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Tuesday, 3 May 1932

Mr THOMPSON (New England) . - I am surprised that the clause dealing with the powers and functions of the proposed broadcasting commission has been drawn in such a haphazard and incomplete way. I can only conclude that insufficient attention was given to the matter, not only by the advisors of the Government, but also by the Minister himself, having regard to the importance of the provision, and the necessity of having this clause made as watertight as possible. However much we may disagree regarding the salaries which ought to be paid to the commissioners, and the method in which they and the general manager should be appointed, there can surely be no difference of opinion upon the necessity of having the powers and functions of the commission as clearly defined as it is possible to make them. Therefore, I believe that the Minister would be wise, before rushing this clause through, to pay particular attention to the remarks and suggestions of honorable members, and then to reconsider the clause to see whether it is not possible to effect improvements in it.

In one respect, at least, the Government appears to have placed itself in an untenable position. There is no reference in clause 16 to the control or supervision of B class stations, and that appears to mc to be a vital defect in the bill. I propose at a suitable time to move an amendment to include among the functions of the commission a genera) control over B class stations in the interests of broadcasting generally. Clause Ki is, I believe, the proper place in which to insert a provision to that effect. Clause 16 confers the key powers of the commission, and a provision should be included to enable the commission to control B class stations. 1 understand that the Minister proposes to delete sub-clause 2, which givos power to regulate the hours during which programmes shall be broadcast through A class stations. If that is the best the Minister has been able to do to improve the bill, I suggest that the mountain has laboured and brought forth a mouse. After all, the important question is not whether the Minister shall have power to determine the hours of broadcasting, but what is to be the nature of his general powers over the commission. I much doubt whether any Minister could exercise supervision over such a body. No harm will be done whether sub-clause 2 is retained or struck out; but I ask the Minister whether, in place of that sub-clause, he is prepared to insert a new sub-clause giving the commission a general power over B class stations. It would be rather difficult to confer that power in the first part of the clause, without having the whole provision redrafted; but it would be a simple matter to give it in a new sub-clause. It is recognized in most countries that B class stations form a vital part of their broadcasting system, and they have become more important to the general public than the A class stations. It has been said in this chamber, and in the press, that B class stations provide the greater part of the entertainment which the people of Australia receive over the air. One reason is that there are about 40 B class and. only about twelve A class stations. In Sydney, for instance, there are only two A class stations, but there are five or six of the B class. As a matter of fact, the multiplicity of B class stations in the capital cities to-day is proving a serious obstacle to the popularity of broadcasting, because it has now become difficult to regulate the various wave lengths to prevent their overlapping. The wave lengths of several

B class stations already conflict with those of A class stations. It was announced recently that the great race of Phar Lap at Agua Caliente would be broadcast through a B class station ; but the transmission was a total failure, and so far as Sydney was concerned, that seemed to be due to the fact that several B class stations were crowding out the station that was broadcasting a description of the race, and the public heard practically nothing of it. I do not suppose that the broadcast was deliberately interfered with; but it would be possible for competing stations to spoil an enterprise undertaken by another B class station for the sake of a big advertisement.

The tendency among B class stations is to put an increasing number of advertising programmes over the air, because they depend on advertisements for their revenue. I suggest, however, that, it is Mot conducive to the best interests, of broadcasting to permit B class stations to jamb the air with advertisements. In my opinion, A class stations should not be allowed to submit sponsored programmes. The B class stations give one or two gramophone records, and with them are half a dozen advertising announcements. This disparity will need some correction sooner or later. Those who pay 24s. a year for a listening-in licence do so because, in addition to the A class programmes, they have the choice of a large number of B class programmes. I consider that the B class stations should receive a portion of the revenue derived from listening-in licences, to enable them to be less dependent than they now are on revenue derived from advertisements. This may not be practicable at the present time; but we should regulate the number and class of advertisements now being put over the air.

Mr Hughes - The Minister has some control already; he can refuse .to grant licences to broadcast.

Mr THOMPSON - That is the only control which he has.

Mr Stewart - But that is a fairly effective control.

Mr THOMPSON - It is of little value, because anybody with the necessary financial backing to establish a B class station can obtain a licence.

Mr Stewart - No.

Mr THOMPSON - The honorable member established a B class station recently, and he had no trouble in getting the necessary licence. B class stations are in operation or there is a move to establish them to-day in almost every country town.

Mr Maxwell - What sort of control does the honorable member suggest should be exercised?

Mr THOMPSON - We should make the commission the supreme authority, and we should insert a clause giving it genera] control and supervision over B class stations, this authority to be exercised in whatever manner it consider? fit in the interest of national broadcasting.

Mr McBride - The commission could put the B class stations out of business if it so desired.

Mr Hughes - The honorable member suggests that, as the Minister has abandoned control under this bill over A class stations, he should now take control over the B class stations; but that seems inconsistent.

Mr THOMPSON - The right honorable gentleman is putting words into my mouth that I did not use. I did noi say that the Minister had abandoned control of the A class stations. If the right honorable gentleman examines the bill he will see that the Minister is retaining a considerable measure of control, a good deal of which is necessary.

Mr Hughes - He will have no power of control.

Mr THOMPSON - Oh yes he will, subject to the commission. We have merely removed certain words from the bill which might have conveyed the impression that the Government was endeavouring to establish political control of wireless. There are 40 B class stations in Australia at present, and as the number of listeners increases so, inevitably, the number of B class stations will increase. The establishment of a number of these stations has been unfortunate to those who put money into them. But there is not the slightest doubt that until more relay stations are established the B class stations will continue to be an important factor in broadcasting in Australia, for if people cannot tune into A class stations they will go to the next best, which are the B class stations. The Government should, therefore, have some measure of control over these stations.

Mr Fenton - It has control over them under the provisions of the Wireless Telegraphy Act. If any provisions are put into this bill in respect of B class stations they may involve extensive amendments to the Wireless Telegraphy Act.

Mr THOMPSON - Then let us face the fact.

Mr Fenton - The object of this bill is to deal solely with the national stations. The Government has extensive powers over the B class stations under the Wireless Telegraphy Act.

Mr A GREEN (KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - It can even cancel the licences of B class stations if it thinks it proper to do so.

Mr THOMPSON - It is all very well to make a statement of that kind, but the Government must be well aware that if it cancelled the licence of any important B class station it would be a case of "hell let loose." Take, for instance, station 2KY, perhaps the most, used - or misused - B class station in Australia. The Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Lang) was not allowed the use of the national broadcasting stations a little while ago. I think he should have been allowed to put his story over, whether it was true or false. I do not agree with the policy of preventing public men from using the national broadcasting stations. We have to remember that a government of another political colour may come into office. We may even have a government dominated by the members of the Beasley group, and they would doubtless remember the attitude adopted by this Government when Mr. Lang wanted to use the national broadcasting stations. In such circumstances, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), the right honorable member for North Sydney (M'.r. Hughes), and other leaders might be prevented from using the national stations.

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