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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 864

Mr Ian Robinson (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Country Party supports the amendment before the House. We believe that the proposition put forward by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) - and the amendment which followed - gives the opportunity for a proper study to be made of an obviously important question to be determined by this Parliament. A modern approach in this day and age to the transmission to the electorate of what occurs in this chamber and in the other place is a responsibility of this Parliament. When one is mindful of the fact that today world events become the privilege, from the point of view of observation and interest, of so many citizens in so many countries almost instantly when they occur, it is right and proper that we should look very seriously at this matter. But, of course, all the vital considerations must be taken into account. The terms of the original motion and the amendment make adequate provision for this to be done. It would be unthinkable that we should introduce willy-nilly a means of communicating the proceedings of Parliament and, in so doing, distort them and give a wrong construction. This could quite easily occur unless great care is taken, first of all, to devise an approach to the means of transmission and then to consider the aspects that this in its wake will create.

Previous speakers have referred to the almost inescapable requirement to change 2 essential things - the venue, which is of course the very nature of this chamber and undoubtedly the chamber of the other place, and the procedures. I believe that these 2 matters would require very careful study. I hope that the Joint Statutory Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings - assuming that it will undertake this task - will call before it people concerned in both of these fields. They are very important considerations. I believe that it would be wrong for the committee to present a report which in the first place had not given an opportunity for participation by other related committees. I refer to the Standing Orders Committee, the House Committee and, perhaps, the Privileges Committee. In considering the import of this whole matter there is a range of vital ingredients to be considered. Of course, overseas study would be another essential aspect. Any honourable member who has visited the House of Commons, the Capitol in Washington or the more modern and more recently constructed venues of parliament in other countries, would think twice before believing that the procedures and venue of this Parliament can be very quickly changed.

The Westminister system is one which we cherish and which I am sure we will want to preserve. We will not want to turn the House into an arena for some other kind of parliamentary procedure, which could quite easily be a very compelling requirement if television were suddenly to be intruded into the chamber without the depth of consideration and planning that would avoid these kinds of pitfalls which could drastically affect the effectiveness and the operation of Parliament. If one thinks of the kind of reactions that would come from the public it would be right and proper that the fundamentals of transmission should be taken into account. I suppose it is no shock or surprise to visitors who come to this chamber, sit in the gallery and look down, when they observe a very different scene from that which they had seen in their minds' eye as being the operation of the national Parliament. Constituents from my own electorate have come to me and said: We were in Canberra and we sat in the gallery. Do they always carry on like that?' Probably Parliament was in session as it is now. Unless people have information which gives them the reason for the particular stage of the proceedings they are watching, information which describes to them the necessity of it or the relative factors concerning the whole of the business paper of the day, or the business of the session - or whatever it might be - they can easily get a very distorted and unfortunate picture of what happens in the national Parliament.

I am not suggesting that television would be so manipulated that we would get a certain type of picture transmitted out of this place. However, I think that aspect is very important. For that reason I am interested in what has been said about experiments with closed circuit television in the House of Commons. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) referred to the operation of television in some 20 other Parliaments around the world. I am sure that honourable members will be interested to receive more information on this. Having seen the House of Commons in operation it occurs to me that even it presents a more readily acceptable and usable style than this chamber. There are many differences such as the very layout of the chamber, the very nature of the way in which the business proceeds and the fact that at question time there is a series of questions on notice as distinct from our own pattern of procedure of questions without notice. If we were to experiment with closed circuit television as a preliminary it could be a very useful thing in upgrading the efficiency of this House and the Senate.

It is not very long ago that members did not have the privilege of a speaker transmitting the proceedings of the chamber into their own rooms in this House. Many of us brought our transistor radios and listened to them on the day that the proceedings of this House were on the air and sometimes listened to the other place when it was on the air, and we were able to derive benefit from this by being able to keep in touch with the chamber whilst attending to other important parliamentary duties. But it took a long time for the establishment to recognise that the transmitting of proceedings to members rooms was a useful thing. The old argument was that if this type of facility was installed in members' rooms it would tend to encourage them to leave the chamber and go back to their own rooms. 1 do not think there has been the slightest difference in the attendance in the chamber since the introduction of speakers into members' rooms as against the prior period when this facility was not provided.

Thinking in terms of closed circuit television, one can imagine some efficiency to the point where Party rooms, committee rooms and the like were placed within a closed circuit facility relaying events from the chamber. This would be of tremendous value. It would give an opportunity for members to keep more closely in touch with the affairs being dealt with all the time, but to make this facility effective there are many matters that could be updated. For example, it would be no problem to have as a caption on a closed circuit screen a fixed identification of the business before the House - such and such a Bill or debate or whatever it might be - so that members within Parliament House itself but not in the chamber could instantly know the stage of progress, what was before the House, who was speaking and that sort of thing. I believe that if we were to aproach this matter in this way we would begin to produce an effective basis on which the whole matter of transmission outside the House could become a greater prospect, with a taking into account of ways and means of doing it effectively. Therefore I suggest that the Committee look very closely in the first place at some experimentation with closed circuit television within Parliament House itself. I believe this would be one way of overcoming the impediment I mentioned a moment ago - that members who come into this chamber for a short time are mystified as (o what is really going on. They may have whispered to them by an attendant, or they may inquire, what is before the House. It is fairly meaningless unless other details are readily conveyed to them. 1 think the House of Commons, for example, has another aparatus that is very useful, that is, an electric device by which the matter before the House can be read in various places, in passageways and in rooms around the building. This of course is a first step toward a closed circuit information system, if I may use that terminology.

I shall move on quickly because I know there are other speakers who will want to make a contribution. The last thing we want to do is denigrate Parliament. It has been suggested that in the early days of the House of Commons at Westminster even the Press was excluded, and no doubt there was a reason. I venture to suggest that in those early days there were .not printing presses of the type we have now. There were not the means of getting out quickly to the outside world a full account of Parliament. Times changed. Then it became a matter of the morning Press being able to carry a full account. If we think in terms of the beginning of this Parliament, the morning Press certainly carried a much fuller account than we get today. The old style of recording proceedings almost as Hansard does for newspaper purposes was the approach of that era. That era of course has passed and we have reached the stage where a very different approach is made by the media - I refer to the Press, the radio and television - to the reporting of proceedings. Of course in more recent times the use of studios located in Canberra where interviews take place within a very short time of events in this House has drastically changed the way in which , the public is able to learn of events and occurrences in this

House. This is progress and we must keep pace with it.

I strongly support the proposition that a committee should look closely at all aspects. I hope that there will be a basis on which there can be a safe progression to a direct transmission of the affairs of the nation as conducted in this chamber - not a distorted one, not a slanted one, not one that would be misleading, but one that would be fair and honest both to the nation, which after all will have to put up with it if it is to see Parliament on television, and to this House, where impartiality has always been a byword and where members would like to see fair play and justice in every direction.

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