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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) .- I also offer my congratulations to the Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley) for' his very lucid explanation not only in regard to the history of broadcasting in Australia, but (dso the various details in the measure now before us. We are also indebted to my colleague, Senator Gibson, for his elucidation of the committee's report, and for the valuable work which he and his colleagues have performed, ft is gratifying to note that the committee's recommendations have been accepted by the Government, and have been embodied in this measure. I also join with other honorable senators in paying a tribute to the work which is being done by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. That body came into being under somewhat difficult conditions. Through no fault of the gentlemen who have been chairmen of the commission, appointments to that position have been changed rather frequently. The relationship of the commission with the Post.masterGeneral's Department was not understood, because no official of that department; was directly attached to the commission. However, as soon as the commission really got to work, it made rapid progress. 1 take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the work performed by Mr. Herbert Brookes, who at one time was vice-chairman of the commission. His enthusiasm and interest in the science of broadcasting, which is doing so much good or so much harm, according to the way one looks at the matter, is extraordinary. He is no longer a member of the commission. Australia is under a great debt to him for the work which he did in the field of broadcasting, not only inside, but also outside Australia.

We are dealing with a subject that is of extraordinary interest to our people as a whole. But broadcasting is a subject which science has not yet thoroughly understood. Consequently, it behoves us to walk warily as we have been doing so far in dealing with the matter. I do not propose to indulge in higher criticism but to confine my >remarks to certain proposals which I placed before the committee when I gave evidence before it. I feel that these proposals will improve the measure. I agree that the relationship between such a body as the Australasian Performing Right Association and the Australian Broadcasting Commission is a fitting subject for legislation under our copyright law. If the Australasian Performing Bight Association and the commission cannot agree, I think, as I said many years ago, that the differences between them with regard to the payment of royalties should be settled, by compulsory arbitration. I feel confident that such a system would meet with a. substantial measure of success, and would achieve finality instead of having these proceedings drawn out year after year and certain tentative arrangements arrived at which are not satisfactory to either party. There is another aspect of the matter which 1 brought to the notice of the committee, and upon which the committee reported. It is of very great importance, particularly in the light of the extension and expansion of broadcasting into those realms mentioned by Senator Gibson this afternoon. No less an august body than the High Court of Australia has given a decision to the effect that a broadcaster can, from a neighbouring block. broadcast a spectacle such as a race meeting or a sporting event. The particular case considered by the High Court was the broadcasting of a race meeting by a station without the permission of the body which actually arranged the spectacle, and charged the public for admission to its arena. The court's decision rested broadly on the ground that there is no property in a spectacle; and, therefore, no injunction could be given by the court against the broadcasting station concerned. I have always felt that that was one of those cases where the High Court, as the highest judicial tribunal in the land, might have acted as the old common law judges of England did, and made the law themselves; that is, a law that no broadcasting of a spectacle should be allowed, unless the station concerned obtained the permission of those arranging the spectacle. I recall that the present Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) dissented from that judgment. I have no doubt, therefore, that my proposition would appeal to him if he were with us to-day.

Senator Arthur - Did not that case go to the Privy Council ?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No ; leave to proceed was refused by the Privy Council, which held that the issue was a matter for domestic legislation. The Privy Council pointed out that the law had been determined by the High Court; and that the matter was purely of local interest and might never arise in any other country. Consequently, it was one for determination solely by the Australian courts. I suggest to the Postmaster-General that he should embody in the bill a provision that broadcasts of that kind shall not be allowed, either by national or commercial stations, without the consent of the persons arranging such spectacles. The present position is iniquitous, and the rights enjoyed by certain broadcasters may become a tremendously powerful weapon in the. hands of outside, unscrupulous people. Consider the arrangements that maybe made for the future. Radiograms and picturegrams may be sent over the air, and the rights of people may be seriously impaired. The Minister should try to incorporate in the bill while it is before Parliament a provision to cover this matter. It would improve the measure, and it would provide justice for those people who, it appears to me, are suffering injustice. In this bill, and in no other place, should this suggestion be given effect to. A condition of the licence should be that the persons to whom it is granted shall not engage in these sort of practices. With regard to the national stations, there should be an inhibition on them. I commend that point to the Minister because I think it is of sufficient importance to merit action. I know that it has given rise to much feeling throughout the length and breadth of the country. Resentment is felt that such practices can be engaged in with impunity, without regard to the law.

There are one or two other minor items in the bill to which I think I should refer. There does not appear to be any call for consideration of the first point made by Senator Gibson, with regard to the use of the word " Minister ", because I notice in the Acts Interpretation Act that - "The Minister" shall mean the Minister for the time being administering the act or enactment in which or in respect of which the expression is used.

I take it that no Minister other than the Postmaster-General will ever administer the Broadcasting Act, so that in that connexion the position is probably safeguarded. I welcome, in conjunction with Senator Gibson, the retention of technical services by the Postmaster-General's Department. There are few persons in this country who know of the extent of the technical work done, and I am sure that the Postmaster-General will bear me out when I say that it is of considerable magnitude. We had on the Radio Research Board no less a person than Sir Harry Brown, when he was Director of Posts and Telegraphs. The contributions made by men not only from the Postal Department, but also from the universities, were of benefit both to radio and the people of this country. The financial contribution of the Postal Department in the old days was not exceedingly large, but it served to provide some funds for research work, which is very important in this new science that has come to civilization. Instead of trying to have two technical bodies, we would he well advised to expand, concentrate, and assist the technical services under the control of the Postal Department to-day. Those services may not be operating to the same extent as before the war. The staff formerly included some extraordinarily skilled technicians, whose activities may now be concentrated in a direction tending to the destruction rather than the education and benefit of mankind.

There is one more minor item of which I hope the Minister will take cognizance. I refer to clause 49, which provides that " The Minister may, from time to time, by notice in writing, prohibit the Commission ..." That power should be enlarged slightly so as to provide that " The Minister may, from time to time, provided his prohibition 13 afterwards confirmed in writing, prohibit . . ." Circumstances may arise in which there would be no time to carry out the provisions of the clause. Radio waves travel as fast as electricity, and in the event of an emergency, the Minister or the Government should be able to say, "We shall not have that stuff broadcast". It might be necessary for the Minister to confer with the executive head of the commission and say, " This is to be prevented ". The only safeguard in the public interest that I can see is to provide that the commission shall be protected by having the prohibition confirmed later in writing.

Senator Gibson - That is in the old act.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It would be better in this bill than in the old act. There is provision in the measure that the commission shall be located in Canberra. Telephonic communication may be necessary in giving a direction, and if the executive head knows that the direction must be confirmed in writing, he will be protected. Unless this provision is made, great mischief could be done before an instruction could be given in writing. Eventualities of all sorts might arise. While I am all for protecting the commission, I assert that the first thing we have to think of is the country itself. It is said that " The welf are of the people is the highest law ". At times, emergencies arise - not such as are contemplated in the later clauses of the bill, where the Executive Council may step in - and if the Minister would care to see me later, I can give particulars of some that have arisen.

I welcome clause 54, which gives to the commercial stations a degree of security of tenure which they should always have had, and which perhaps, by the placidness of various administrations, they have had to a minor extent. It is extremely difficult, and it may become more difficult still in view of the improved science applicable to radio, for a man to establish a broadcasting station. The conduct of the commercial broadcasting stations during the time I was Postmaster-General was such that I can pay a high tribute to them. They did a good job for this country, and some of them did not receive very much for the service rendered, although others may have basked in the sunshine of higher revenue. They have rendered excellent, service to Australia, particularly in thu country districts. On the whole, we can congratulate ourselves on their existence.

Whatever differences there may have been between the press of Australia and the Australian Broadcasting Commission, I, with Senator Gibson, hope that they will be satisfactorily settled. It is unfortunate at a time like this that we should have to embark on the issue of a publication like the A.B.C. Weekly. The chairman of the commission has said that the commission has no alternative but to publish that journal in order to make the Australian Broadcasting Commission's programmes known to the public. Surely, in this dispute, wiser counsels will prevail. The attitude I adopted was that I believed, as I still believe, that the greatest competitors of the press in the next half-century will be the broadcasting stations. Consider the matter of advertising, from which the press derives the major part of its revenue, and also the method of news presentation. A large section of the press is now presenting its news in tabloid form. Why? They know that the news has already been broadcast to a large section of their readers earlier in the day. I have always

Felt that the newspapers should be connected with the broadcasting of news wherever possible. They are accustomed to gathering news and are able to present it in a way that is attractive to the public.

I congratulate the Australian Broadcasting Commission upon the work that it has done. Many vexed questions have arisen, but fortunately most of them have been of a minor character. For instance, some trouble arose in connexion with the sponsoring of programmes on Sundays, and occasionally some one has overstepped the limit of decency or propriety. In every such instance, however, the people controlling the commercial broadcasting stations required no pressure at all to take action.

We are now considering a measure which may and I hope will last for many years. We are considering it in the knowledge that we are dealing with a progressive science which may be used for good or evil. The evil potentialities of broadcasting are amply demonstrated by its use in those countries in which it has been drummed into the ears of people that they are the salt of the earth, and that the rest of mankind should be slaves. Such abuses of broadcasting can be avoided only by careful control by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and the application of sound management and good judgment by the commercial stations. The future of broadcasting rests in their hands.

Senator Gibsonreferred to the tenure of office of thepresent chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and of the woman member, Mrs. Couchman. I t is true that some of the short appointments to which the honorable senator referred were made during my term of office as Postmaster-General, but I should like to point out that, as the PostmasterGeneral is no doubt aware, there are as many views concerning broadcasting as there are members of a Cabinet. However, I point out to Senator Gibson that both members of the commission to whom he referred are still connected with that organization, and to the best of my belief are still giving excellent service to Australia.

I commend the bill to the Senate and congratulate the Government upon its introduction.

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