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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 2173

Mr SAUNDERSON —I ask the Minister for Communications whether he is aware of public disquiet in Melbourne relating to action being taken by representatives of the Fairfax Corporation Pty Ltd at HSV7. The disquiet centres on the abandonment of local programs and the dismissal of some 80 staff, as well as an apparent desire by the Fairfax Corporation to close down program production at HSV7. Does the Minister believe that, because the Fairfax Corporation is operating under the act of grace provisions allowed under the current Broadcasting and Television Act, parties who do feel aggrieved on this question should take their grievances to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal under section 92m of the Act?

Mr DUFFY —I thank the honourable member for his question. I am aware of the matters of concern mentioned by him-firstly, dismissals of staff and, secondly, the problem regarding local programming in Melbourne or, more correctly, loss of it. The licensee, in this case Channel 7, is, of course, accountable to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal for any actions which may be seen to adversely affect its services. The Tribunal may consider staffing arrangements in the course of deciding whether it should approve the takeover of HSV7 by the Fairfax organisation or, as mentioned by the honourable member, the matter can be considered under section 92m of the Broadcasting and Television Act. It is also, of course, an issue which could be considered at the time of the station's next licence renewal in the context of whether Channel 7 is providing an adequate and comprehensive service to Melbourne.

I think the reference by the honourable member to section 92m is worth noting. That section was inserted in the Act in 1981 at the time, I think, of the stewardship of the Leader of the National Party of Australia. It was difficult during that period to follow who was the Minister for Communications at any particular time, but I think it was during his period of responsibility. That section introduced a new approach of allowing applicants, after takeovers had already occurred, a period of six months grace which could be used to put any breach of the Act in order.

Concern was indicated at that time by broadcasters, the Government and the Senate that things could take place which could be irreversible by the time a retrospective Tribunal inquiry was held. As the honourable member indicated, that is one of the matters that the Tribunal could consider. I understand that at least one of the unions involved in the dismissal of staff has approached the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and asked the Tribunal to consider action in accordance with one or other or both of the provisions that have been mentioned-that is, the question of the adequate and comprehensive cover or the section 92m provisions referred to.