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Thursday, 10 March 1932

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) .- The Postmaster-General was generous enough to admit that this bill follows very closely the draft which I was about to present to Parliament prior to the general election. A.s a matter of fact I had actually circulated the draft to party leaders when the unfortunate and entirely unexpected dissolution of Parliament took place last year. I do not propose to deal with the history of broadcasting, which was outlined in a. very interesting manner by the Minister who introduced the bill. A few years ago broadcasting, being a much less important service than it is today, was entirely controlled by private concerns with a few A class stations. Subsequently the Bruce-Page Government arranged to take over from private companies ' the then existing stations, and planned to carry out with the abundant funds then at its disposal, an extensive programme of development, which included the establishment of national service stations in different parts of the Commonwealth, particularly the more remote centres. The financial depression caused the Scullin Government to abandon that programme with the exception of certain works definitely planned for immediate undertaking. It was intended to establish up-to-date broadcasting stations in all the capitals; money was provided for the purpose, and tenders were called for the necessary plant. The fifth of the series was the Crystal Brook station in South Australia, and the sixth was the station at Perth. Unfortunately, work on the Perth station was stopped. The order for the plant was cancelled, and the station has not yet been completed. When the decision to cease work on the stations was reached, the Crystal Brook station was so far advanced that it was decided to complete it. The fact that the Perth station remains unfinished has caused a good deal of feeling in Western Australia. Indeed, perhaps as much as anything, it has rankled in the minds of those who talk of secession. Many persons there believe that they are not getting from the Commonwealth the deal to which they are entitled.

The Scullin Government decided that the plant for tlie Perth broadcasting station, instead, of being imported, should be manufactured by the electrical engineers attached to the Postmaster-General's Department. We made arrangements for the purchase of land on which to place the station, and, as always is the case when sites are being selected, a good deal of trouble was encountered. This was brought about because various technical factors had to be taken into consideration. Apparently, the present Government does not propose to continue the work begun by the last Government. The Minister has said that as soon as funds are available, work will be resumed, but I can assure him that money has been definitely set aside for this purpose.

Mr Beasley - Is the policy of manufacturing wireless plant in the department's workshops being continued?

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I trust so; it was begun., and I hope that it will be continued. Following on the taking over of the private stations, tenders were called for the supply of programmes for a period of three years, the successful tenderer being the Australian Broadcasting Company. It was arranged that this company should receive 12s. from every licence-fee of 24s., 9s. was to go to the Government, and 3s. was to be paid as royalty on the patent rights held, or said to be held, by the Amalgamated Wireless Company. Our Government decided not to renew its con- tract with the Australian Broadcasting Company; but that is not to say that we were dissatisfied with the services rendered. We desired to establish a national system of broadcast control somewhat on the British system. Since I have been in a position to know anything of the matter, I have always maintained that the services provided by the Australian Broadcasting Company were distinctly good. Mi-. Doyle, the chief executive officer of that company, managed it in a highly capable way, and with a large amount of public spirit. It has been said that the proportion of the fees which went to this company appeared to be rather high. I agree with that, and, at the present time, it would amount to £201,500 a year. It has to be remembered, however, that the artists employed by the company received considerably more than half the revenue which went to the company.

Moreover, the company paid to our old friends, the Performing Right Association - concerning whom we all get a little impatient - more than £30,000 a year.

Mr White - Is not the Australian Broadcasting Company interested in. the Performing Right Association?

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - No ; the Australian Broadcasting Company, as such, is not, but one of the members of the company has an interest in the Performing Right Association. Mr. Doyle, who is the most active spirit in the company, and carries most of the work on his shoulders, approached Mr. Albert, and through him was successful in obtaining a reduction of the fees payable to the Performing Right Association. However, even yet we are not satisfied with the charges made by the association, but we cannot have them reduced by a wave of the hand.

Mr Beasley - Could it not be done by legislation?

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - As the PostmasterGeneral has pointed out, it is largely a legal matter. Both in Australia and New Zealand, attempts have been made to fight the association, but so far with little success. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) stated by interjection that in Great Britain the performing right fees sire only one-fifth of what they are here.

Mr Hughes - I have been since informed by Mr. Edwards, the secretary of the Performing Right Association, that what I said 'was inaccurate. I shall endeavour to ascertain the facts later.

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The fees charged here seem to be unduly high. This is an international matter, and one difficult to deal with. There is a great deal to be said on behalf of the artists all over the world who copyright their music, and are as much entitled to derive royalties from their work as is an inventor whose idea is covered by a patent. Of course, just how much of the performing right fees goes to the artists has never been made clear.

The fact that the contract with the Australian Broadcasting Company terminated on the 30th June, required our Government to decide upon its future policy for the control of broadcasting.

We had to decide whether we should renew the contract; whether we should call for fresh tenders, or whether it would be better to inaugurate a policy of national broadcasting. Many persons who are not Labour sympathizers, believe that broadcasting is a matter which lends itself peculiarly to some system of national control. It is a great utility, and an important form of entertainment, which enters into the lives of the most remote dwellers in the backblocks, and for that reason should not be made a means of private profit. Our Government, therefore, decided to institute a system of national control.

Frequent complaints have been made regarding the quality of the programmes put on the air by the Australian Broadcasting Company. I am sure, however, that if the honorable members who have voiced that complaint visited one of the company's studios, and saw there the great number of artists, both Australian and British, they would realize that it was better for us to encourage this system of entertainment than to treat the public to the " canned " efforts of foreign artists.

Mr White - What sort of artists are employed by the company? Perhaps, the public would be better off without their services.

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Until our local artists are tried out, no one can know what possible genius is in our midst. I have also visited the B-class studios, and can understand why it is said that these stations provide better music than the A-class stations. It is very easily done. At one station I visited there was a local quartette of no great ability, which had volunteered its services, regarding it as an honour to be put on the air. There was also a local comedian who did his turn, after which the operator put on a musical record from the score of "Viennese Nights". The rest of the evening was taken up with gramophone records. It was rather painful to have to listen to it at close range, but I was told in a town a few miles away that it was a splendid programme. The difference between the B and A class stations is that the one provides chiefly " canned " music, while the other provides an opportunity for the development of local talent. Clause 25 of this bill makes provision for the establishment of a national orchestra. That is a most important undertaking, and in itself is a strong argument in favour of inaugurating a system of national broadcasting control.

Some honor able members favour the idea of having the broadcasting stations placed directly under the control of the officers of the postal department. If I could see that the suggestion was practicable, I should endorse it, more particularly if the commission included the present director of postal services. Every one who knows him will agree that he would be in every way suitable for the position. But it would be impossible to attach to this gentleman, in addition to his ordinary duties which he is carrying out with outstanding success, the onerous duties which will be undertaken by the chairman of this commission.

Mr Gabb - The ex-member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) is not of that opinion.

Mr Archdale Parkhill - He is turning in his political grave.

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Mr. Eldridgeacted according to his convictions, but I think that he would have taken a different attitude had he known the Director-General of Postal Services as well as I do. National broadcasting should be under the control, not of the Postal Department, but of a commission. The bill provides for the appointment of five commissioners - a chairman, a vice-chairman, and three commissioners. The Scullin Government proposed to pay the chairman £1,500per annum, the vice-chairman £500 per annum, and the other commissioners £300 per annum. This bill provides a salary of £500 per annum for the chairman, £400 per annum for the vice-chairman, and £300 per annum for the other commissioners. The Scullin Government had in mind the appointment of a commissioner who would devote the whole of his time to national broad casting, giving service for service sake, and in addition be in direct liaison with the other members of the commission. We could not expect a chairman, at a salary of £500 per annum, to devote his whole time to this work. We have a great task before us. The whole of the twelve national service stations throughout Australia have to be staffed. I do not know whether the existing staff will be taken over, but the new staff must be au fait with the technical side as well as the business side of broadcasting, otherwise there is likely to be a breakdown in the service. There is no doubt that many newspapers in this country, which have vested interests behind them, will be only too eager to criticize this national broadcasting scheme, and, therefore, we should appoint as chairman of the commission, the best man available irrespective of party. The appointment of the general manager rests with the commission, [t is, therefore, essential that we should appoint commissioners who are keen judges of men, and able to gauge their ability and capacity. The general managership is the base on which the edifice of broadcasting will rest. The Postmaster-General is to control the activities of the commission. It will not be able to acquire property which exceeds a value of £5,000, without the consent of the Minister. The commission must also provide studios, offices and other accommodation. Probably the existing studios will be taken over at a fair value. The bill provides that the commission shall not, without the permission of the Minister, transmit or receive for transmission any message the transmission of which would contravene the Post and Telegraph Act or the Wireless Telegraphy Act. The need for that provision is evident, because, if the commission were given a free hand it could seriously interfere with the revenues of the Postal Department, at the same time depriving of employment many highly-skilled postal officers. Clause 22 provides that the commission shall not broadcast advertisements in general. That provision will be welcomed by the great newspapers of Australia. Sub-clause 2 of that clause provides that nothing shall prevent the commission from broadcasting, if it thinks fit, sponsored programmes. That is a wise provision. Easy money is at present being made by some of the B class stations in the capital cities, from the broadcasting of sponsored programmes by the Shell Oil Company, and other firms. In these cases the only advertisement used is announced at the beginning of the programme.

Mr Archdale Parkhill - The words- " Shell Oil " are mentioned about every two minutes.

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The Minister has evidently not listened to sponsored programmes. The B class stations, in their programmes intersperse items with advertisements relating to sox, cough cure, lip sticks, and other things, the broadcasting of which would demean a national service. Therefore, the bill restricts the national service stations' to advertising in the form of sponsored programmes. It is not right that the B class stations situated in thickly populated centres should be able to take the cream of the funds available for advertisement purposes, at the same time lowering the standard of their programmes. It has been complained that there are too many weather reports from the national service. As a matter of fact it is most essential that the people in the country should have the latest meteorological information. The B class stations suit the people who prefer modern syncopated music, such as the " Kentucky Bunny Hug " or items like the " Two Black Crows ". A national service station must aim at a high standard. Clause 24 is designed to give encouragement to the development of local talent. Clause 25 provides that the commission shall endeavour to encourage the rendition of orchestra], choral and band music of high quality. If by means of this legislation we establish an orchestra such as that brought into being by the British Broadcasting Company, we shall have more than justified this innovation. When the Scullin Government was considering legislation similar to this, it was approached by persons of musical and artistic attainments who asked that their interests should be represented on the commission. This Government proposes to overcome that difficulty by providing that the commission may appoint committees to advise it on all matters in connexion with the provision or rendition of broadcasting programmes. That will enable persons of talent and special knowledge to co-operate with the commission in an. effort to improve the standard of the national broadcasting service. The bill provides that debentures may be issued, (he amount being limited to £50,000 at any one time. The hill has been tightened up by placing upon the commission the obligation to refer certain matters to the Minister. I trust that the Government will exercise proper control of national broadcasting without hampering tie commission with red tape, which, of course, is not actually used in the Public Service. The man outside the Service always considers that he can do a better job than the man inside it. In fact there are thousands of people outside this House who believe that they could represent the Federal constituencies much better than we do; but I am sure no honorable member will agree with this opinion. Another important provision gives power to the Minister to prohibit the commission from broadcasting any matter.

If that power is used wisely it will he beneficial; if unwisely used, it will prove disastrous.

I am almost entirely in agreement with the bill, but I should like to be quite sure what will be the duties of the Commissioners. I hope that those selected will be of undoubted integrity, and that they will be people who have not been too prominently associated with Nationalist politics.

The Governnent cannot hope that this bill will pass through both Houses, and particularly the Senate, without being subjected to a storm of criticism. I predict that the storm centre will be the sponsored programmes. Other issues may be introduced merely as decoys. I hope that the Government will not submit to dictation in this matter. Our metropolitan B class stations are strongly entrenched. One has only to be a Minister i.n control of broadcasting to know that. Immediately a change of policy is indicated, the Minister is inundated with suggestions from interested parties. I hope that the Government will not give way to this class which already holds special privileges.

Mr Beasley - All B class stations are not controlled by vested interests.

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I know that the Sydney Trades Hall has no vested interests; it is stony broke. And that is more or less the position of the Melbourne Trades Hall.

Mr Beasley - There are other B class stations which are not associated with vested interests.

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I am aware of that, and I shall not quarrel with the honorable member on that issue. He must know that some B class stations are controlled by newspaper combines, which use them to broadcast only one political opinion. I had hoped that the air would be free to all, and that at election time every party would be given an opportunity to express its opinions over the air. Unfortunately that has not been our experience. Certain newspaper combines are endeavouring to obtain a monopoly of B class stations, and I sound the note of war.ning that sooner or later some government will have to tackle the very difficult, but necessary task of dealing with, the problem of metropolitan B class stations. Nothing short of a complete national scheme will do. In Great Britain there are no B class stations; there broadcasting has been brought under national control. For reasons, which I cannot at present traverse, that cannot yet be done in Australia. I admit that country B class stations are performing a useful service, in many cases at a loss to those concerned. My objection is against the operation of chains of newspapers such as that which is obtaining such a stranglehold over the eastern part of Victoria, and disseminating its propaganda through the stations that it controls. There are also other big corporations that are acquiring interests in B class stations by lending money to those who now own them, and shortly a monopoly will come into existence which will be detrimental to the welfare of Australia.

I am pleased that the bill has been introduced. I hope that a national orchestra may be established, and that the operation of the measure may bring into being a national broadcasting service, whose standard will equal that of the existing service. I wish the bill a speedy passage, and express the hope that there may be no alteration in the matters to which I have drawn attention after it leaves this House.

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