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Wednesday, 25 September 1974
Page: 1387

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - by leave- I have to announce to the Senate that Cabinet has approved a series of submissions that will lead to planning for a significant expansion of radio services by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, an experimental plan for the introduction of frequency modulation radio services in the very high frequency band, and the provision of significant opportunities for the development of public broadcasting in Australia.

In the past 50 years we have developed in this country a dual system of broadcasting involving the national service on the one hand and the commercial system on the other. The Australian Government has adopted the view that the major inadequacy of broadcasting in Australia is the absence of public stations for the broadcasting of information and entertainment for minority audiences who would not otherwise be catered for by either the Australian Broadcasting Commission or the commercial services. The ABC, of course, does have public responsibilities, but it has generally been accepted by successive Australian governments that the Commission has an over-riding responsibility in the first instance to provide a service catering for an audience throughout Australia.

The Senate will recall that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) announced in his policy speech on 29 April 1974 that the Australian Broadcasting Commission would be authorised to develop plans for a second ABC network in rural areas. Cabinet has now decided that the ABC will be permitted to proceed with planning for the establishment of 14 additional amplitude modulation stations in metropolitan and regional areas and 14 new FM stations in metropolitan and regional areas- a total of 28 new ABC radio stations. In accordance with the Cabinet decision my Department will consult with other Government departments, including the Department of Urban and Regional Development, in the technical planning of this particular expansion of the national service. Details of funding will be determined when the authorised planning is complete. The nature of the ABC, however, is such that it just cannot be expected to provide all the information and entertainment that many communities and groups in Australian society feel they need. The ABC is essentially a professional broadcasting body with a national responsibility. In the new public broadcasting area we seek to develop, the emphasis is to be less on 'professionalism ' in broadcasting and more on participation at a local or specialised level.

In May last year I stated that I had asked my Department to investigate means of allowing community groups and ordinary members of the public greater access to the use of radio and television. On the advice that had been tendered to previous Postmasters-General up to that time, it appeared that the frequencies available for new radio services in the conventional AM band were extremely limited. However, shortly after I made that speech I was able to convince my Party colleagues that there were real possibilities for the development of public broadcasting in Australia. The Labor Party Conference in 1973 adopted a policy statement which I recommended, referring to 'the need to investigate the technical feasibility of establishing public stations, and for action to be taken in the light of such an investigation'.

Immediately following that Conference, I asked the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to conduct a careful review of its technical planning policies. Then, in August 1 973, the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts presented to the Senate an interim report which recommended the establishment of a new and independent inquiry into frequency modulation radio broadcasting in Australia. After studying that report, I recommended to Cabinet- and the Government agreed- that the Committee's recommendation for a new inquiry should be adopted. While that Committee- now known as the McLean Committee- was still hearing evidence the Broadcasting Control Board reported to me that, with a reasonable modification of the existing technical policy in the medium frequency band, the number of AM stations throughout Australia could eventually be doubled. I made the contents of that report public on 20 February 1974, and the possibilities of this development were recognised by the McLean Committee in the recommendations it made to the Government on frequency modulation broadcasting a month or so later. Those recommendations of the McLean report, subsequently accepted in principle by Cabinet, now form the basis for Government policy in the planning of new radio services.

The implementation of the recommendations has been delayed by the double dissolution and the general election this year, but the complex planning required in determining priorities for the establishment of new radio stations is now under way. The Priorities Review Staff have prepared a report on the planning problems in this area for consideration by the Prime Minister. Both the Priorities Review Staff report and my recent submission to Cabinet have taken account of discussion papers originating from my Department and the results of a seminar on public broadcasting conducted by the Department of the Media. Cabinet has now approved my proposal that the Music Broadcasting Society of New South Wales and the Music Broadcasting Society of Victoria should be invited to set up experimental FM broadcasting stations in Sydney and Melbourne respectively.

As another part of this experimental program, the Australian Broadcasting Commission will also be invited to give consideration to the operation of 2 new AM radio stations- one in Sydney and one in Melbourne- using stand-by transmitters. The University of Adelaide also will be invited to extend its present limited broadcasting operations on the AM Band to include new forms of broadcasting. By way of comment I might add that these decisions of Cabinet are far reaching and most significant in the history of Australian radio development. Cabinet re-affirmed that broadcasting would continue to fall within the responsibility of the Minister for the Media, and I can assure the Senate that I will, as a matter of priority, seek to have these decisions put into practice to begin a new era in the advancement of radio development in Australia, which has been needed for more than 20 years.

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