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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 858

Mr DALY (Grayndler) (Leader of the House) - The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) is to be congratulated on bringing before the House a matter for discussion which is not only interesting but also most important. His motion should receive the consideration of the Parliament. The Government, in accordance with an undertaking given by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), proposes to allow General Business to be discussed on each day when it falls due and to take a vote where possible on motions moved. That course will be followed today. I hope that the debate will conclude in time in order that we might take a vote on the subject under discussion in relation to which I propose to move an amendment shortly.

The Government has carefully considered this matter. In line with what was said by the honourable member for Bradfield including the many and varied methods and suggestions that be proposed in respect of broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings, we believe that the proposal is worthy of the consideration of the Parliament. But we believe that the most appropriate method for this matter to be decided is through another channel other than by the appointment of a parliamentary select committee. I therefore move;

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: the following matter be referred to the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings for inquiry and report:

(a)   whether the televising of portion of the Parliamentary debates and proceedings is desirable, and

(b)   if so, to what extent and in what manner the telecasts should be undertaken.

(2)   That the committee, for any purposes related to thisinquiry, have power to send for persons, papers and records.

(3)   That a message be sent to the Senate acquaint ing it of this resolution and requesting its concurrence'.

The amendment proposes that the inquiry be undertaken by the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings instead of by a joint select committee specially set up for the purpose. The Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings has as its functions the consideration of the general principles for the allocation of the Parliamentary broadcasts and it is felt that the consideration of televising the proceedings of the Parliament is not unrelated to these functions. This Joint Committee is set up by statute under the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act which invests it with various powers for the transaction of its business. It does not, however, have the power to send for persons, papers and records. It is felt that if the Committee is to be given this inquiry in relation to televising proceedings of the Parliament it should be granted this power to examine witnesses to enable it effectively to conduct this inquiry. Provision, therefore, for this power has been incorporated in the proposed amendment. As the subject of the inquiry has relation to both Houses of the Parliament and as the Committee is a joint one composed of both senators and members it is considered to be appropriate that the references to the Committee should come from both Houses. It is therefore proposed that should the House agree that the inquiry should be undertaken by the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings a message be sent to the Senate seeking its concurrence. This approach differs only a little in substance from that of the honourable member for Bradfield. I hope that he will consider accepting it as I feel it would meet his wishes and the wishes of those who wish to have the matter discussed.

As I do not wish to detain the House other than to submit that proposal, I wish very briefly to quote a few matters for the interest of honourable members in relation to the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings and inquiries. The broadcasting of these proceedings is not exactly a new idea. As long ago as 1966 a select committee of the House of Commons considered the live transmission of parliamentary proceedings which would serve a useful purpose or hold attention of viewers and listeners. The committee considered that parliamentarians speaking in debates, if possible, should address listeners and viewers rather than debate matters in the traditional party manner. The committee suggested that members might be called on to speak at peak viewing hours. In Australia this could lead to a change of the timetable for debates. The Committee in 1966 said that it could not justify the expenditure of up to £20m for live television broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings. The Committee could see no objection, as the honourable member for Bradfield indicated, to the transmission of very important debates, such as those on the budget, economic or foreign affairs or question time and matters of that nature. It was interesting to note that on a free vote in the House of Commons the proposal was defeated in 1966 by only 131 to 130. William Deeds, MP, arguing against broadcasting said that the televising of Parliament would be designed not to improve parliamentary procedure but to improve TV programs; so it was not in the interest of Parliament. He said that on some days Parliament was dull. It would be a sin to be dull on television, he said, so members of Parliament would all appear to be sinners. That argument was used when the radio broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings was first introduced into Australia. The House of Lords, which certainly does not move with the speed of sound, experimented with closed circuit television in February 1968. The House of Commons followed suit in April and May 1968. But since that date no further progress has been made.

Professor Jensen of the University of Minnesota suggested that a possible plan for the televising of parliamentary proceedings would be to have a 90 minute late evening program giving an edited account of proceedings. But the argument against this suggestion is that an edited program could distort, misrepresent and even ridicule proceedings. Advocates of the broadcasting of proceedings assert that the same argument was adduced, as the honourable member for Bradfield mentioned, when reporters were first allowed to report the proceedings of the House of Commons in the 18th century. It was suggested that those same problems would arise. Yet no great problems have emerged since that time. It is interesting also that a survey of 50 countries shows that 29 of the countries transmit live or recorded broadcasts of daily debates. Twenty of the countries surveyed also televise debates. So, we certainly are not taking a new approach.

Mr Ian Robinson (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Do you have a list of them?

Mr DALY - I could get a list for honourable members. New Zealand, Australia and the Philippines record full debates. Denmark both records and televises full debates, and the remainder of the countries surveyed broadcast extensive extracts at peak listening times, often with a commentary and opinions of experts added.

It might be of interest to the honourable members for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) to know that the younger members of the House of Commons support the broadcast of proceedings. The older members seem to be against it. But at present it appears that in the House of Commons the age of members and not the Party to which they belong is the deciding factor in whether objection is raised to the broadcasting. As late as last year there was another vote in the House of Commons on this matter. Opinion supporting the proposal slipped back a bit. A report from the Melbourne 'Age' of 21st October states:

The House of Commons last night refused to allow its proceedings to be televised for a trial period of about 3 weeks next summer.

The vote on this occasion was 191 to 165. A certain trend was evident. I now quote a few more arguments from this article which give substance to what the honourable member for Bradfield said. The article continues:

Advocates urged colleagues not to turn the House of Commons into a monastery and argued that the people were entitled to see what went on . . . within its precincts. Consequently they supported this move. The article states further:

John Stevens, of The Age' London office, reports:

Mr Ashton(Lab.) apologised for having, during the debate, held up large cards with such phrases as Where is Ted?' and'Switch off.'

He had been trying, he said, to illustrate how television debates could become ludicrous, he added.

Take something similar to politics - religion', he said.

What has happened to religion since television got hold of it?

It has degenerated into Stars on Sunday, with Shirley 'Bassey singing Ave Maria. Religion is now showbiz.

The only reason for wanting television cameras is vanity.

The 'Daily Mail' reported what TV cameras might have shown during the debate:

The Leader of the House {Mr Carr) sitting with his feet up; a bright yellow shirt worn by the member for Bolsover; almost deserted Treasury benches, and, at the end of the chamber, a dozen assorted legislators lounging by the door in various attitudes so as to look like something from a Victorian group photograph.

Mr Ashton'sempty seat bore the notice 'Gone to eat'.

These things naturally could be mentioned by the opponents of televising Parliamentary proceedings, and they are problems that no doubt could well be considered by the committee. I do not fear that these things could happen. I am inclined to think that, as the honourable member for Bradfield said, the televising of proceedings would improve the standard of debate. I think that this is something that will come to this country in the not too distant future and that now is the appropriate time to look at it.

I commend the honourable member for Bradfield for his motion. Broadly I would say that in effect his motion is supported with the consideration that I have mentioned in the amendment. I hope that the House will debate and carry the amendment.

Mr Turner - I am very happy to accept the amendment. What I wanted was that the matter should be referred to a Parliamentary committee and, of course, the amendment does this.

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