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Tuesday, 26 August 1980
Page: 754

Mr INNES (Melbourne) - I am prompted to speak in the Adjournment debate this evening to raise again, and to bring to the notice of the Parliament, the scandalous behaviour of people who take on the responsibility of being a Minister of the Crown. I cite the example this afternoon of the irresponsibility and the laxity with which Ministers deal, by non-answers, with very important questions which go to their integrity and to the waste of, and scandalous approach to the handling of, taxpayers' money. I refer to the answer, or non-answer, from the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Staley) to a question today. He refused to answer a question about the ATV transmitter in Gippsland.

A transmitter bought by the Postal and Telecommunications Department to put multicultural television on the air in Melbourne is old, obsolete and probably unworkable. Further, I am told it was purchased for $20,000 from the Murdochcontrolled ATV television station after being pulled down with sledge hammers and crowbars and destined for the garbage heap. In Question Time this afternoon, the Minister would not answer when confronted with the issue. All he was prepared to say was: 'I will have the matters looked at'. The question was directed to an issue which he knows all about. I had asked the Minister:

What was the reason for dismantling the Channel 0 transmitter and why is the transmitter now being rebuilt with second-hand material from the old transmitter when a new transmitter on order from Japan will mean a further dismantling and replacing only a few weeks after the transmitter is rebuilt? Was this dismantling, rebuilding, dismantling program an expensive waste of taxpayers' money so that the Government could keep on schedule, at all costs, the opening of the ethnic television service as a phony election gimmick?

The Minister refuses to come to grips with the central issue - the flagrant and deliberate waste of taxpayers' money. Money is being wasted in an attempt to gain political capital for the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) for the election. By the time the transmitter is repaired, if that is possible, and reconstructed and then pulled down again- -all in the space of a few months- -hundreds of thousands of dollars will no doubt be involved.

It is obvious that the Government bought the transmitter in the hope of being able to fulfill the election promise of ethnic television before the 1980 election when it became clear that the permanent transmitter would not arrive before January. I am sure that the Prime Minister gave the Minister for Post and Telecommunications the hurry-up to ensure an interim service, no matter how poor. This transmitter is obsolete. It is not in working order. I am told that parts have been out of production for years. The transmitter was bought incomplete. One necessary component was requested of Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd and I am told that that company quoted $35,000 for its one-off manufacturealmost the price of the complete Japanese transmitter.

The Postal and Telecommunications Department's engineers and even private consultants hired by the Department are now attempting to patch together a working transmitter without guarantee of success. The transmitter has a potential output of only 30 kilowatts to 40 kilowatts, considerably less than that of its permanent replacement and only one-third of the output of Melbourne's commercial broadcasters. The Government had earlier reached agreement with Sir Reginald Ansett over use of the old transmitter when ATV moved from Channel 0 to Channel 10. But Rupert Murdoch apparently reneged on the deal after gaining control of ATV. So desperate was the Government for a transmitter- any transmitter- that a cash offer was made for the ATV equipment which by then had been junked. It seems that Murdoch hit the Government both coming and going. This seems poor recompense for its friendly attitude towards Murdoch's television share holdings.

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