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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 718

Senator TEAGUE(6.16) —I welcome Senator Puplick's robust views on the third report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts. I happen to be Deputy Chairman of that Committee. I was able to be fully involved in the inquiry, the report of which is before us now. I welcome Senator Puplick's remarks because I know that he, like me, on the Liberal side of the chamber, has taken a very real interest in communications matters and in ensuring that there is a growing set of good programs for Australian viewers. But I disagree with him in his assessments. One of the reasons why I welcome his putting his views is that there has been such a comparative avalanche of views in the Senate in favour of the conclusions that the Senate Committee unanimously adopted. So I look forward, as Senator Puplick has, to the debate that will be held in this chamber, and no doubt in the House of Representatives, when, as I fully expect, legislation is brought forward to put into practice the amendment to the Broadcasting and Television Act for which the Senate Committee has called.

This inquiry is all about those measures which we believe will best ensure that children aged 5 to 14 in all parts of Australia will have good, constructive, entertaining programs available to them at times when they mostly watch television. All of us are greatly dismayed when we see overseas cartoons or inadequate, amateurish, cheap television programs being produced for our children to watch. In fact, it has been noted by a Senate committee in the past that on any weekday in Australia, at a little after 5 p.m., about half of all children are watching television.

Senator Coates —They are not listening to Parliament.

Senator TEAGUE —No, they are not listening to Parliament. They regard that as even more unattractive than the television that, particularly some years ago, was the regular diet. I for one, as a parent, in league with many other parents, have encouraged my children to be involved in their own constructive recreations and reading activities, so that they are not fed a weak diet of television. But the question is: How shall we provide for the children of Australia? What is the good deal for Australia's children? The Senate Committee, from the time I first joined it seven years ago, had an inquiry into children's television in Australia, and we brought down a substantial report. The recommendations in that report have led to the establishment of a Children's Television Foundation, which is flourishing, and which, for example, has just produced the Winners series to be broadcast over the coming months in Australia. It is a very substantial piece of children's drama which is at present the major program of the Children's Television Foundation. The Children's Program Committee was established by the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to give advice and, after a public inquiry, to set standards for children's television. These standards have been published and stations have agreed to meet them.

After the enormous improvement in children's television production and in the programs actually broadcast, the only matter at issue is whether there should be pre-assessment by the Tribunal of the programs that are intended to be classified C. That issue was at the nub of the inquiry and at the nub of the High Court hearings earlier this year. The High Court, after discussing the meaning of the word `standard', concluded that the Tribunal, in a technical sense, did not have the power legally to make a pre-assessment of C classified programs for children.

I remind the Senate that the C classification is intended for programs shown on all television stations in Australia on weekdays during the 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. time slot. That hour is devoted exclusively to the broadcasting of C classified material. That material is intended specifically for children aged between 5 years and 14 years, but not in a general or documentary sense. It is to have an entertaining goal. It is not to be a general program that would be inoffensive for children of that age or even educational; it must be age specific and distinctly entertaining.

The criteria for the C classification, expanded from the few points that I have outlined, require very careful planning by those producing films for television stations to broadcast at that time. In addition, there is a quota of eight hours of first release Australian children's drama to be classified C-that is age specific and entertaining-to be shown at the C classification time of 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. or at any other time. We are in a bind with regard particularly to the C classification for children's drama productions. Senator Puplick rightly referred to television stations being reluctant in principle to allow pre-assessment of the programs they produce. They argue that it is tantamount to censorship and they object to it as a matter of principle. On that basis, they took their case to the High Court and the High Court, I believe on a legal technicality, granted their case. That decision in turn has led us to believe that the Broadcasting and Television Act should be amended so that the pre-assessment can continue. The real reason why the television stations are opposed to the pre-assessment power of the Children's Television Committee of the Tribunal is that the amount of money outlaid in producing a program is so large that they do not want to have any risk involved in their being able to show the end product of that costly production. It may cost $150,000 an hour and even up to $750,000 an hour to produce the kind of quality children's drama that is required to meet the specification of the C classification.

The television stations are saying: `We want to be able to produce such films without anyone denying us the right to show them and then, after the event, you can classify them in the C category and the repercussion for use would be that if we have not produced to the agreed standard you would then deny us our licence or restrict the period of a renewed licence'. I believe that that risk can be made reasonable by the pre-assessment system. The Committee set out in its report that this is the only way that we could ensure that these standards can be achieved. Because of the high costs involved, market forces alone would not produce the quality programs that we believe children should be able to see in Australia. So, very conscientiously, the Senate Committee has concluded that this power ought to be given to the Tribunal. The Committee has made a finding in advance of the Government introducing legislation into this chamber. In so doing, I believe that the Senate Committee has given great service to this Parliament and we might achieve a great deal for children in Australia.

Question resolved in the affirmative.