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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1353

Senator COLLARD —I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Communications to the decision of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to close regional television stations at Townsville and Rockhampton in Queensland. Does Senator Button agree with me that the Chairman of the Corporation, Mr Myer, is misguided when he claims, as he did on the AM program yesterday, that the job of the ABC is to try to meet competition at the national and State levels? Mr Myer also stated:

We have to concentrate in the first instance our total resources in our major markets.

Does he further agree that the Chairman's view is quite inconsistent with the charter of the Corporation, which imposes no obligation whatsoever on the ABC to indulge in a ratings battle with commercial stations? Is this the sort of treatment country people in particular can expect from the Hawke Government's new Board and new Chairman of the ABC? Has the decision been influenced by the reduced real term funding provided to the Corporation in the Hawke Government's first Budget? Lastly, what action can or will the Government take to reverse the Board's decision?

Senator BUTTON —I will put the question in some perspective by indicating to Senator Collard precisely what is produced by the ABC at Rockhampton and Townsville. First of all, the programs produced at both Rockhampton and Townsville are: A five by five-minute regional news service, a five by five- minute weather bulletin, a one by 30-minute public affairs program--

Senator Chaney —What is a 'five by five'?

Senator BUTTON —That means five minutes for five days of the week. It is a highly technical expression which eludes the Leader of the Opposition and, I must say, temporarily eluded me when he interjected. But that is the expression which is used. As a combined effort, there are also five 15 minutes per week of rural items.

Having said that, I was asked to comment on a number of matters. Let me first of all say that the decision to phase out locally produced ABC regional television services in the two cities is, in essence, a decision for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to make in accordance with its corporate responsibilities, as set out in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 . It is not a matter in which the Government would normally interfere. But as it is an issue of great concern to members of the Senate and to the public, the Minister for Communications will be contacting the Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Board, Mr Myer, seeking a full report on the reasons for the Board's decisions.

I do not wish to answer that part of Senator Collard's question which asks me whether I think Mr Myer's statement is inconsistent with the charter of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and things like that. Undoubtedly a bush lawyer would embark on that sort of exercise at Question Time in the Senate, and I do not propose to put myself in that category. However, I understand Senator Collard's concern about the fundamental question involved in relation to this matter. Senator Collard will recognise that in this chamber over many years I was concerned about the provision of broadcasting services in country areas. I will personally ask the Minister for Communications to expedite his inquiries. Following those inquiries, it may be possible for me to provide a further answer to Senator Collard which hopefully will be more helpful than the answer I have given today or any of the attempted interjections of Senator Lewis.