisions of the Act and that in consequence those provisions should be amended to take into account such form of investment. Clauses 14 and 15 of the Bill give effect to this decision. Honourable members will note that the new provisions will apply as from 12th December 1969, which was the date on which I announced the Government's intention to bring down this legislation.

Finally, the Bill takes the opportunity to group, in section 128, for the purpose of concessions, all pensions payable under the Repatriation Act and other Acts making provisions of a similar kind. At the same time, the concessions available under this section have been extended to certain additional pensioner groups. This amendment has been undertaken as a tidying up exercise to bring within the scope of the broadcast listener's and television viewer's licence concessions persons in receipt of pensions of the same kind as those applicable to existing concessional licensees. The new entitlement covers persons in receipt of a service pension under the Repatriation (Special Overseas Service) legislation and persons in receipt of service pensions and pensions in respect of total and permanent incapacity under the Native Members of the Forces Benefits Act. Tn addition the Bill grants concessions to persons in receipt of pensions for total and permanent incapacity under the Interim Forces Benefits Act and the Seamen's War Pensions and Allowances Act. The number of persons involved in this amendment will be small but the concessions have been extended in the interests of giving equitable treatment to all persons in receipt of similar pensions. I commend the Bill to honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stewart) adjourned.

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