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Tuesday, 3 December 1974
Page: 3032

Senator YOUNG (South Australia) - I was very interested in the comments of Senator Everett when he said that no doubt the Opposition had been influenced by vested interests. I want to refute that statement. This is not the case. The Opposition respects the fact that the people of this country have a vested interest in what happens in the area of communication, whether it is in radio, in television or in the Press or any of the media. We do and should continue to cherish the freedoms of this country. At the same time we should never allow them to be eroded in any way. Control itself should be exercised only by laws, but within those laws we can still have our rights and our freedoms. In having and applying those rights and freedoms we should be able to live within the law and to be protected by the law. One of the main freedoms in this country is our freedom of speech. That is something of which we have always been able to boast proudly, and I trust of which we in this nation always can boast. At the same time we should never put it at risk in any way, because as far as I am concerned, God help this country when we no longer have freedom of speech. We have seen what has happened in other countries. We have seen the tragedies of other countries where people have even been suppressed because they were not allowed the freedom to thinkCzechoslovakia for example. This Bill gives indications of eroding those freedoms.

I appreciate that the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) in his second reading speech stated that the Government has made certain amendments to this Bill. The Government has been made aware of the necessity for those amendments because in the other place the Opposition made it clear and spelt out very firmly the grave areas- I emphasise the word 'grave'- of concern in the proposed legislation. There is so much concern, in fact, that it was made clear by Mr Killen in leading the debate for the Opposition in the other place that the Opposition would be opposing the motion for the second reading of the Bill. The Opposition did that in the other place but by the sheer brutality of numbers it was not successful. He indicated at the same time that we, the Opposition in this place, would oppose the second reading. I was pleased to hear Senator Hall say today that he will be supporting us in our opposition to the motion for the second reading of the Bill.

The Minister made certain amendments to the Bill but they do not go far enough. There are still many areas within it whereby there will be control by the proposed Authority in areas that I consider are completely unnecessary and wrong. Further, the Minister himself will still have quite a say by way of ministerial discretion or direction. There is too much erosion of freedom. We will be placed in a situation where there will be unnecessary interference in the freedom of operation of television and radio.

We do not disagree that there should be rules and standards. The broadcasting and television stations also agree with this because they want their guidelines and they want to know the exact area in which they can work. Having said that, how much further does the Government want to go? This Bill does not clarify or set out the guidelines. As Senator Everett said earlier when he was criticising our Party when in government, we had certain regulations and certain guidelines for the media. But this Bill does not stop there, it goes much further. The original intention of this Bill was to provide so much ministerial control that one could state firmly that the Minister would have had total control. Let me hasten to add that I have great respect for the Minister for the Media. I do not think for a moment that he would be a man who would abuse that control, but the Minister in charge of this portfolio at present will not always be the Minister in charge of it and it is the responsibility of this Parliament to legislate in such a way that the rights of the people and freedom of speech are protected. We cannot work on the immediate position and say that we trust the integrity of the Minister in charge of this legislation and the operation of the Act. This matter goes far beyond that; it goes far beyond personalities. Personalities change but the Act goes on. That is our view about this legislation.

Within the Bill various things are not defined. Mention is made of rules, standards, determinations, directions, orders, conditions, regulations, requirements. I cannot find a definition for any of those words yet they are in the Bill and they relate to grey areas as far as I am concerned. I would be pleased if the Minister could give me an explanation or a definition later on. These things need to be spelled out but that has not happened in any way at all.

I refer to clause 6 (b) of the Bill which seeks to amend the principal Act. That paragraph refers to 'programs containing matter of any class or character specified in the determination'. This is an area whereby the proposed Authority can have quite a deal of control over programming. This concerns me greatly because the process of programming takes in such things as news and films for television. What can happen in this area? There can be influence, persuasion and direction by the proposed Authority over the broadcasting and television stations as to what will be shown and when it is shown. There are such things as peak viewing times. Perhaps the Government could say that it never denied a station the right to show a certain program but it could move that program from peak time and have it shown in another time slot.

Once there is interference in programming the Government is doing more than just having a say in the operation; it is interference in basic freedom. The Government also would be interfering in the efficiency of the operation and probably in the monetary return of a company. This is allimportant. This Bill refers to commercial television and broadcasting stations, not the Australian Broadcasting Commission. We are talking purely of commercial stations and they get no financial assistance from the revenue. I am not criticising the ABC for this. We accept the ABC's operations in radio and television as being individual and entirely separate and its expenditures are met from general revenue, but where do the commercial stations go when they run down their liquidity? The only way they can operate is as efficient businesses, and if they do not do so they will not be businesses much longer. Interference by the proposed Authority or by a Minister could place a company in dire financial straits, be it a radio company or a television company. I am referring now to the business side of the matter, not just the aspect of the right of freedom of speech.

One other thing was said by Senator Everett today. I think he expressed probably why the Government is keen to have this legislation. He referred to the monopoly of mass communications. If I am not correctly quoting him perhaps he will correct me. He referred to tripartite control of the Press, radio and television by one man or one company. I think that may be at the base of this legislation. There is a fear, a suspicion, that eventually the media will come under the control of one man or a monopoly, or perhaps one or two groups. What is proposed in this legislation is that there be a transfer of control from that one man, that monopoly or that group to the Government so that the Government has the monopoly and the control. I do not want to see a monopoly or an individual have control in this area or in any other commercial area in this country. I do not support the concept of monopolisation. But having said that, I do not want to see this Government in charge of the media of this country. God help this country if we ever reach the situation that applies in some other countries where the government controls communications. I do not want to see government control over the Press, television and radio, in fact the whole of the media of this country, because it virtually would set up a total propaganda machine for itself.

I refer to other areas of this Bill and draw the attention of honourable senators to clause 6 (e) relating to a proposed new sub-section which states:

Rules determined by the Authority in pursuance of paragraph (e) of sub-section (3) may include requirements, being requirements approved by the Minister, with respect to the broadcasting of programs or with respect to the televising of programs that are, as defined in the determination, programs of Australian origin.

I would be one of the first to support the encouragement of more Australian participation in the development of the arts in this country. I think this is an excellent concept. It is something which was started by John Gorton when he was Prime Minister of this country and it has been carried on by this Government. I give the whole concept my full support but I am not prepared to give the Minister the right to say what will and what will not be the content of television programs, be they of Australian origin or be they of some other origin, because I think that such a decision should go further than one man. I will not support this concept even though I emphasise again that I do support the concept of the encouragement of the development of the arts in this country and of greater participation by Australians and the showing of more Australian programs within our radio and television system. Developments along these lines are taking place.

Today Senator Everett again made great play on section 99 of the principal Act which is dealt with in clause 13 of the Minister's Bill. Here again we are dealing with the situation of the Minister wanting to take some control for himself. Clause 1 3 of the Bill proposes that section 99 of the principal Act be amended by omitting the words 'standards determined by the Board' and substituting other words. These words which it is proposed to substitute give further power to the Authority, which indirectly comes back to the Minister because the Minister's amendments relate to clause 6 of the Bill, or section 16 of the principal Act. The Minister's amendments are related directly only to paragraph (b) of proposed new sub-section (3B), but they leave open some of the other areas that are not covered by regulation or order of this Parliament. So there are situations in relation to which one could find loopholes in the Act.

Clause 14 of the Bill deals with section 100 of the principal Act, which is concerned with advertising. The Bill proposes an amendment to subsection (4), which reads:

A licensee shall comply with such standards as the Board determines in relation to the broadcasting or television of advertisements.

The Bill proposes to delete this sub-section completely. Sub-section (5) of section 100 of the Act reads:

A licensee shall not broadcast or televise advertisements on a Sunday except in such manner and in accordance with such conditions as the Board determines.

The Minister proposes by his Bill to delete the words 'on a Sunday'. If the Minister's proposal is accepted we will finish up with a very powerful sub-section of section 100 which will read:

A licensee shall not broadcast or televise advertisements except in such manner and in accordance with such conditions as the Board determines.

I want to return now to the area of commercialism. This Bill deals with commercial radio and television stations. Commercial radio and television stations live by advertisements. Under the Bill we find that the Authority will have a sayand a big say- in relation to the advertisements that are broadcast by the radio and television stations. Advertisements are the jugular vein of the various companies that run the radio and television stations. The Bill proposes an interference whereby these companies- let me be quite honest about this- could be slowly strangled if the Government and the personalities on the Authority were ruthless enough. If they wanted to go one step further- I am not saying that this will happen, but let us put it on the line because it could happen- we would then have the situation where the Government, having squeezed these companies down one by one, could pick them off. What would it do with them? It would take them in and nationalise them.

Senator Milliner - Can you tell us how?

Senator YOUNG - Senator, ifa company runs short of money and goes broke, it has had its chips. One only has to look at what is happening in the United Kingdom at the moment with its socialist Government; one by one big industries are slowly being bled to death. The Government picks up the tab and pays 40 per cent, 50 per cent or 60 per cent of the company's worth and it gets control. That is what the game is all about. That is an inherent danger in this proposed legislation. That is another reason why I will not support it and why my Party will not support it. I repeat that it is no good saying that these things will not happen. It is no good saying that the legislation could lend itself to certain situations such as the one I have described but that that is not its intention. It is no good the Government saying: 'We do not intend to do that'. We have already seen the Government's attempt in regard to the Australian Film Commission. It tried to step in and provide not only for ministerial control of content of Australian films and short films but also for the Minister to have the ability to direct a picture theatre to show certain films. In other words, the Minister would have had such control that he would have been able to set up his own propaganda machine from production right through to distribution. That is one instance. Again I am not saying that it would have happened, but the proposed legislation contained the power for it to happen.

We have the same sort of power sitting in this Broadcasting and Television Bill. I repeat that it is no good saying that these things might not happen. The Pipeline Authority Bill was before the Senate not very long ago. Unfortunately we in the Opposition did not have the numbers to prevent it from becoming legislation but we pleaded with others who, collectively with us, would have made up sufficient numbers to block that legislation. We failed and the Government carried the day. The Minister in charge of the Bill was not concerned about the clauses in the legislation about which we were concerned. He said that what we feared would never happen. What has happened? Because of the interference of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) under that legislation it has been a disaster for this country. He has interfered from the northwest of Western Australia to the Redcliffe project in South Australia. One could go on, but I use that instance as an example. I refer to the recent move by the South Australian Government to provide for government interference in the media in South Australia. Governments are prone to do these things. We have seen the Film Corporation proposals and this television and radio Bill. Are the media next? My job as a member of this Parliament, as a member of this Senate, is to protect the rights and the interests of the people of this country. In the process of protecting those rights- I refer to the freedom of speech in this country- I have no alternative but to accept my responsibilities and to oppose this legislation.

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