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Tuesday, 17 November 1964

Senator MCCLELLAND (New South Wales) . - Senator Cohen has adequately set out the reasons why the Opposition will still press the attitude that it took on the occasion when Senator Buttfield moved the amendment in this chamber only last week. The proposal that was put forward by Senator Buttfield at that time was supported by the Opposition, not because it was moved by Senator Buttfield, but because we felt that at least this was a start on the long road towards getting high quality Australian programmes. I believe that the excuses that have been advanced by the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) today, for adopting a different course, are quite spurious. The Minister has said that programmes of the type suggested in the request that was made could not be categorised with any accuracy at all. For some years the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, in its annual reports, has been categorising programme after programme. We see drama, light entertainment, sport, news, services, family programmes, information, arts and many other categories.

This practice having been in vogue for a number of years, I do not see why it cannot be continued.

At page 103 of the annual report of the Board we find a long tabulation showing categories and percentages of programmes. The heading reads: " Analysis of Television Programmes by Categories". The percentages of all categories are set out. At page 68 of the same report we see a tabulation of percentages of programmes of Australian origin transmitted by commercial stations. The Minister relied on parts of paragraph 212 in support of his proposition that the previous request should not be pressed. He read the sentence which states - . . the Board is now considering methods of completely recasting the basis on which calculation of Australian programmes would be made.

If the Minister will refer to the middle of the paragraph he will see the gravamen of the matter expressed in these words -

Now, after seven years of experience, stations have shown themselves to be capable of high quality production, although much of the transmission time that is credited to Australian programmes does not really contain items of high quality.

What the Board was saying was that it wanted to give greater recognition to high quality Australian programmes, which can be produced by stations and producers here. This is the purport of the request that we are still pressing. The Minister went on to say that this matter would fall on the judgment of stations unless we set up a tremendous organisation to determine whether or not a programme was of Australian content generally, but as I have pointed out such an organisation already exists in the Board. Little or no extension of the Board's activities would be required to implement the request previously carried by the Committee.

The Minister said that if we believed that the licensees should pay more and then gave support to a request which would have the effect of allowing them to claim about 50 per cent, rebate on the fee involved, this was a complete about face. I hope that it will mean that the stations will get a 50 per cent, rebate on high quality Australian programmes. Then we would get something of a decent Australian quality such as we have been looking for over seven or eight years. The Minister also said that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) had been careful to make the point that he was very conscious of the case for a close examination of the report on increased Australian content. My colleague, Senator Cohen, has answered that criticism very effectively. This situation has existed over since television came to Australia. In the first year programmes costing £275,000 a year were imported. Now, after eight years the cost of imported programmes for television alone has reached £5 million.

The subject has been raised time after time as a matter of urgency in another place in a number of Parliaments. The report of the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television has been on the table of the Senate for the last 12 months. Debate on it has been adjourned since 14th April last. Still we wait for action on the part of the Government. I certainly agree that the stations have not done the right thing. This has been shown by reports presented by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board ever since the advent of television. The Select Committee's report shows that the stations have not done the right thing. The returns of the commercial stations, the profits that they make, and the lack of good quality Australian programmes show it, too. Indeed, the programmes themselves certainly show that the stations have not done the right thing.

The adoption of the request would be a start along the long road in an attempt to get something done. I thought Senator Buttfield was quite sincere in her desire to sec high quality Australian programmes. I hope that she still is. I regret that she has seen fit to change her attitude merely because the Postmaster-General has said that he is anxious to see consideration given to this matter. If the Government set aside the increased revenue to subsidise the production of Australian programmes, it would be in no difficulty in this matter. It has not seen fit to do that. We of the Opposition stick to our guns and say that there is nothing for us to do but to attempt to get something done. That is why we do not change our attitude.

Question put -

That the request be not pressed.

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