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Tuesday, 7 December 1976
Page: 3418

Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) - I know that the Minister did not really invite me to make this contribution but I feel impelled to comment. The Opposition has a basically different philosophical approach from that of the Government. The Opposition insists on stating the proposition in its own way and making the point that, in view of the Opposition, the Government is ignoring the crisis in the whole communication industry in most parts of the world. The trouble is, quite reasonably, that the industry has grown up. It is now a multi-million dollar industry. Enormous sums of money pass through its fingers. I might add that it takes a very reasonable profit. But there has not been much concern anywhere in the world about the needs of the consumers. The Government's proposal for the Broadcasting Council simply will continue that deficiency. The Government has said that it is important to consult the industry. Surely, but what about the 99.99 per cent of the community who are not in the industry and for whom the industry exists? The industry does not exist just to make profits or to make money. It exists to communicate with the community.

The community has a right to have some say about what sort of service it will obtain. For example, there have been recent technological developments in relation to cable television. This has been around for many years. I think people started talking about it in the 1 940s. For a variety of reasons, it has made very slow progress. Just today I read an article from Amenca discussing the problem there. This system could give a lot to the community in terms of communication facilities. In fact, it is almost frightening and therefore it needs to be very carefully considered and controlled. I am not saying that it should be implemented tomorrow, but it needs to be considered carefully. When one analyses this problem, one finds the reason why this new industry has got nowhere. In America people are now becoming discontented and have decided to do something about this matter. The Congress is stepping in, because the bodies which have been advising the American Government up to now have been industry orientated and the industry has not wanted this new intruder because it is seen as a challenge to its own supremacy and a threat to its own financial existence. Never mind the needs of the community. Never mind the advantages that may be obtained for the whole community. That is not what industry is all about.

That is why the Opposition has proposed these additional members which the Government seems to ridicule when it looks at the composition of the Council as we suggest it. The Opposition retains the same number of people from the industry as suggested by the Governmenttwo from the private sector, two from the national sector, that is the ABC, and two from the public. But the Opposition suggests that in addition to those 6 people, it is not unreasonable to have one person from the Australia Council. Why from the Australia Council? The reason is that this communication industry is concerned with culture and with uplifting enterprises- with educating the community about its heritage and its past, about anything related to the areas which, I should have thought, are dealt with and considered by the Australia Council. So why not have someone from the Australia Council? The Opposition also suggests having someone representing the Film and Television School. In a way, of course, the School is part of the industry. I should have thought that television, radio and films are all concerned with each other. At least the School is not buried in the commercial sector. It has been set up by the Government. People from all walks of life seek to enter it. It has academics on its staff. It is a bit apart from the industry. It may be able to give another perspective. It is hardly a foreigner to the area.

The Opposition suggests one representative from the Department. The Government proposes two. The Opposition has suggested one representative so that we can make room for some other people. It is also suggested that there should be one representative from the Schools Commission. Some honourable members on the other side of the chamber, in earlier discussions, were speaking about the Opposition's ignoring the need for children's television. It did not and it does not. That is the reason why the Opposition believes the Schools Commission could be represented. There ought to be room for one person specifically from the education area to have some say and to comment on planning in this beautiful Council proposed by the Government. After all, it is not just concerned with making money. It must consider all the other needs. So far, for a variety of reasons- I do not want to attach blame- the fact is that we have inadequate educational television and radio. I am even critical of the ABC as much as it has tried. Perhaps it has not been given enough money. I do not know.

I have heard suggestions that something resembling the Television Workshop in America which produces Sesame Street and which is funded out of public money should be set up. I have heard all sorts of suggestions like this. A broadcasting council along the lines proposed by the Opposition may more realistically be expected to come up with these sorts of proposals. The Government should be honest with itself. A body, consisting mainly of representatives from the industry itself, including the ABC, with one poor individual, the Chairman on his own, is not likely to come up with anything critical of the industry including the ABC. If the Government wants to get a real feeling about what the community might feel about these matters, and what it might aspire to, I think that it has no choice but to institute some sort of body like this to help. It will not be lavish. It will not be very expensive. It will cost perhaps a few thousand dollars for an industry which handles millions of dollars in advertising revenue. The ABC itself receives approximately $ 140m now. I do not know what amount the public broadcasters will be handling. The money required to be spent on a council like this would be peanuts.

Perhaps in making this proposal I am making a rod for my own back, come the day when the Opposition maybe in government and I am the Minister for the Media again. This is a body that could cost me a lot of pain too because it would be telling me what to do. However, I think it should be accepted. I am sick and tired of the humbug about community participation. I am sick and tired of the politicians being dragged screaming into the twentieth century. Let us give the public a chance to tell us what it thinks. Then we may be encouraged to be a bit more adventurous and give it what it needs. For these reasons I persist in moving this amendment. If the Minister feels he cannot accept it- from his performance I know that he is not likely to- I ask him at least not to dismiss it out of hand. Perhaps the Government will come up with more definitive legislation next year. We feel quite genuinely that this is not a Labor Party proposal; it is a community proposal. For that reason we certainly wish to persist with it.

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