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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1448


Mr CHARLES(9.18) —At this point I confine my remarks on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1984-85 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1984-85 to the communications area and, in particular, to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Over the years, especially during the last decade, the ABC has come in for its share of criticism. However, two quite separate types of criticism have come the way of the ABC. The first type of criticism is the normal type of criticism of programs and the like that all broadcasters receive from time to time. The second type of criticism, which is quite separate and distinct from the aforementioned type of criticism, is an abuse of the ABC in a very political way by members of this House and members of other parliaments in this country.

The ABC is not a political tool to be used by anybody on behalf of any group or organisation. Whenever something seemingly goes wrong at the ABC in any number of categories that one might think of there is always someone ever ready to come forward and suggest that the Government intervene or, in some way or other, pressure the ABC to take a particular course of action. One of the first political attacks on the ABC that comes to my mind was the attack during the 1975 election campaign by an Acting Minister in the then puppet Government set up by that infamous Governor-General Sir John Kerr. I am talking about the Acting Minister, the former member for Gippsland, Mr Peter Nixon. Amongst many remarks he made during that campaign, he said:

Never in its history will the ABC be under such close scrutiny as during the coming election campaign.

How is that for a bit of political pressure from a Minister? I repeat: He was a Minister at that time, during a very important national election campaign. Of course, during the first three years of the Fraser Government we saw the appropriations for the ABC drop by around 26 per cent in real terms-another attempted political strangulation by the conservative parties in this House. I am pleased to say that appropriations have been more than kept up to the mark during terms of this Government.


Mr McVeigh —Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Would the honourable gentleman tell us what division this matter comes under?


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! There is no point of order.


Mr CHARLES — If the honourable member cares to look, Communications is in Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4). It refers to the ABC. Quite obviously the honourable member and former Minister cannot read, which is probably why he was a such a disaster as a Minister.


Mr McVeigh —Madam Deputy Speaker, on a further point of order: The honourable member has indicated that I cannot read. That is a reflection on the people who taught me. I ask him to withdraw those words as they are personally offensive.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —The honourable member for Isaacs will withdraw.


Mr CHARLES —Yes, I withdraw, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I have said, the former Fraser Government, in which the honourable member was a Minister, in its first three years of office dropped appropriations for the ABC by around 26 per cent in real terms. The Hawke Government has kept the appropriations up to the mark during its terms in office. During the terms of this Government we have also seen substantial change to the ABC. We have seen it change from a Commission to a Corporation, with its own legislation and a new Board of Directors. That was done within a few months of the Hawke Government coming to power in March 1983.

However, let me return to the issue of political bashing of the ABC. We all may criticise the ABC from time to time, just as we might criticise some of the commercial networks, all in the context of proper programming or an opinion regarding a particular program or show. However, in criticising a program I have never called for the resignation of the Managing Director or Board members, or called for an investigation into the political attitudes of ABC staff members, or called for the ABC to be sold off to private enterprise.

Opposition members-Hear, hear!


Mr Slipper —The ABC is a drain on the public purse.


Mr CHARLES —Opposition members say 'Hear, hear'. Those interjections are from members of the same Party of which Mr Nixon was a member when he was in this House. There are, unfortunately, those amongst us who use those or similar tactics whenever it suits their political needs. Why do these people treat the ABC in a different manner from the commercial networks? On the one hand, if a new venture goes wrong-some people have suggested that is the case with the ABC's new news and current affairs program, the National-that criticism is not confined, unfortunately, to the program and related matters. It is sometimes extended to the idea that something is fundamentally wrong with the ABC, its senior members, or possibly, as I have mentioned earlier, that it should be sold off to private enterprise. On the other hand, if one of the commercial networks put on a bomb, and they have had a few in their time, nobody realistically calls for Kerry Packer's resignation as head of the Nine network, if indeed that was the network that programmed a bomb in prime time. Nobody seriously calls for Mr Packer to dispose of his shares in the network. Of course not; that would be absolute nonsense. Yet that is the sort of nonsense the ABC has to put up with. It is double standards between the commercial networks and the public statutory authority.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is not an arm of the Government, as some members of the Opposition seem to think. Judging from some of the interjections and from the questions they have continually put to the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) since this Government came to office, they continue to think that way. The ABC is an independent statutory authority under the control of its Board, with its funds appropriated by the Federal Parliament.

Madam Deputy Speaker, as you would know, the ABC is likely to be appropriated around $400m in this year's Budget, I would guess. When the funding for the Special Broadcasting Service is placed on top of this figure, it is a considerable amount. That brings me to the next point I should like to make. That figure is also likely to escalate in the coming years as the SBS expands its services throughout Australia. All of this brings me to the case for a second national network in this country. I have spoken about it many times before in this House. The recent report to this Parliament by the Committee of Review of the Special Broadcasting Service talks at length about this issue and whether the ABC and the SBS should be amalgamated. I wish to read just a couple of recommendations to put what I am about to say into context. I shall read three recommendations from page 23 of the summary of recommendations:

We recommend that the first priority is to establish a statutory authority better designed than the SBS to develop a more effective ethnic radio and multicultural television service.

We recommend that the ABC and the new MBC should increase co-operation between them, sharing resources, co-ordinating program planning and exchanging personnel.

We recommend that the Government should appoint a further inquiry in 1990 of both the ABC and the MBC with a view to considering their integration. In the meantime both organisations should be encouraged to work towards the aim of a single national broadcasting authority.

I believe that the ABC and the SBS will and should come together in the not too distant future. I have spoken on many occasions in this House about this issue, centring my remarks around the concept of two national television networks operating in a similar way to the present ABC 1 and 2 radio networks. (Quorum formed) As I was mentioning before I was so rudely interrupted, on a number of occasions in this House I have talked about this issue of amalgamating the ABC and the SBS in a similar way to the present ABC radio 1 and 2 networks. A sensible coming together is a must not only for the sake of good broadcasting but also because it makes good economic sense. It also would assist the ABC in the capital equipment area, which is so costly in our never ending expanding and changing communications industry.

The ABC is in the broadcasting industry. If I had a criticism of the ABC, it would be that it has never recognised that to its fullest. It is not a Public Service authority. It should not be run by the Public Service. It is part of one of the biggest and fastest expanding industries in this country-the communications industry. This is a very difficult industry because of its fast expansion and the economics involved, as the commercial networks will attest. The Government this year will appropriate between $400m and $450m for the ABC, the SBS and various other things added together. All the networks must be treated in a similar vein, whether they be the commercial networks or the ABC. As I mentioned earlier, we cannot have the hypocrisy of some members of this House and members of other parliaments throughout Australia treating the ABC in a different fashion depending on who they want to use as a whipping boy for their own political ends in any week. The ABC is an independent body and should be treated as such.

I will leave my remarks on the ABC and the communications area at that and move on to sport and recreation. I appeal to the Government, when looking at this coming Budget and funding for the next few years, to look at the allocation of moneys for recreation and leisure facilities at the local level. I congratulate the Government and the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown), who has been very active since his appointment on the election of the Hawke Government, for the trebling of funds for sport and recreation and for the wonderful work in that area, especially the expansion of the Australian Institute of Sport, with funding to assist athletes and sporting organisations.

But I would like to point more directly to the provision at the local level of leisure centres and recreation facilities for the general population-not for international facilities-which are very much needed and are something close to my heart. At present there are no specific funds for these. Assistance is provided by grants through the community employment program; but, if a project is rather large on the capital side, it cannot be funded in that way. Of course, if one is looking at such facilities as swimming pools or leisure centres, they are usually in that category. I urge the Government, through the Minister, who I know supports this idea, to look at funding these sorts of facilities at the local level. I do not believe that this Government can spend five years in government-that is what it will be in round terms running up to the next election-and not have this sort of program in place.

No matter how much money we spend on sport and recreation facilities at the Institute, which in turn will assist Australia's reputation abroad, we must spend money at the grass roots level to assist people not only in their leisure time-unfortunately too many people have not much leisure time-but also in their general well-being and health, which is so necessary in this day and age. The issue of good health has come to the forefront in the last few years. People are very concerned about keeping fit, eating the right nutritional foods, starting to jog, et cetera. As the Minister reminds me, we are looking at thousands of millions of dollars-


Mr John Brown —Twelve thousand million.


Mr CHARLES —The health bill will be around $12,000m in round terms this financial year. If we can do anything to assist the general population in its aims for better health, better well-being and peace of mind in its work and leisure at the grass roots level, this Government must look in that direction. As I said, we cannot go to the next election, which would involve around five years of government, without such a program. By that time we would have spent a considerable amount of money-several hundreds of millions of dollars-on sport and recreation facilities at the higher level for the elite athletes, et cetera, but nothing at the grass roots level. It is a fundamental philosophy of people on this side of the House. I am quite sure that Cabinet will look seriously at this matter this year; but, whether it be this year or within the next twelve months, I urge it to take this matter seriously into consideration.


Mr Hollis —Hear, hear! Well said.


Mr John Brown —Send a copy to the Minister for Finance.


Mr CHARLES —The Minister for Finance needs a copy; we might give it to him for his good health. This is a very important area. Under consecutive conservative governments we saw literally no money being placed into the sport and recreation area, or into tourism. I mention tourism because the Minister is sitting at the table. While the previous Government had a good Minister in the late Sir Phillip Lynch, he was continually rolled in Cabinet in his attempts to expand the budget for the Australian Tourist Commission.

It is in those areas, under the responsibility of the Minister at the table-tourism and sport and recreation-that this Government has expanded and recognised not just their prospects for the well-being of people but also their great employment prospects. The sport and recreation area will be a tremendous employer; it is now and it will expand rapidly over the next decade. It is becoming a large industry. I am pleased to see that some honourable members-most of them on this side of the House-recognise that. I urge the Government to give urgent consideration over the next few months to the points that I have raised tonight.