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Tuesday, 10 September 1985
Page: 353

Senator Walsh —On Tuesday 19 March 1985 (Hansard, page 385) Senator Reynolds asked the Minister representing the Minister for Communications the following question without notice:

Can the Minister ensure that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Board and management is advised that Queensland viewers, reliant on the remote area television service, are totally dissatisfied with the news and weather services as presented directed from Sydney? This means that these communities are totally out of touch with their State news and weather forecasts. Can the Minister ascertain why the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is failing to provide relevant news and weather services to these remote communities? Furthermore, can he advise when the ABC will adopt the Government's commitment to localism and provide appropriate services to local communities which, after all fund the Corporation?

The Minister for Communications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

I have been advised by the ABC that the Corporation is aware that a number of Queensland viewers are dissatisfied with the ABC's news and weather services. As a result of this, on 11 April 1985 senior ABC executives met with representatives, including Parliamentarians and rural industry groups, of regional Queensland areas to discuss the problems associated with the Remote Area Television Service (RATS) in Queensland.

On 15 April 1985, the ABC announced that it would be conducting a study into the viewing needs of its audience in Queensland regional areas. As part of this study, the ABC will also review the desirability of the Northern Territory continuing to receive the Sydney/Melbourne version of the ABC National. The RATS transmitters; in Queensland which service Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek take this version instead of the Brisbane National in response to the Northern Territory's wishes. Consultations will be held with Federal Parliamentarians representing Queensland regional areas and the ABC Queensland Advisory Council when sufficient data, including costings, has been collected by the study group.

It is expected in the longer term that when the ABC converts to the use of the AUSSAT satellite system for program distribution, ABC RATS transmitters in Queensland will be fed directly from Brisbane. The programming will then be part of the Homestead and Community Broadcasting Satellite service (HACBSS) which will provide separate programs for south-eastern Australia, Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia.

The ABC has responded to the Government's review into localism and subsequent report, `Localism in Australian Broadcasting' (the Oswin Report) which states:

`4.78 With regard to television studios in major provincial areas, the ABC submission to this Review indicated that it had re-evaluated this policy and decided on a phased withdrawal of the services provided in regional centres (Rockhampton and Townsville). The decision was based on the manner in which ABC television will be distributed once the domestic satellite is in operation (through capital city services and HACBSS, which will make ABC television available to the 300,000+ Australians who currently receive no television) and the difficulty of providing regional television services on a cost-effective basis.

4.79 This approach is endorsed by the Review. The responsibilities of a national broadcaster to provide particular regional services on a permanent basis were more effectively undertaken through radio, for economic reasons and for the greater flexibility which that medium can provide-particularly when the second regional radio network is operational. As well, the priorities of a national broadcaster should place extensive regional television services well behind the provision of a service to remote areas which currently have no access to television. Furthermore, as recognised by the ABC in its submission, the expansion of regionally oriented and produced commercial television services through supplementary licences will further fulfil the programming needs of regional television audiences and complement the ABC's national service.

With this in mind, ABC Radio is expanding its services in Queensland with the development of the Second Regional Network. This will happen as soon as practicable after the Aussat satellite launch later this year. In north Queensland there will be a new radio studio at Mount Isa and upgraded studios in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Rockhampton. This expansion, coupled with the extension of ABC-FM, will ensure that in the next few years regional listeners will have a choice of three ABC radio services.


Senator Walsh —On Wednesday 22 May 1985 (Hansard, page 2355) Senator Jack Evans asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, a question without notice on a recommendation of the Hancock Committee for parties to be able to make their own arrangements for the prevention and settlement of disputes, and a supplementary question concerning the Australian Democrats Bill on collective agreements. In my reply, I undertook to seek further information from the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. The Minister has provided the following response:

The Hancock Report recommends an amendment to Part X of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act which deals with industrial agreements. The amendment suggested is designed to enable parties to enter into an agreement by which they could resolve disputes through their own agreed processes of conciliation and arbitration. It is intended that such agreements would operate to exclude the effect of federal awards and any state prescriptions which would otherwise cover the area.

It was the committee's view that, if this recommendation was to be implemented, parties choosing to enter into `private' conciliation and arbitration agreements should use those agreed processes for regulation of their entire industrial relationships. The agreements, however, would be enforced through the provisions of the Act.

The implementation of this recommendation will need to be carefully assessed by the Government and all concerned parties during the consultations which will take place regarding the Report.

The Committee states that the proposes of opting out see significant benefits flowing from this approach-industrial relations benefits in terms of the greater commitment which is supposed to flow from agreements negotiated between the parties, and economic benefits from the greater flexibility for the parties to fix wages and conditions in the light of specific economic circumstances.

These perceived advantages will need to be carefully weighed against the anticipated effects on the predominant, formal system of conciliation and arbitration. The most significant disadvantage of such an approach would be the lack of any mechanism whereby public interest considerations could be brought to bear in determining wage outcomes in the informal system. A further related issue concerns the need to ensure that the wider wages policy is not destabilised by outcomes in the informal sector.

The advocates for opting out take the view that this would primarily lead to negotiated rates and conditions less than those provided by awards and tribunals. It is more likely however, that this course would be mainly pursued by unions and employers operating in the more profitable sectors with a higher capacity to pay. Should such agreements provoke claims for increases in the traditional sector based on equity and comparative wage justice arguments, there would be significant wage pressures which could ultimately destroy any wages policy and thereby have adverse, rather than favourable, effects on employment.

It may be that the viability of a dual system depends upon a number of critical pre-conditions involving acceptances by trade unions and employers that the two systems were effectively mutually exclusive. Other concerns would include ensuring that the opting out is voluntary and that exploitation would not occur rising from an imbalance of power between the parties. These factors obviously require very close and careful consideration.

It needs to be noted that the alteration scheme can only apply, in a constitutional sense, to federally registered employer and employee organisations and in relation to an actual or impending interstate industrial dispute.

Finally, while the report recommends greater flexibility through these provisions, it also notes that the existing system already provides some flexibility in dealing with industries or firms facing economic difficulties affecting their capacity to pay. Thus it recomends, subject to certain constraints, the retention of the ability of the Commission to allow wage levels lower than would otherwise be prescribed as a means of protecting employment.

In relation to the supplementary question the answer is:

No. For the reasons outlined above, the Government would be concerned to ensure that any measures aimed at allowing parties to seek alternatives to the current conciliation and arbitration arrangements did not undermine the Government's wages policy. In addition to this consideration the Bill also gave rise to a number of constitutional and practical difficulties.


Senator Grimes —On 23 May 1985 (Hansard, page 2423) Senator Reynolds asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice as to whether I was aware that the Queensland Government had deliberately planned the recent raids on two fertility control clinics for over twelve months and, in carrying out the raids, had seized Medicare documentation. Senator Reynolds also asked what rights the Federal Government had for the protection of confidentiality of Medicare documentation and whether action could be taken to have Medicare documents returned immediately. I undertook to seek further details from the Minister.

The Minister for Health has provided the following information:

My Department was not involved and had no knowledge of the raids carried out by the Queensland Police.

My Department has examined the legal position of the privacy of patients' medical records seized by the Queensland Police in the raids. The records seized are believed to be the doctors' own records of patients' clinical details and accounts. They are not the property of the Commonwealth.

The powers of the Commonwealth concerning the privacy of patients' medical records are directed towards unauthorised release of information by officers of the Commonwealth. Those powers are not relevant to the seizure by the Queensland Police of doctors' records under search warrant in connection with alleged offences against State legislation.

I sincerely hope that the Queensland Government would ensure that patients' medical records receive the same high degree of security that they are given by Australian Federal Police procedures. Recent press reports seem to indicate that belated consideration has been given to store the records securely, following the outcry in the Queensland press.