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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) . - Senator McClelland has taken the debate a further stage as to the future operations of this measure. I suggest that his purpose and mine are one and that the doubt as to the probable efficacy of the measure for its proper purpose stems from the approach of the Parliamentary Draftsman. He seems to have taken a rigid and obsessional interest in the structure of companies rather than in the subject matter of this Bill - television licences. Licences to operate commercial television stations are granted by a body in the nature of a governmental monopoly. As the Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television pointed out, a television licence is a peculiar kind of properly. It is not like a farm that is worked and improved for 20 years. It is not like a motor car that anybody can purchase or like a loaf of bread that anybody can buy from a shop. It is a governmental licence.

For the Government to induce applicants to takeout licences and maintain improving businesses - improving from the point of view of their profitability and improving correspondingly from the point of view of the standard of service they give the listening public - it should impose very strict conditions upon their issue. As the Select Committee pointed out, we constituted the Australian Broadcasting Control Board with that very function and legislated against a licence being issued except on the recommendation of the Board after a public inquiry. The Board has power to make rules that are binding on every applicant and which can be written as conditions on a licence. The Board has never imposed a condition on a licence, but that is the only just way in which to control capital investment in these Government licences.

Television licences are not interminable. To give proper security for foundation and establishment Parliament wisely provided that the first grant should be for five years and that thereafter licences should be annual. The Select Committee recomended that renewals should be at three year intervals and that each renewal should be subject to a public inquiry if any section of the listening public objected to renewal or if the Government of the day through the Postmaster-General raised any question as to renewal. The proposed new section 91 (8.) of the Act states -

For the purposes of this Division, a licence granted by way of renewal of a licence shall be deemed to be a continuation of the firstmentioned licence.

My mind is prompted to absorb from that section the meaning that any licence that had its origin before a prescribed date should enjoy all the immunity that originated in a licence before that prescribed date and it should be ignored that after the expiration of a five year period a renewal is a renewal, lt is very difficult to understand. The gods alone will divine what interpretation will be placed upon this section by the High Court. A licence granted by way of renewal shall be deemed to be a continuation of the first licence.

Senator Cormack - The first mentioned licence.

Senator WRIGHT - Yes, the firstmentioned licence. The licence is mentioned previously in the clause. Section 80, of the Act which makes mystery even more mysterious, provides -

A reference in this Part to the renewal of a licence in respect of a commercial broadcasting station or a commerical television station shall be read as a reference to the grant of a licence in respect of that station to commence on the day after the date of expiration of the first-mentioned licence or on the day after the expiration of the licence granted upon a previous renewal of the first-mentioned licence.

The time allowed by the Government, to which this Parliament is abjectly subservient, precludes anybody of respect pretending to form an opinion on a matter of this nature. The first impulse in my mind is to read section 80 as indicating that renewals are separate in their existence from licences which existed before the renewal.

Senator Cohen - And commencing after the previous licence has expired.

Senator WRIGHT - Quite so. The original section made it quite clear that, on renewal, the licensee had his rights but so also did the Postmaster-General, representing the public. The renewal was not auto matic in any sense. I want to know what sort of Government policy it is that thinks it essential to restrict the shareholding or voting interests in company licensees applying for renewal when, at the same time, the Government says: " We yield in the enforcement of the conditions of a licence simply because before a prescribed date somebody defeated our legislation ". I do not know who the " somebody " is. I shall be probing that matter for greater particulars before the morning is out. What sort of Government policy is it that requires as an essential part of television control a restriction or limitation on particular persons in a plurality of licences? It is known that renewals of the licences must be granted from time to time. 1 would hope for renewal intervals of three years, because I recognise that a commercial interest in companies is the only means of properly developing the television industry.

This monkeying business by politicians in so called control of companies is abhorrent to me. That is why I want to know where the virtue is in 5 per cent, as a criterion of control and where the virtue is in 15 per cent, as a differential of control. What sort of Government policy is it that says we want 5 per cent, control or 15 per cent, control? Realising that in 1970, let us say, every company that now owns a licence will have to justify a renewal, the Government introduces a provision here that a licence granted by way of renewal shall be deemed to be a continuation of the first licence. Then, it seems to me, it is said that anybody who has a shareholding or a company structure that took shape before 17th December 1964 shall enjoy immunity from all of these restrictions. I hope that our stupidity will be not such as to increase the number of licences in any of the capital cities over and above the number already issued. I think that we have gone dangerously close to degrading the quality that we can expect by issuing more than two licences in any one capital city. But what future licences, to which the whole of this facade of restrictive apparatus can apply, are to come into existence? I see some significance in proposed sub-section (8.). I shall not go on at this stage of my remarks to consider proviso (ii) of proposed section 92 (3)(a), but if that is considered, I think it may be seen to viscerate the whole of the sub-section.

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