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Tuesday, 17 November 1964

Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Customs and Excise) . - I move -

That the request be not pressed.

I wish to speak to the motion. We now know that the other place is not willing to accept the request. I would like to canvass again, very briefly in all the circumstances, some of the points which were made in relation to this request some days ago. The criticism of this request that I made in the first instance was that it was in fact incapable of definition. Other members of the Committee raised the point as to how musical, dramatic or other artistic material wholly produced or originating in Australia could be defined. The question is how those things can be described in particularity, which is essential in an Act of this nature. That question still remains unresolved. It is primarily for that reason that I suggest to the Committee that the request be not pressed.

For instance, one could conjure up all sorts of circumstances and pose the question I have just asked. I shall not indulge in this exercise for any length of time. But I turn, first of all, to what might be defined as " artistic material ". I know that there are certain senators here who thoroughly enjoy watching bouts of fisticuffs on television or hearing broadcast descriptions of fisticuffs. I have heard an Australian Broadcasting

Commission broadcaster refer to one of the parties to such an engagement as being an artist in his profession.

Senator Cormack - It is a noble art.

Senator ANDERSON - Yes, it is a noble art. I just wonder whether we would regard fisticuffs as artistic material for the purpose of the request as it was defined in this particular proposal. If an Australian artist sang a German folk song, could we regard that presentation, in the musical category, as originating in Australia?

Senator Buttfield - The artist is an Australian artist.

Senator ANDERSON - It is a question of interpretation. That is the point to which I referred earlier. Some people regard it as such but others may not so regard it. The situation could arise in the dramatic field where an Australian production was presented of " Henry V " or " Richard III." One wonders whether that is to be determined as being produced or originating in Australia. The two subjects, production and origination,, do not seem to be marriageable. I could illustrate this point for a long time. I know that the Committee would frown on me if I did so, because it would become a little boring after a while. I shall give one further illustration. We have, I understand, a very famous artist in Australia at the present time in the person of Winifred Atwell. Assuming that one of her concerts was televised or broadcast, and she played some Australian compositions, would that presentation come within the range of this particular request?

To sum up what I have been saying, I point out that the difficulty of definition is one of the real weaknesses in the request. lt is suggested in the request that these matters should be resolved on the basis of the definition by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board in its category of programmes. By an odd coincidence, the Board, in its report for the year ended 30th June 1 964, has made quite considerable comment on this very problem. The Board itself has acknowledged in paragraph 212 that it is having some difficulty in definition. I shall not read the whole paragraph because it is fairly lengthy, but I will read sufficient of it to establish its theme. The paragraph commences -

The Board is not yet convinced that the basis of calculating the amount of Australian programmes is completely satisfactory.

The Board goes on to deal with this matter in some detail and then continues - the Board is now considering methods of completely recasting the basis on which calculation of Australian programmes would be made.

So, even taking the comment of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board as a basis for definition of the contents of this request, it appears that there is some element of uncertainty at that level in regard to assessment.

I have said that the terms of this request are incapable of definition. I have drawn attention to the proposition in relation to the solution which was given to me to handle the situation and have pointed out that that solution leaves a lot to be desired. I want to make the point now that it also is almost impossible to administer the provisions of this request from a governmental point of view. The administration would, in fact, fall back almost entirely into the hands of the television stations and the broadcasting companies themselves. This Bill represents a new form of legislation which does away with the existing arrangements that lend themselves to a degree of assessment on that basis and fixes those arrangements on an entirely new level. If the Committee were to insist on this request, we would return to the situation where the companies themselves would have to make an arbitrary judgment as to whether or not a particular item or programme had Australian content. So, a situation arises comparable with the existing one where the determining factor is the judgment by these companies in relation to a particular programme. The only alternative is the setting up of a tremendous organisation under which every second of every minute of broadcasting or television time would be assessed by government officials or Australian Broadcasting Control Board officials to determine and make a judgment of what constituted Australian content in accordance with the standards established. So, the situation is that an auditing organisation, shall we say, would have to be set up to make a determination as to what Australian content is; alternatively, we would have to fall back on an arbitrary decision made by the companies themselves on this particular matter.

There is only one other point I want to make. Rather gently, I direct the attention of the Opposition to the fact that its spokesman, Senator Cohen, moved an amendment at the second reading stage of this Bill. That amendment was to the effect that, in view of the position of television companies in regard to revenue, the amount that was to be charged under this new scheme by way of fees assessed on gross earnings was not severe enough. Perhaps " severe " is too strong a word. The prime purpose the amendment had in view was to attract more revenue from these companies.

Senator Cohen - Those companies with gross income over £1 million.

Senator ANDERSON - Yes. When its amendment failed, the Opposition then turned and gave support to the request with which we are now dealing. The request would have the effect of substantially reducing the amount of fees paid. There is inconsistency if, believing that the licensees should be paying more and that they have failed in one respect, you give support to a request which would have the effect of causing the licensees to pay something like

SO per cent. less. Certainly the amount would be reduced, because only one half of the earnings from these sources would be included in the gross earnings.

In all the circumstances, I suggest that the Opposition agree to the motion that the request be not pressed. I shall run through the reasons again quickly. This amendment is difficult to interpret; in fact, it is almost impossible to interpret the wording. It would be difficult to administer. There would be a need to set up an auditing system the cost of which would be out of all proportion to the revenue involved. Without that, you would have to fall back on a system which was largely one of interpretation by the licensees themselves. Finally, I make the point that we have repealed the other legislation and we are virtually in a no-man's land in relation to licence fees. In all the circumstances, . I earnestly suggest to the Committee that it agree to the request not being pressed.

I finish on this note: The Posmaster.General was most careful to state during the debate in another place - I echoed his remarks here - that he is very conscious of the case for a close examination of the report on the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television, particularly in relation to the desirability of improving the Australian content of programmes. He has stated that he is currently examining this situation in the hope that he will be able to bring down a worthwhile proposition specifically designed and calculated to do the things which the author of this request, Senator Buttfield, no doubt had in mind. The Minister suggested that a far more logical way to do this would be by way of a separate exercise, rather than by way of a requested amendment to what in effect is a money bill. I ask that the request be not pressed.

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