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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 1096

Mr DUFFY (Minister for Communications)(10.57) —I thank those honourable members who contributed to the debate this morning. The matters dealt with by the shadow Minister for Communications, the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), were, to a large degree, covered by the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Charles). I shall, therefore, not take up the Committee's time on all those matters.

The point was made that for 18 months there has been no progress towards providing commercial television to remote areas. I assure the Opposition that that is not the case. A statement will be made on that matter at an early date. The fact is that honourable members on this side of the chamber are not divided in the way in which the honourable member for Murray seems to think. The opposition to country media interests having any control in the media, by being able to lease high powered transponders on the satellite, is not a matter of substance to honourable members on this side of the chamber. In the long term, it may well be that the disagreement about this matter will be a lot less than the honourable member for Murray thinks. I understand the concerns that he expressed, but I think he will find that they will not prove to be correct.

I noted also the remarks about public broadcasting that were made by the honourable member for Murray. An amount of $500,000 was made available to the Public Broadcasting Foundation. Of that amount, $150,000 was allocated for Aboriginal programming. That left the Public Broadcasting Foundation with a balance of $350,000. As the honourable member for Murray is aware, last year the Government made a one-off grant of $100,000 to the Public Broadcasting Foundation to enable it to set up a secretariat and to become established. I do not know the amount that the Foundation will decide is necessary for it to continue to maintain the administrative support that it considers necessary at the moment. Last year, the Foundation felt that $100,000 was necessary, but I believe that it is reasonable to assume that the amount will be less this year. Let us say that the amount will be around $80,000. If one deducts from $350,000 the cost of the PBF, one is left with $270,000, which represents an increased allocation to public broadcasting stations of about 35 per cent over the 1983-84 figure. Despite the fact that the Chairman of the Foundation expressed his concern that $5m was not granted to enable the PFB to have the independence that it said the money would have given, this year's allocation to public broadcasting-I think this is a reasonable way to analyse this matter-is up by 35 per cent on last year's allocation, and that is not a bad result.

I was delighted to hear the strong support by the honourable member for Murray for some motions passed at the Australian Labor Party conference. We can, of course, be a little selective from time to time in giving support. I take on board the fact that the Labor Party's policy is so strongly supported.

The honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron) brought up matters that he raises regularly because of his concern-it is the concern of all honourable members who represent remote areas-for television and radio. I think we all agree that the provision of telephony is probably the first priority for those areas. There is no doubt that compliments were paid, with some caveats-I am not unreasonable-to Telecom Australia for the role that it is playing. It is plain that Telecom's undertakings to remote areas about the target dates in the early 1990s will be met.

The honourable member for Murray asked about the satellite system that is to be used. At this stage, I can say only that later this week a full statement will be made on that subject. I assure the honourable member that there will be no delays and that the technology used will be the best available. The Government and the Opposition want many channels to be available. There is a particular problem with radio. It will be necessary to operate a system of technology that will give remote areas television cover. It is necessary also for those areas to have radio cover.

The honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom) and the honourable member for Maranoa referred to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's actions. Their speeches showed a slightly different emphasis. The honourable member for Maranoa took the view that there was a weeding out process and that the ABC should not employ homosexuals. The honourable member for Braddon, although I do not agree with him, raised certain matters which are obviously of concern to him. There are a number of things worth saying about this matter. First, the ABC's decision is properly within its management prerogative as an independent statutory authority, and there is no question about that. Second, the ABC's equal opportunity policy, affecting persons living in unmarried heterosexual or homosexual relationships, is not the pacesetter that some people seem to think it is. That is where the whole argument has got out of perspective. People seem to think that that policy was something on to which the ABC fastened as though it were completely new, but that is not so.

As long ago as 1978-those opposite should understand this, because we all know who was in power then-the Commonwealth Public Service Board's elaboration of equal opportunity principles determined that benefits such as bereavement leave and removal and transfer allowances would be decided on a basis that did not discriminate between heterosexual and homosexual unmarried relationships. That was the determination by the Public Service Board in 1978. That was the position when the ABC made its decision. It is correct to say that the Public Service Board subsequently moved from that stand, but that was the position when the ABC took its decision. In fact, in 1978 the Public Service Board, under the Fraser Government, laid down those guidelines. That policy was not seized upon by the ABC as something completely new and something that had not been thought of before.

The Board and management of the ABC clearly have the power to set pay and conditions for staff. The question of other authorities was mentioned. Directions can be issued to other authorities in certain circumstances, but there are some difficulties. In fact, the advice given by the Attorney-General's Department to various governments has been that directions of that sort may not stand up if they get in the way of other powers of independent statutory corporations. What could be done is that the Government could give a statement of policy on the matter which would have to be taken into account by authorities . However, to talk of directions to independent statutory authorities is not as easy a matter as may be first thought. I think that issue will continue to cause some conjecture, but it is not a matter that was plucked out of the air by the ABC. I inform the honourable member for Braddon that it relates to items such as bereavement leave and removal and transfer allowances, totally unrelated to the letter to which the honourable member referred. It would not cover the case of somebody wishing to bring someone who had a grand piano out from the United States. It would not cover such situations and was never intended to do so. That is a matter people would have to take on themselves. Nevertheless, as these points have been raised at various stages this is an opportunity for me to cover them.

Mr Groom —Do you support the ABC?

Mr DUFFY —It is not a matter of supporting the ABC. The interjection from the honourable member for Braddon points to one of the grave problems faced by Opposition members. It is not a matter of my supporting the ABC or not doing so. I said a moment ago, and I repeat word for word, that this type of decision made by the ABC is perfectly and properly within its management prerogative as an independent statutory authority. Opposition members should start to attempt to understand the ABC's position as an independent statutory authority.

Mr Ian Cameron —Put on a few more like Neville.

Mr DUFFY —In reply to the interjection by the honourable member for Maranoa, let me say that Neville Bonner has proved to be a fine commissioner. There is no question about that.

Mr McGauran —The others are not much good.

Mr DUFFY —In the considered judgment of the honourable member for Gippsland, the others are not much good. That is an opinion he is entitled to have. It is not one that I share. One of the great problems is that this House is full of more instant experts on the ABC-on both sides, may I say-than on any other subject in this Parliament.

Mr Bilney —Foreign affairs?

Mr DUFFY —The honourable member for Kingston cites foreign affairs as a similar area. If one looks at the condition in which the ABC found itself on the basis of a report commissioned by the previous Government, we now know that a new board has been set up under a new general manager. It ill becomes honourable members on both sides of the House to continue this whingeing and carping criticism of the ABC. The ABC is not in the ratings game-that is not what it is about. The ABC, given a period of time under a new board and with a new general manager, I think will deliver the goods. It is about time people gave them a bit of a chance to do that without perpetually seizing on various issues and criticising them. In closing on a happier note, I again thank honourable members who have made a contribution to the debate.

Mr McGauran —What about VHF?

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable member for Gippsland will cease interjecting , particularly when he is not in his own seat.

Mr DUFFY —The questions raised on technical aspects, particularly VHF and UHF problems, are matters on which I have already had detailed discussions in the past few months with representatives of Southern Cross Communications Ltd. It is an interminable argument, particularly when it involves engineers. Those of us who are in the law know that lawyers are often subject to criticism in that any two lawyers will give three or four different opinions. I think the same argument applies to engineers. The fact is that the managements of Southern Cross Communications and many of the other television stations have made considerable progress in those discussions at management level. However, the problems which have been raised are complex, and the honourable member has represented them on other occasions. They will be taken on board and are being examined almost on an on-going basis.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Department of Administrative Services

Proposed expenditure, $461,566,000.

Department of Housing and Construction

Proposed expenditure, $356,605,000.