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Friday, 1 May 1942

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD (Western Australia) . - When the debate on this bill was adjourned yesterday, I was referring to the fact that the knotty problem of broadcasting was dealt with very thoroughly, as we thought a little more than a year ago, but now we have it again before us. Judging 'by the more or less innocuous provisions of this measure, it appears that another broadcasting bill may have to be brought down within the next twelve months. I should much regret to witness a perennial wrangle over this matter. I am disappointed that the hill does not go further than it does. At the same time one cannot help remarking about the smugness displayed by Ministers and Government supporters in their whole outlook upon the measure. They seem to he excessively pleased with themselves. On their faces is an innocent child] ike grin, as if they would say: " Here is the great broadcasting bill that we threatened to bring down in this chamber if we ever got 'back into power ". It seems to me that the benign influence of

Senator Gibsonmust have been exercised to a large degree, because the roaring lion that we expected when the Labour party assumed office has proved to be but a sucking dove. The roar that we haw heard so often in this chamber, particularly from the Ministers who preceded me in this debate, has changed into the cooing of a dove. I do not think that I have ever witnessed in thi-' chamber a more faithful representation of the antics of Nick Bottom than was provided last night by the Minister for the Interior (Senator Collings) and the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron). Thi* is not a Labour bill at all. If it is, it ivery anaemic. Instead of being so smug about the measure, one would think that honorable senators opposite would recognize that it has no relation whatever to Labour's programme. The bill should b» labelled " Gibson's bill ". This is an excellent opportunity to follow the American practice of naming our legislative measures after their originators.

Senator Collings - That would not make it any worse.

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - 1 cannot understand the smugness of honorable senators opposite. I congratulate the parents of the measure, namely, the Joint Committee on Broadcasting, of which Senator Gibson was the chairman. That committee did an abnormal amount of work. It collected, and collated, a mountain of evidence; and now we have the mouse. It is a very tame mouse, with hardly a kick in it. I should like to see the bill go further. On previous occasions, I have stated that the Australian Broadcasting Commission is merely an entertainment committee, and not a broadcasting commission at all. It simply arranges programmes. It has even brought here the English giant of criticism, Sir Thomas Beecham. However, the actual broadcasting, including research, is the work of the PostmasterGeneral's Department, which looks after the whole of the technical side. The experts of that department have done excellent work indeed, but I again submit that that is a job for the commission. At present, the commission is really only partly a commission, which part, either the top or the bottom, I do not know.

But it is not the whole. The commission should apply itself as an expert body to the future of broadcasting in respect of not only entertainment but also technical research. The technical aspect affects Western Australia possibly to a greater degree than the eastern States, because Western Australia depends on the landlines to South Australia to receive all, or nearly all, of what I consider to be the most important sections of our broadcasting programmes, namely, the British Broadcasting Corporation news and the war commentaries by experts in London. T always enjoy listening to those commentaries. However, this service depends upon the work of the technical officers of the Postal Department. Immediately any interference occurs with the regular broadcasting of news and commentaries, the private listener is jarred by loud, rude noises in his set. These are usually followed by a cultured voice expressing the Australian Broadcasting Commission's regret for such interference, and offering the explanation that it is due to circumstances entirely beyond the control of the commission. That means that the technical experts of the Postmaster-General's Department are at fault; and, of course, the commission has no control over these technicians. Ever since I have been a member of this chamber, I have contended that the commission should be given control over every aspect of broadcasting. I can see no reason why these technicians should not be transferred from the Postmaster-General's Department to the control of the commission. Until that i3 done, I shall accept every opportunity to press this matter. I repeat that of all the States, Western Australia suffers most from this lack of cohesion between the technical and entertainments sides of broadcasting. I congratulate Senator Gibson upon the excellent speech he made yesterday in opening the debate on the measure on behalf of the Opposition. According to him it is very difficult to decide at what point the responsibilities of the commission begin and end in respect of the technical side. I do not think that that problem calls for abnormal brain power. Its solution is rather a matter of the will behind the deed. If we had the will, very little difficulty would be experienced in deciding the necessary demarcation.

Another matter on which Senator Gibson skated was the subject of copyright. We have always been led to believe that considerations in this country in respect of the payment of copyright fees are far from satisfactory. In fact, I have heard it said by persons who are qualified to speak on the matter, that we, in Australia, must still be living in the dark ages. It is time that the whole of our copyright legislation was brought up to date.

Senator Gibson - We cannot deal with copyright in this matter.

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - No ; but very little has been said about it, and it is time that the subject was considered seriously. Visitors from overseas have intimated that Australians are rather simple-minded in their attitude towards the payment of fees to Australasian Performing Eight Association. Entrepreneurs are being slugged, as they have been slugged for years, by this Association which has been classed with the Forty Thieves. I understood that the fee paid to this insatiable monster was approximately ls. l£d. an item. However, Senator Gibson informs me that it is approximately ls. for every item broadcast. A few years ago, the fee charged by the corresponding body in Canada was about 6d. or 7d. an item, but of recent years it was reduced to about 4£d. an item. Australasian Performing Right Association was formed originally to collect copyright fees on behalf of composers. I should be the last to deny to any composer full emolument for his work. But I take exception to the high rate of fees now being collected by Australasian Performing Right Association as compared with those charged by corresponding bodies in other countries. On many occasions, that association has refused to give to the Government any information at all as to what it did with the fees it collects. I estimate that its annual receipts amount to about £120,000. I should like to know what happens to -that money. I understand from Senator Gibson that the Joint Committee on Broadcasting experienced no difficulty whatever in obtaining from the association all of the information it asked for. If that be true, the attitude of the association has certainly changed. As late as two or three years ago, the Government could not secure any information from these extortionists. It is about time that the Australian Broadcasting Commission reviewed the whole subject of the payment of copyright, and demanded a reduction of the fees to bring them more into conformity with the fees paid to corresponding associations in other countries.

Senator Gibson - The committee was given access to the whole of the accounts of Australasian Performing Bight Association.

Senator ALLANMacDONALD.That body has certainly changed its attitude on this matter. In fact, on one occasion, the Prime Minister could not obtain any information whatever from it respecting its finances. At that time these extortionists even demanded a royalty on every occasion that God Save thu King was played. I understand that it is still collecting royalties in respect of Advance Australia Fair, although so far as I am aware no one knows who composed that anthem.

Senator Leckie - It was not composed, it came out of the scrap heap.

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - It is about time that the collection of copyright fees by Australasian Performing Right Association was completely cleared up.

I congratulate whoever was responsible for the brainwave of proposing the prohibition of electioneering broadcasts on the two days preceding polling day. That is a very welcome innovation, because at every political election, on the two days preceding polling, the air is rendered hideous with election speeches.

Senator Gibson - That proposal is taken from the Canadian legislation.

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - lt is a very good idea; and it will certainly ease the minds, as well as the pockets, of political candidates who in the past were inclined to work even harder on the two or three days preceding polling day when the plot inevitably thickened. Personally, I should like to prohibit political speeches for a whole week preceding polling day.

I was glad to hear Senator Lamp bring forward the subject of the broadcasting of I term "indecent" advertising matter on the Sabbath. Senator Brown also dealt with this matter. Clause 70 of the bill gives to the Minister power to review all advertising matter proposed to be broadcast by B class stations on the Sabbath. Many of these broadcasts in the past have, to say the least, been highly objectionable. I have had to restrain my own children from listening to some of the advertising shorts. One, particularly, that I have in mind related to a headache powder, some of the talks in connexion with which contained either a story of a man trying to murder his wife, or of a typiste murdering her boss. I do not know whether the firm was trying to increase the sale of its products by creating headaches among listeners, but it may have got some of its money back in that way. Much of the matter was highly objectionable, and should not have been put on the air in this or any other country. " Shockers also, should not be allowed to be broadcast, nor should medicine companies which are advertising patent medicines be permitted to make statements that are too highly coloured and, in my opinion, largely devoid of truth. If a listener was of neurotic temperament* he might imagine that he had every pain and ailment in the medical dictionary, and that the particular patent medicine being advertised alone could cure him. The representatives of the people should take steps, through the Postmaster-General, to ensure that all objectionable matter is eliminated, and this is the time to do it.

Senator Gibson,when I was talking to him on the subject, referred to a matter that requires attention - the announcing of news items of an extraordinary nature. By now, the people of Australia have a fair working knowledge of the times at which news is broadcast over the national stations, and they know to a quarter of an hour when to listen for it. Nothing should be done to interrupt the continuity of the news sessions, and I suggest that the commission is wrong in breaking into such sessions to announce an important happening. Senator Gibson suggested to me, and I heartily agree with him, that the practice should be discontinued. If people have to wait for an hour, or even two hours, to hear something of national importance, it should not be too great a strain on their patience. The item, of course, might be of a most extraordinary nature, such as a declaration of war, and in that event it might be permissible for the commission to break into any programme to announce it. Matters of less national importance, however, though perhaps of great importance to certain people, could wait until the end of the news session without harm being done to any one.

I wish to repeat a request I made when the previous broadcasting bill was before us thirteen months ago. I then urged an increase of the news commentaries from abroad, especially from the United States of America. Since I made that suggestion, the importance of our relationship with the United States Senator Gibson and the other members of the committee. When we heard of the appointment of the committee and of the nature of its personnel, (.specially its Labour personnel, we thought that some ructions might take place; but I personally am pleasurably surprised that the committee completed its work so soon and with such harmony. I resent any suggestion that broadcasting should be completely controlled by the Government to the exclusion of commercial stations. I would resist such a proposal to the utmost because I think that we have to thank the commercial stations for their contribution to the progress made by wireless in Australia. They have done very valuable work, and they ought not to be eliminated from the field of broadcasting in order to give complete control to the Government. The committee overcame that hurdle, and we now have its excellent report, and the bill. In common with other senators, I have much pleasure in supporting the measure.

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