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Tuesday, 3 December 1974
Page: 3031

Senator STEELE HALL (South AustraliaLeader of the Liberal Movement) - My remarks also will be brief. I am pleased to support the Opposition's view that this Bill should be defeated. In fact, if the Opposition had proceeded in this chamber with its move in the Lower House to amend the Bill suitably I would have voted for the defeat of every amendment and left the Bill in a state completely obnoxious to the Opposition so that it would have had to defeat it on the motion for the third reading of the Bill. That is certainly the course I would have followed if the Opposition had done in this House as the Opposition did in the House of Representatives. I have taken that view after a great deal of discussion with many people on all sides of the question of whether this amending Bill should be passed.

I had spoken in the first instance to television interests, including the local television management in South Australia. I have spoken to representatives of the Broadcasting Control Board and I have spoken to representatives of radio and to other people interested in this matter. Like, I am sure, other honourable senators I have been inundated by requests to oppose these amendments to the Broadcasting and Television Act on behalf of the children of Australia because of the standard of the program it has been said will be foisted on them if the Bill is passed. Out of all of this conjecture, statements and assessments I have concluded that the Bill is too dangerous to be passed.

Senator Everettcan say that it is an emotional decision if he likes, but I believe that the Bill is dangerous because there is a very great rush at the moment to control the media in Australia. There have been words spoken about this matter in debates on other Bills in this House. Again I draw the attention of the Senate to what is happening in other forms of the media, particularly in South Australia. I have in front of me a copy of what has happily been defeated in the South Australian Parliament. It is the Privacy Bill which, in a most obnoxious form, was introduced in South Australia to restrict greatly the ability of the media and the private citizen to speak its and his mind in the South Australian community. That Bill went as far as to make it an offence to use a fact which was likely to annoy. That was a legislative arrangement which the Dunstan Labor Government tried to institute in South Australia.

In addition to that, however, there has been a very great attempt at thought control in South Australia. On the eleventh floor of the Premier's Department building there is a new barrage of electronic media which is feeding out taped messages to the Press. The day is fast passing in my State when the media can question Ministers of State at first hand. The Press is to receive and is receiving recorded messages as answers to its queries. Of course no searching inquiry can be made of recorded messages. One will receive simply what the Government will give. It has reached such a state in South Australia that the public has never been told, for instance, that the State Government Insurance Office has an accumulated loss of $4m. The media is not interested in printing it because the Premier of the day has said: 'It is all right. We will be making a loss for the next 10 years. I have told you it is all right and it is all right.' The public of South Austrafia has never been told and is not likely to be told. That is a reverse type of thought control. 1 abhor the situation that could develop under this Bill when very considerable additional controls would be given to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. I have been told that in certain quarters of the television management area there has been a pervasive influence of threat that has come out of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board's view of the situation, and that it had been expected that this legislation would come before the Parliament because certain statements needed the backing of legislation and certain powers had to be confirmed. The Minister has gone too far. If he wanted to strengthen existing powers, he should have tried to strengthen existing powers. He should not have tried to spread a net of this width and strength that has certainly greatly alarmed the media wherever I have met its members. One can assume only that this Bill is really a statement of no confidence in the existing negotiating powers of the Board. I could not imagine that the Board, with the powers in the existing Act, could not effectively go to management of the media and demand and get co-operation. Its basic power is the power not to renew a licence. If that is not a basic power, I do not know what is. Therefore, the atmosphere in which the Minister brings this Bill into the Senate is not a happy one. There has been this attempt in South Australia. The Minister has said in the Senate in answer to a question that it is Government policy to have a national newspaper. He did not explain how far government thinking has gone on this matter. I do not wish to misrepresent him, but I think he said that it is under discussion. He certainly left the matter in the air in the sense that he said that it was current government policy.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - 1 think you will find that I said it is government policy to conduct a feasibility study.

Senator STEELE HALL - Yes. I will not misrepresent the Minister. I do not wish to do so. I accept what he said. I think it serves my purpose equally as well that it is government policy to have a feasibility study into the proposition to have a national newspaper in Australia. I utterly reject the thought that there should be such a vehicle. I say to the Minister that it is not a good atmosphere in which the Minister asks the Senate to approve extensive increases in the Control Board 's powers. With the policy standing as it is in that regard, the example of what another type of Labor government will do in a State and the powers that the Minister asks for now, I must vote against this Bill.

It is conceivable that there could be some interference with the presentation of the news or some slanting of reporting from a private source, but it is quite ridiculous to say that there is no risk of that from a government controlled source. It is quite fatuous to insist that one has a better morality than the other in relation to what it could do to twist the news media. If we look at what has happened in other countries we see very many instances of governments using and twisting the media and in fact re-writing history by their use of the media. This is going on in very many countries at the moment. We do not want to give our Government the means to do that in this country. We want to leave established the checks and balances that exist today. If after some further time the Board requires an increase in or a substantiation of its power to meet future challenges that will be engendered to its determinations, let this Minister or some other Minister bring the proposal to the Senate. Whoever the Minister is, he should realise that in solving the problem he should not bring forward a blanket proposal such as the proposal that is now brought forward.

I do not believe we should be extreme in passing this Bill. We should meet the situation and be encouraging the Board to be as co-operative as it can with private industry. I pay tribute to the leaders of the television and radio networks that have spoken to me, to the views that they have and to the track record that they have. In my opinion and in my experience they have not been obstructive to the desires and wishes of the Control Board. Why should they be penalised? Why should they be threatened? Why should their future development be cast under some sort of cloud because of a few who might cause a malfunction in the system? As I understand it, the negotiating powers of the Board have not been fully used in respect of its intentions if it says that its Act at the moment is not strong enough.

I do not distrust the present Minister, whose work I have admired on a number of occasions, but that is not the point in passing legislation. The point is this: To what extent would powers be put into the Act if this amending Bill were passed? The proposed Act would be available to some future Minister, of whatever type of politics, whose intensity of administration and determination to control is as yet unknown to the Parliament. For those reasons I will join the Opposition in voting to defeat this Bill.

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