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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Customs and Excise) . in reply - The motion before the Senate is -

That the Bill be read a second time, to which the Opposition has moved an amendment which states -

That the following words be added to the motion - but the Senate is of opinion that a Senate Select Committee should be appointed . . .

When one first looks at the amendment, one can say that the Opposition is supporting the Government in the passage of the Bill. When one looks at it again and has regard to the subsequent debate which has stemmed from the Opposition, one can say that the Opposition is opposing the Bill. Finally, after it is all washed up, one comes to the conclusion that the Opposition is rather like Clancy - it does not know where it is. If I read the motion and the amendment in the form -

That the Bill be read a second lime . . . but the Senate is of opinion that a Senate Select Committee should be appointed . . .

I am prepared to accept the view that the Opposition supports the Bill.

While it is true that an amendment has been foreshadowed in the Committee stage in relation to retrospectivity, I do not want to discuss that matter now. When the amendment is moved in the Committee stage 1 can speak against it and give the reasons for not supporting it. Senator McClelland, who led for the Opposition, seemed to be in a great plight because the word " monopoly " had been lost between the second reading speech in another place and the second reading speech in this place and the word " cornering " had been substituted. Also, Senator Cohen, who is a legal man of great stature seemed to build an argument about the change in the wording. It made one feel that the speeches of honorable senators opposite had been predetermined on the basis of the use of the word " monopoly When they found that the word was not used in the second reading speech in this place they were left literally without a case to support their argument.

It seemed to me that Senator McClelland rather overplayed the question of time. He made a point of the time that had elapsed between the end of the second reading speech and the beginning of the debate. He missed the point that the Bill was introduced in another place last week, by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme), that a debate ensued, and that honorable senators had the weekend in which to consider the speeches which were made in the debate in another place. In any case, on 17th December 1964, the Minister spelled out the intention of the Government in this regard, and it takes form in the legislation which we have before us this evening. So the argument that this is something that has been sprung on the Senate does not carry the strength that it might otherwise carry.

Senator McClellandreferred also to the matter of networks. He said that both the Postmaster-General and 1 had pointed out that there was some difficulty about the definition of a network. The honorable senator referred also to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board's report of 1960. But 1960 is not 1965. It is the very experience of what has happened between 1960 and 1965 that has made this legislation so important. There is a vast difference between the interpretation of a network in the broad sense and the interpretation of a network in the legal sense. I am no lawyer, but it is the legal interpretation of a network which was one of the problems that arose in relation to programming. It is far easier to define networks when talking about broadcasting, because there you have a physical thing - a physical network which is linked by line communication. But the definition of networks in the legal sense is one of the things that arose in this legislation and has become the subject of variations in the Bill.

Senator Websterreferred to the prescribed date. If the prescribed date is to be the subject of a later presentation by the Opposition, it may be far better to deal with it and the matter of retrospective provisions during the Committee stage than now. It is sufficient to say that in December last the Postmaster-General did indicate very effectively the Government's intention, because it had some considerable bearing on what happened after that date. Prior to that date we were dealing with a law as it stood. On 17tb December 1964 the PostmasterGeneral made a statement of the intention of the Government. Because of that, 17th December 1964 has become the prescribed date in this Bill.

Senator Webster - That does not hold good for re-organisations.

Senator ANDERSON - It holds good for the provisions of the Bill, and that is all we are talking about in this context. Senator Webster referred to the transfer of shares overseas. We know that under the existing Act the Postmaster-General has no good reason, as was pointed out by Senator Cohen, to disapprove or to refuse to give consent to the transfer of shares. But under this Bill, having regard to the public benefit, the Minister could refuse. So this Bill covers the situation that Senator Webster raised in that regard. Senator McClelland and Senator Cohen also referred to the transfer of shares. By interjection the question was posed: " Why could the Minister not have done something about this matter prior to this legislation? " Senator Cohen pointed out that under proposed section 92f the Minister has no valid justification for refusing a transfer of shares if it is within the law. That is a lay interpretation of the meaning of the section. The Minister must have some good reason within the framework of the legislation to refuse a transfer of shares. Senator Cohen went on to say, " Oh, but the Minister could have used section 86 of the existing Act ". This is a nice exercise, coming as it does from a man of great legal standing, because what Senator Cohen puts to the Senate is that the Minister should use a form of duress on the transfer of shares by saying: " I cannot refuse the transfer of snares but, if you do transfer the shares, I am going to catch you under section 86 ".

Senator Cohen - The Postmaster-General should have said: " Because I am going to enforce the Government's policy".

Senator ANDERSON - So, Senator Cohen puts himself-

Senator Hannan - Senator Cohen is joking.

Senator Cohen - The law entitles the Minister to do that.

Senator ANDERSON - Let me make my own point on this matter because although 1 am not a lawyer I can tell Senator Cohen a couple of things he did not mention. Under section 86, any decision of the Minister is subject to appeal to the Commonwealth Industrial Court for a start. Before the matter goes before the Court, it is subject to a public inquiry by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board.

Senator Wright - What is subject to appeal to the Industrial Court?

Senator ANDERSON - A decision made under section 86 is subject to appeal where the Minister has used it to disallow the transfer of a share interest. Here is an interesting point. How Gilbertian can you get? Fancy going along to the Court and saying: " The Minister refuses the tranfer of the shares, but the Minister has already granted the transfer of the shares under the Act." Let me put it another way. Is not the purpose of proposed section 92f (1.) (a) (ii) to refuse the transfer of the shares? So, as 1 said earlier, you get yourself into the position where you are like Clancy - you do not know where you are I am suggesting that it is quite clear in the provisions of this Bill that this position can be met by the Minister using the provision " in the public interest." That was a provision which could not be used before. For that reason, this Bill has an advantage which should be commended by both sides of the Senate.

Senator Cohenalso made reference to the Ansett holdings. True it is he made the reference in response to an interjection. I want to say to the Senate that the Ansett organisation was never at any stage in contravention of the Act.

Senator Cohen - Who said it was?

Senator ANDERSON - The Ansett organisation will not be in contravention of the new Act. Senator Cohen used the Ansett organisation as an argument in relation to monopoly interests.

Senator Cohen - I did, but I did not suggest-

Senator ANDERSON - If the honorable senator did not, that is that. But I will make the statement-

Senator Cohen - It is no good saying it in contradiction of something I did not say.

Senator ANDERSON - Tomorrow will reveal that.

Senator Cohen - The Minister is putting up a straw man.

Senator ANDERSON - The position is that Senator Cohen referred to the Ansett organisation in an argument in relation to monopoly control.

Senator Cohen - I did not say that the organisation was in breach of the law.

Senator ANDERSON - The honorable senator said it was a vested interest of the supporters of this Government. The point I want to make is that the Ansett interests were never in contravention of the law in respect of the 1960 Act and, indeed, they will not be in contravention of the new Act.

Senator McClelland - If it was not Ansett, who was it who was in contravention of the Act?

Senator ANDERSON - The honorable senator can make his own case.

Senator Cohen - The Ansett interests were refused a licence in competition with another applicant for that licence, and then acquired a controlling share in the company granted the licence.

Senator ANDERSON - That was not in contravention of the Act.

Senator Cohen - It is shameful if it was not.

Senator ANDERSON - What Senator Cohen is saying is that nobody has the right to buy shares.

Senator Cohen - I am saying that the Government should put its policy into legislation.

Senator ANDERSON - That is what the honorable senator is saying. The situation is - I should think that this is quite clear and that the Senate agrees with this - that the law stands. Anybody who transacts business within the law cannot earn all the evil things that have been said about investors in television companies and which I heard here tonight. The argument will no doubt be developed when the question of retrospectivity is being considered. Meanwhile, 1 just want to say that the Government is not prepared to accept the amendment. I will be very surprised if the Opposition votes against the second reading of the Bill.

I want to refer to the speech of Senator Hannan, so that he will not feel that I have disregarded his remarks. He mentioned many matters relating to programmes. Senator Webster also referred to the Australian content of programmes. This matter is not dealt with by the Bill, and at 10 minutes to 12 at night I will not go off into a discourse on the points that were raised. I think it is sufficient to say that the Postmaster-General has said that, after he has made an examination of the problems that arise in relation to the Australian content of programmes, he will be in a position to make a recommendation to the Government. No doubt in due course he will make a statement in relation to this aspect.

Mr. Deputy President,the Government does not accept the amendment. Since this piece of legislation will have the effect of carrying out the spirit and the intention of the 1960 Act, which the Opposition did not oppose, and as it conforms with the outline of the Government's policy intentions, which was made by the Postmaster-General in December 1964, I suggest that the Bill should be allowed to pass through the second reading.

Question put -

That the words proposed to be added (Senator McClelland's amendment) be added.

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