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Wednesday, 31 May 1972
Page: 2358

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I take advantage of this debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 4) an Appropriation Bill (No. 5) to refer to a question that has arisen over the decision by commercial television station GTV9 in Melbourne to show a football programme on Sunday mornings in breach of the existing paragraph 35 of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board's television programme standards. Frankly, the lethargy of the Government in regard to this matter simply amazes me. It appears to me that the Government expresses great concern about demonstrations by minority groups on the one hand but merely dilly dallies in regard to amending the law when if is under challenge so far as it relates to the control of powerful interests in this country. The Government's record on this subject is disgraceful. I call upon the Government to lay on the table of the Parliament all correspondence exchanged between the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the commercial television stations and the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations on this subject.

The question as to whether the replaying of football programmes on Sunday is a good or bad thing is not the principal matter to be considered. To me, speaking personally, there is a certain amount of hypocrisy in the present situation when restrictions are imposed between 6 a.m. and 12 noon, apparently because between those hours church services are being held; but between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Sundays when, of course, evening church services are taking place, the commercial stations can put on practically what they like. Of course, on Sunday mornings in New South Wales, the State which I and the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) have the honour to represent in this chamber, one can go to a club, play poker machines and have a drink - and on Sunday afternoons picture theatres are open. But one cannot watch sporting events on a television screen in the sanctity of one's home on a Sunday morning. However that, as I said, is not the principal issue involved in the subject with which I am dealing.

If any Australian writer, artist, musician, director, producer or techncian is in any doubt about the sincerity of this Government in wanting to protect his right to a livelihood in this industry, those doubts now should be completely dispelled. If those people not only want to preserve the little existing protection that they have but also get greater protection for their right to work in their own profession in their own country, they should not only vote this Government out of office but actively come out and support Australian Labor Party candidates at the forthcoming Federal election.

The chronology of events only goes to confirm the statement I have made because in my opinion the Government's delay and procrastination are inexcusable. It was on 21st May 1970, over 2 years ago, that the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations notified the Broadcasting Control Board that it questioned the validity of the Board's programme standards regarding Sunday morning programmes. It was on 1st July 1970, 22 months ago, that the Federation supplied to the Board extracts from legal opinions supporting this view. The matter was referred by the Board, according to answers given to me during the course of the recent Senate Estimates committee discussions, to the AttorneyGeneral's Department in August 1970, about 20 months ago, and the AttorneyGeneral's Department replied to the Board in January 1971, about 17 months ago. I do not know what was contained in that reply but if it was that there was some doubt about the powers of the Board to enforce its regulation the Government has had nearly 18 months in which to deal with the matter. The simple fact is that it has done nothing.

The information given to me is that each time the Board has issued a direction to a network the network invariably has written back asking under what section of the Act such a direction has been issued. When the Board has then set out the specific section, invariably there has been a threat of a challenge to the Board's power. In fairness to the Control Board, I think that probably it has set out to endeavour to protect the public interest but I believe it has been frustrated by the failure of the Government to back it up in any way. The delay, the procrastination and the vacillation of the Government are unbelievable and show lack of concern on its part for the public interest. If the Board's standards are wrong, according to public interest, they should have been amended by this time. If they are right, according to the public interest, then they should be enforced, and it is up to the Government to see that they are enforced.

So what has happened? After all the delay, after the initial challenge, the referral by the Board to the Attorney-General's Department, the referral back to the Board from the Attorney-General's Department GTV9 in Melbourne decided to take the matter into its own hands 22 months after the original complaint was lodged. On Easter Saturday morning the station showed 11 hours of football and I understand that it has been doing so ever since.

Senator Milliner - What code of football?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -

Australian Rules in Melbourne but these replays could well spread to other places.

Senator Brown - What is wrong with that?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will not go into States' rights issues at the moment. If anyone wants proof of the Government's dilly-dallying I have only to read a statement attributed to Mr Arthur Cowan, the General Manager of the Fedeaation of Australian Commercial Television Stations. On Saturday, 8th April, he was reported as having said:

The board withdrew the standard but asked stations to continue to seek approval for Sunday morning programmes pending its review.

Stations co-operated but it was only when nothing happened after 20 months-

I emphasise those words - 'nothing happened after 20 months' and one station notified that it was intending to act within its rights and show delayed football, that a new standard quickly materialised.

That was a statement made by Mr Arthur Cowan, the General Manager of the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations as recently as 8th April 1972. Not having seen the new regulations officially I asked a question in this Parliament on 13 th April. I seek leave to have that question which I directed without notice to the Acting Postmaster-General, Senator Cotton, incorporated in Hansard.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson) - Is leave granted?

Senator Cotton - Yes, but surely it is already in Hansard?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is already in Hansard but I seek leave to incorporate it here. If the Minister objects I shall read it now.

Senator Cotton - No, not at all. I was just trying to help.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows):

Senator Douglas McClelland - I direct a question to the Acting Postmaster-General. Did the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations first challenge in May 1970, programme standard 35 of the Broadcasting Control Board's standards, which relates to Sunday morning programmes, and was this matter referred by the Board to the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor's Office for advice some considerable time ago? Will the Minister explain the protracted delay on the part of the Control Board in reaching a determination on the matter nearly 2 years after the challenge was first lodged and only after the commercial station had taken direct action to challenge the law by putting itself in the category of a law breaker? What action does the Government intend taking in this matter?

Senator DOUGLASMcCLELLANDThe Minister for Civil Aviation who is at the table was then the Acting PostmasterGeneral. He gave me the PostmasterGeneral's answer on 17th May:

The Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations questioned on 1st July, 1970, the power of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to determine as a standard, paragraph 35 of its Programme Standards regarding Sunday morning programmes. The Board sought the advice of the Attorney-General's Department and as a result of the Department's advice and a decision by the Government, it was decided that a full examination of the Board's powers should be undertaken. Pending this examination, which has commenced, the Board has considered requests by stations to televise programmes on Sunday mornings on an ad hoc basis. The delay in promulgating the Board's revised standard (Paragraph 35) was caused by the examination referred to above.

As the honourable senator is aware, the Acting Postmaster-General-

That was Senator Cotton - announced on 28th April 1972, that the Government proposed to introduce legislation to clarify the Board's powers in this regard.

During April while Senator Cotton was Acting Postmaster-General he made 2 statements. One was made on 7th April. Incidentally,It was not referred to by the Postmaster-General (Sir Alan Hulme) in his reply to me on 17th May. The other statement which was in fact referred to by the Postmaster-General was made on 28th April. But on 7th April the Acting Postmaster-General said:

The Government will be asked to consider an amendment to the legislation to clarify the powers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to regulate programmes on Sunday morning.

The statement continues:

.   . examination of the Board's standard had been proceeding between the Board and the Attorney-General's Department for some time-

At this stage it was nearly 2 years - but this was a long and complicated matter which would not be finished quickly.

However', he said, 'the action of station GTV in Melbourne in seeking a declaration from the Courts that the Board's standards regarding Sunday morning programmes are not valid makes it desirable for this point to be clariefid at once'.

The Minister said that he was taking the course of making this announcement immediately to avoid putting the station, the Commonwealth or any others to the expense and difficulty involved in legal action.

The statement continues:

He hoped that the Government would be able to consider the proposed amendment to the legislation within, the next 10 days.

That statement was dated 7th April. On 28th April the Acting Postmaster-General, Senator Cotton, made another Press announcement. He said:

The Government will legislate to make clear the powers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board with regard to Sunday morning television programmes.

Even though 28th April was not within the 10-day period previously referred to by the Acting Postmaster-General, at least one was gaining the impression from this Press release of 28th April that the Government would introduce legislation in this session of Parliament to correct the matter. The Minister, as Acting Postmaster-General, went on to state: . . the Government had considered the situation which had arisen as a result of the challenge to the powers of the Board by station GTV in Melbourne. Senator Cotton said the Government had for some time been engaged in a fullscale review of theBoard's power. . . .

If the Government felt strongly about the matter, as one can infer it did from the Press statements made by the Acting PostmasterGeneral on 7th April and on 28th April and from the answer given by the Postmaster-General on 17th May to a question which I asked, then it could have and should have acted by this stage. After all, it brought down legislation at a much later date regarding restrictions on cigarette advertising on radio and television. If it could deal with that sort of legislation in this sessional period of Parliament then it could have introduced legislation of the type to which I am referring now. Of course, in answer to a question asked by a colleague of mine in another place, the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Sherry) on 10th May 1972 the PostmasterGeneral said that legislation would be introduced early in the next session. I suggest that that is merely playing with words. Next session is the Budget session. The Budget debate will take up the whole of August. At the earliest it will be midSeptember before legislation of the type which is being suggested and which we were told on 7th April would be introduced within 10 days will be dealt with and passed in both Houses of Parliament. Of course by the middle of September the football season will be over and the interests of the commercial television stations will be fully protected. On 16th May this year I addressed 2 questions to the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Greenwood). I seek leave to have those questions and answers incorporated in Hansard.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson) - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows):

Senator Douglas McClelland - I direct my question to the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral. Did the Postmaster-General state in another place last week that the Government would not be able to have legislation prepared before the next parliamentary session to prevent the re-playing of football programmes on Channel 9 in Melbourne in defiance of the existing law? Does this mean that because the Budget will be presented in August such legislation will not come before the Parliament before September at the earliest, when the football season will have finished? Why does the Government tolerate this deliberate defiance of the law on the part of one of its licensees when it calls upon others in the community to recognise the general principle of law and order? Is the decision not to bring down the legislation in this session a deliberate decision on the part of the Government to protect those commercial interests which are operating in defiance of the existing law and to stop any friction occurring between the Government and its commercial masters while the football season lasts?

Senator GREENWOOD - I reject entirely the somewhat snide innuendoes which characterise the honourable senator's question. In the first place the Government's action is not designed to protect certain commercial interests contrary to the public interest; nor is it a deliberate act designed to tolerate deliberate defiance of the law. 1 am quite sure that the honourable senator does not believe what he suggested when he posed the question in that way. I cannot recall, without having the record in front of me. precisely what the Postmaster-General said last week. My recollection is that he was unsure whether the legislation could be introduced this session or whether it would have to wait until the Budget session, and that his suggestion was that any delay would be due to the exigencies of the legislative programme. All honourable senators are aware of the very many Bills still on the notice paper which have to be debated in the next fortnight. As to whether there is any defiance of the law, the Postmaster-General indicated that there was uncertainty as to whether the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has power to impose the restrictions in this area which it has imposed over a period of time. My colleague Senator Cotton, when Acting Postmaster-General, indicated that it was the Government's intention to bring down legislation to clarify the law. I am sure, Mr Deputy President, that the honourable senator who asked the question was aware of those facts. In those circumstances, when the honourable senator suggests that there is some action designed to tolerate deliberate defiance of the law, he is ignoring the knowledge which would be available to him.

Senator Douglas McClelland - My question is directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. Should I take it from his earlier reply to my question about replays of football programmes on Sunday mornings that, while the Government delays in introducing legislation to clarify the existing powers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, the Board is quite powerless to act against any programme shown by commercial licensees in that time period and that therefore commercial licensees are completely free to show any programme at all between the hours of 6 a.m. and 12 noon on Sundays?

Senator GREENWOOD - The honourable senator is asking me to provide elements of a legal opinion. I am sure he is aware of the Standing Orders and that I ought not to do so. I do not think it is fair to say that the Government is delaying in the sense that it is deliberately taking a step which will avoid the introduction of legislation. The Government has indicated its intention to have legislation which will clarify an uncertain legal position. The statement has been made by the Acting Postmaster-General and, I think, by the Postmaster-General that this legislation will be introduced. At the same time, it has been stated that it is to be hoped that those persons who present programmes between the hours mentioned on Sunday mornings will have regard to the standards which the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has suggested. But I venture to say that until, the matter has been clarified it is largely the sense of obligation which these licensees demonstrate which will determine what will be shown during those hours.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I thank the Senate. It will be noted from a perusal of the answers given me by the Attorney-General on 16th May that he stated: . . it is to be hoped that those persons who present programmes between the hours mentioned on Sunday mornings -

That is between 6 a.m. and 12 noon - will have regard to the standards which the Australian Boardcasting Control Board has suggested. But I venture to say that until the matter has been clarified it is largely the sense of obligation which these licensees demonstrate which will determine what will be shown during those hours.

In other words if I take what I understand to be a literal interpretation of the AttorneyGeneral's remarks he means that the commercial licensees have a sense of obligation. But, in fact, they can do what they like. Taking the clue from what Senator Greenwood said in reply to me, Channel 7 in Sydney decided not to play ball with the Attorney-General but instead to play football on a Sunday morning. Last Friday 26th May the Sydney 'Sun', a paper linked with Channel 7 and owned by the Fairfax group in Sydney, had a heading which stated: Two hours of TV sport'. The article reads:

Channel 7 launches a two-hour sporting service at 11 a.m. on Sunday. lt will include re-runs of all Melbourne races and the Sydney double, an expansion of features on Sportsaction and demonstrations by Australia's Olympics athletes.

The new programme makes a big news and sport week for Seven.

One can well imagine that if the Packer station in Melbourne can set the pace, as it has set the pace - I understand that as a result of the showing of the re-play of football matches in Melbourne the audience ratings have increased considerably - certainly the Packer station in Sydney, Channel 9, will not leave the market for Sunday sport or football to the Fairfax station, Channel 7, which has already indicated that it intends having a 2-hour sports re-play.

I am not opposed to re-plays of football on Sunday mornings provided that the rights of minorities are protected. But this Government in allowing these programmes at these times has not taken any action at all to protect the rights of those minorities. If it wants documentaries and educational programmes to be put on by the commercial television stations and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board indicates some of the programmes it wants to see put on, the Government has to legislate to provide for quotas of documentaries and educational programmes on commercial television generally. Incidentally, last year the total transmission time for programmes of this nature on commercial television stations represented a mere 0.5 per cent of total transmission time. The Australian Labor Party has said that upon assuming office, among other things it will protect the rights of such minority groups by imposing quotas not only for drama but also for professional variety, documentary and educational programmes.

What also concerns me is that I read in March 1971 that the secretaries of TCN 9 Sydney and GTV 9 Melbourne challenged the Board's powers to lay down requirements for Australian content on Australian commercial television. The matter was referred by the Control Board to the Attorney-General's Department in June 1971 and went back from the AttorneyGeneral's department to the Board in March of this year. Again this is information given to me during the hearings of the recent Senate Estimates Committees. I want to know whether there is to be any direct challenge during the parliamentary recess by stations not adhering to the quota provisions, and I want an undertaking from the Government that if there is any doubt about the Australian content provisions, the amending legislation in respect of football replays on Sunday morning which is proposed to be introduced by the Government in the next session will set out also to correct any deficiency that there might be in the present Act revealed by the challenge by TCN 9 in Sydney and GTV 9 in Melbourne.

Th: Government has bent over backwards in yielding to the interests of the commercial licensees in this matter and has let the public interest run last. By the Government's lethargy, inaction, procrastination and delay it has clipped the wings of its own statutory authority, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. Very unfortunately, and probably because of Government inertia and lethargy, the public has become quite cynical about the controlling authority of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. The public believes that Packer, Fairfax and the others who control the commercial licences can do whatever they like while this Government is in office. The whole Broadcasting and Television Act needs complete rewriting to give the Control Board sufficient teeth so that it can in turn give protection to all sections of the Australian public. According to the last annual report of the Control Board the net profits before taxation of commercial television stations in Australia in the 5 years from 1965 to 1970 jumped from $3.5m to $1 6.67m, an increase of over 500 per cent. These are the people who talk about the inflationary spiral if the worker is lucky enough to get a mere $2 a week from the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

The Government should have taken action by this time to protect the public interest and the rights of the minorities which are so often referred to by this Government and also by the Control Board in its annual reports. If it is in the interests of the public to have sporting programmes on Sunday morning and if it is in the interests of the public to protect minorities then the Government should have legislated to ensure quotas at other times for the programmes which the Board itself has described as Australian programmes of merit and programmes for minority interests. This is an important matter. The Government has indicated its lethargy and inaction and I warn all those who are engaged in the television industry - actors, writers, producers and technicians - that if this Government is returned to office the very little protection that they now have can well be dissipated after the next election.

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