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Thursday, 26 November 1959

Mr OSBORNE (Evans) (Minister for Air) . - The honorable member for

Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has drawn a thrilling picture of an organization in which there is a Gestapo man under every microphone and a Star Chamber in each revolving disc - a picture which would do credit to. Alexandre Dumas, senior, himself. It is complete with the sinister personality of the " Grey Eminence ", the general manager, hiding behind the curtain and sending man after man to destruction.

Mr Duthie - How do you know all this?

Mr OSBORNE - I have been listening to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro or I would not have known it at all. [Quorum formed.] In the closing stages of a long session I think that any honorable member who had taken the trouble to find out the real reason for the amendments to these regulations, and the basis of the Opposition's motion to disallow them, would laugh the matter out rather than take it seriously. The only misfortune of the whole thing is that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has cast very grave reflections on a body of people who are trying their best to serve this community in the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

The amendments to the regulations to which the Opposition objects are an administrative measure which is very necessary and overdue. The Broadcasting and Television Act, under which the commission operates, gives the commission power to appoint a general manager and officers, and to create and abolish positions - in other words, to determine its own organization. The original act, which became law under the Labour Government in 1942, gives the commission autonomy to establish its own organization, but the regulations of 1947 - those whose amendment we are now dealing with - in addition to setting out in detail the procedures for appointing staff, for promotions and appeals against promotions, and that sort of thing, also designated in some detail the senior positions in the commission. In other words, the intention of the act, which was to give the commission autonomy in determining its own organization - a necessary prerequisite to the independence of any statutory body that is to work properly - was completely undone by the 1947 regulations, which set out a very rigid organization for the commission.

To fetter an independent statutory body with a rigid organization was a mistake in itself. It was wrong in principle, as I hope to establish later. It was not the intention of the act. Section 47, which was inserted in 1946, before the date of these regulations which are now being amended, said quite plainly, " the commission may, from time to time, create any position in the service of the commission and determine the salary, or the range of salary, applicable to that position ". It went on to say that the commission may abolish any position. Then the regulations of 1947, by setting up this rigid structure, imposed fetters on the freedom of the commission. As I say, it was wrong in principle, it was not intended by the act and it led to absurdities in practice. For example, the commission was free under the act - and was obliged in practice, from necessity as the commission grew - to vary the duties of its senior officers from time to time, but it could not alter the designations of their positions, because the regulations of 1947 had given names to certain positions.

Mr Ward - You could have varied the regulations.

Mr OSBORNE - That is what we are doing now. For example, the regulations required the maintenance of a department called the variety department. The term " variety " has gone out of the entertainment and musical field long since, and yet there is a variety department in the Australian Broadcasting Commission - or there was until these amendments were brought in - simply because this rigid structure had been imposed on the commission in 1947. The old regulations allowed for only four divisions, the programmes, administrative, clerical and general divisions. The A.B.C. did not have power under the regulations to set up a news division. It could not establish a technical division. Can you imagine a statutory body or a private company, or a government department if you like, trying to set up a television service without having power to establish a technical division? The suggestion is an absurdity in itself.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then how has it managed to introduce its television service?

Mr OSBORNE - It has done it by ignoring these regulations, by trying to get round them - not by ignoring them entirely, but by doing the best it could by shifts and changes within this rigid structure. But there were more absurdities than this. A very bad organizational structure was imposed by the regulations, because there were in fact fifteen senior officers, heads of sections or departments, directly responsible to the general manager. If the honorable member for Eden-Monaro really wants to understand the difficulties of operation of the A.B.C, the difficulties of proper relationships between the general manager and the section heads and the staff, he might consider that under the former system imposed by the 1947 regulations there were no less than fifteen heads of sections or departments reporting directly to the general manager and responsible directly to him. How could any organization carry on under such a system?

This rigid organization, even though it was a mistake, might have been workable in 1947 when the regulations were introduced, but it had become quite impossible by 1957. In 1947 there were 1,140 employees of the commission. To-day there are 2,400, more than twice as many, and the commission in all that time has not been able formally to alter its internal organization. This has been a considerable burden to the executive of the commission, not only in operating a radio service but, more particularly, in undertaking a television service as well.

Re-organization was decided upon by the commission itself in 1957, but could not be effected at once. A main purpose of the general manager's visit overseas in 1957 was to examine the organizational structure of other broadcasting systems so that he could advise the commission on them. One of the things he found out, incidentally, was that the organization of the Canadian broadcasting commission is almost identical with that which has now been adopted by our own A.B.C. under these amended regulations.

The system that the commission decided' to to adopt was what is known in some administrative circles as the " line across " or the " spread-out " line of authority, with the general manager at the top and beneath him a small number of divisional or departmental heads, or whatever you like to call them, reporting to him, each one of them being responsible for a section of the organization beneath him. There are six divisional heads under the new system adopted by the A.B.C, working directly under the general manager. The general manager has an assistant. He is called the assistant general manager general. He is Mr. Finlay, who was the assistant general manager previously. Mr. Finlay has to-day a special status in the organization of the commission, just as he used to have previously as assistant general manager. He is in effect the general manager's deputy. He acts for the general manager when that officer is absent. He deals with all problems of regional stations, announcing staff and special project work such as royal tours, the Olympic Games and matters of that kind.

Beneath the general manager and the principal assistant general manager, whose special status has been preserved, as I have explained, and who has a very distinct salary differential from the other assistant general managers and departmental heads - he is paid at a much higher rate, as has been mentioned by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) - are a line of six divisional heads, each responsible to the general manager for a department or a division of the activities of the commission. The first department is that of programmes, the head of which is Dr. Keith Barry. He is called an assistant general manager. The next department is administration, under the control of another assistant general manager, Mr. Duckmanton. Then there is the finance department, the head of which is Mr. Gifford, who is called a controller. Then there is the news department, the controller of news being Mr. Hamilton. The engineering department is presided over by a controller of technical services, Mr. Hadfield. The last department is that of publicity. The director is Mr. Buttrose, who is responsible for the publicity of the commission and for concerts.

Instead of dealing with fifteen people having varying duties and responsibilities, the general manager now deals with only six departmental heads. This is the sort of rational, up-to-date administrative set-up that you will find in most departments of the Commonwealth and in most large industrial concerns to-day. If there is any valid criticism to be made it should be levelled at the Parliament and the Government of 1947 for a lack of understanding of the true value of a public commission or a public authority and the independence that it needs. If any criticism is to be levelled at the commission, it is that the re-organization was not carried out long ago. How the general manager has managed in the past, in the inevitable chaos that must have been created by the rigid organization imposed on him under the 1947 regulations, is hard to understand.

This change was long contemplated. It was carefully thought out. It was discussed in detail with the senior officers who are the persons concerned, and who collectively approved. They did not approve through their senior officers' association; they were individually and collectively consulted when the scheme was being formulated. The new system is consistent with the arrangement in other broadcasting commissions, particularly the one in Canada. I agree that the change was not discussed with the staff association of the A.B.C, and why should it be?

Mr Ward - Why should it not be?

Mr OSBORNE - An organization such as the A.B.C. is a creature half-way between a government department and a private enterprise, and having some of the characteristics of each. Consider both sides of its character, if you wish. Does the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, or the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, or any other organization of that kind, consult the union to which its employees belong when it is contemplating an internal re-organization of its executives? Of course, it does not. Let us move into the field of the Public Service. If a re-organization of a department of state of this Commonwealth is being considered, does the department consult the Public Service Association as to whether it is wise to alter the organization in a particular way? Of course, it does not. It consults the Public Service Board, which is its own organization, if it wishes to.

Mr Ward - There is no analogy between the two.

Mr OSBORNE - Of course, there is an analogy between the two. The amendment of the regulations does not affect the rights of the senior officers. All the arrangements of the old regulations about appeals against promotion and matters of that kind are left unchanged. As I said, I believe that the mistake of imposing a rigid organization on the Australian Broadcasting Commission by these regulations of the Labour Government in 1947, which was not intended by the earlier act of the same Government, arose from an imperfect understanding of the nature of an independent statutory authority or, as such authorities are called in England, of a public corporation. There has been great development in the use of these public corporations in Australia in the years since 1947, and a lot of knowledge about them has been accumulated.

The principal authority on independent statutory authorities in this country is our Public Accounts Committee, so ably presided over by our honorable friend from Warringah (Mr. Bland). In its report on the Australian Aluminium Production Commission, the committee considered in great detail the nature of statutory corporations and the requirements for their proper management. In paragraph 67 at page 62 of the report, the committee said -

We repeat our statement, to be found in paragraph 21 of Part I. of our Report, that unless the corporation-

The committee was referring to any corporation; it was discussing public corporations generally - is given a degree of managerial freedom, the burden upon the Minister will be intolerable-

I ask the House particularly to note the following words, which were - and the objectives sought in creating the statutory corporation will not be attained. These objectives include continuity in policy, flexibility in organization, freedom in management and elasticity in finance-characteristics that are not necessarily found in the organization of ordinary government departments, where it is expected thai both high policy and detailed administration will bend in the direction desired by the government of the day.

It is this flexibility of organization that has been needed by the Australian Broadcasting Commission for so long, and it is given by this amendment of the regulations. I hope I have satisfied the House that this reorganization is necessary in practice. I hope that the discussion of the Public Accounts Committee on statutory corporations generally will establish that the rigid organization originally imposed on the commission was wrong in principle. It follows that the amendment of the regulations to give freedom to the commission to alter, amend and establish from time to time its own internal organization is not only common sense but is correct in principle.

This misbegotten motion which the Opposition has brought here to-day was, in my opinion, generated by three things. The first is the narrow socialism of the Opposition, a socialism which cannot bear to think of any instrumentality not being under the direct control of the government of the day which, when Labour is in office, means the political party of the day. A more enlightened socialism would not fall into this error. It is interesting that one of the principal authorities on public corporations is Lord Morrison, formerly Mr. Herbert Morrison. He stressed in his book, which I have not time to quote here, the need for independence of organization for public corporations.

The second point is that the circumstances found a ready mischief-maker in the person of a former senior staff officer of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. He left the commission's service to become the secretary of the Staff Association of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, an industrial organization of the more junior members of the service. This former employee has quite clearly, with scant regard for his obligations as a former employee, been passing information to one of the senators who initiated this move.

Thirdly, this found a ready listener in the caucus in the person of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, and particularly in the person of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), who cannot bear to see any important instrument of public activity that is not completely the creature of the government of the day. Though I admire many of his characteristics, and though my feelings for him like those of many Government supporters, approach affection, his present attitude of mind reflects the autocratic attitude that characterized his work as a member of a Labour government and particularly when he was Minister for Information. He made it clear in his speech on the Estimates in 1957 that if he had the power again he would make the Australian Broadcasting Commission completely dependent upon the Minister, that it would become the creature of the government of the day. Gone forever would be any hope of an independent, objective attitude in the news service of the commission. This Government entirely repudiates that attitude of mind. If there is to be any value in the commission, and if its news service is to retain its present very high repute, the independence of the commission must be most zealously preserved. The amendments of the regulations which my friend, the Postmaster-General, has introduced, have been designed to that end.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The Minister's time has expired.

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