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Wednesday, 26 March 1941

Senator KEANE (Victoria) .- Following my usual practice, my remarks on this bill will be brief. I stand, and have always stood, for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which is a. national body unlike the B class stations, which are controlled by private enterprise and used to the detriment of the Labour party. Both in this chamber and in the House of Representatives, I have heard the commission strongly criticized. During the last 25 years nonLabour governments have been in control of the Commonwealth, and during that period every appointment has been made from the Tanks of the parties which support the Government.

Senator Dein - That is not so.

Senator KEANE - I knew Mr. Cleary, the chairman of the commission, when he was connected with the Railways Department of New South Wales. He did excellent work in that capacity. I repeat that every appointment made by the present Government has been made from among its supporters. It has been a case of the spoils of war being shared with its friends. There is nothing wrong with that. If I were Prime Minister, and certain positions had to be filled, a good many of them would go to the members of my party. The Government should be just as frank, and admit that most of the appointments that it has made have been from among its own supporters.

Mrs. Couchmanis an excellent woman with a great capacity for work, but in a political capacity I have found her one of the foulest opponents against whom I have ever waged a campaign. This woman, who is an organizer for the Australian Women's National League, came into my electorate in Bendigo with her organization and maligned me in every part of it. She led the fight against me. She is now a member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

The proposal that the number of members of the commission should be increased from five to seven leaves me cold. I can see in it no likelihood of gain to my party. The membership of the commission is to he increased from five to seven, and one of the new appointees is to be a representative of Labour. I have yet to learn from what section of the community the seventh nominee will be drawn. I suggest that he should be a representative of the working journalists. So long as a man with a keen news and literary sense be appointed, his services will be most useful to the commission.

With Senator Darcey I am pleased to learn that at long last a big proportion of the fees disbursed by the commission is being paid to Australian artists. Generally speaking, perhaps, details of fees paid to artists should not be published; but when an honorable senator asks for details of fees paid to a certain individual such information should be given.

On page 12 of the eighth annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission appears the following: -

After the outbreak of war a full-time news representative was appointed in London, and the commission also secured a service from the Exchange Telegraph Agency. In April, l!)40, the commission dispensed with the Australian Associated Press service which up to then had been its main source of overseas news, and purchased the right to re-broadcast any or all British Broadcasting Corporation bulletins in full. For this right it agreed to be responsible for the payment to Australian Associated Press of £3,000 per annum, half of which was to be contributed by the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations, who were thereby entitled to rebroadcast the British Broadcasting Corporation news bulletins. It was then no longer handicapped by having to keep back overseas news until it had appeared in the newspapers.

A cable service from New York still further enriched the news service to Australian listeners.

The bulk of the Australian news is still taken from newspapers but is now re-written in suitable broadcast form.

Shortly after the war broke out I pointed out in this chamber that the British Broadcasting Corporation had indicated its willingness to supply a service covering the latest war news to Australia in common with other dominions. At that time the news was very grave. It was broadcast for a while for two or three nights a week. But suddenly that service was discontinued; and the allegation was made in this chamber, on very reliable grounds, that it had been abandoned as the result of action by the press interests in this country for tlie obvious reason that if such news were broadcast every evening very little fresh war news would be available for publication by the daily papers. I sincerely hope that the re-constituted commission will revive that service.

Some months ago the commission appointed a commentator to cover directly political happenings in Canberra. That gentleman has done an excellent job. Quite recently two important announcements were made in this Parliament dealing, first, with the arrival of the Japanese ambassador, and, secondly, the arrival in Sydney of a squadron of the American navy. Each of those events was of sufficient importance to warrant an adjournment of this Parliament. Japan is a country with which we are desirous of establishing the greatest friendship. On each occasion important speeches were delivered by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) and by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Curtin). Those events presented a golden opportunity from a news point of view to the Australian Broadcasting Commission's commentator in Canberra. However, he was allowed only ten minutes in which to deal with those matters, and that brief opportunity was provided at 10.30 p.m. when the majority of theatre-zoe-.s had not returned home, and those who remained indoors for the night had gone to bed. Every honorable senator, irrespective of party, has objected to this ostracism of reports of important debates in this Parliament. In contrast, we read in the Melbourne daily press columns of reports of debates in the State Parliament. If the Victorian Parliament imposes a tax on bulls, the Melbourne press devotes half a column to the matter. I have not the slightest doubt that the press of this country, as well as the Australian Broadcasting Commission, is deliberately ostracizing reports of debates in the Federal Parliament. By that method the belief of Australians generally in our democratic form of government is weakened. I say, therefore, to the controllers of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, that greater opportunity should be afforded to broadcast news of proceedings of this Parliament. I have not the slightest doubt that the debate in this chamber to-day will be covered in less, than six inches in the whole of the press of Australia to-morrow. However, when the race-horse, Ajax, was sold at auction for only £6,500, columns of space were given in every newspaper to reports dealing with that fact. This policy is adopted with a view to weakening the belief of Australians in our system of government. I support the present form of control of our national broadcasting services. I again urge that the personnel of the commission should be representative of all sections of the community. This organization can render great service to the National Parliament of Australia in the way I have just outlined. The officers of the commission are doing a good job. The commission has rendered a valuable service to the community in establishing permanent orchestras, thus providing employment for musicians who would not otherwise have a job, and at the same time, raising the standard of music in this country. I have found many of the lectures broadcast from national stations of the greatest educational value. Such facilities are proving of the greatest value to young students in this country. Many men in the Labour movement are well qualified for appointment to the commission, in which capacity, I have no doubt, they would render signal service to Australia. I again suggest that the seventh member of the commission should bc chosen as a representative of the working journalists of Australia.

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