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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1556


Senator PUPLICK(6.21) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The Department of Communications' annual report for 1984-85 contains a great deal of information in terms of matters currently under review by the Department and in terms of a number of policy initiatives taken by this Government since it came to office. However, a careful reading of the Department's annual report will indicate the degree of confusion which exists within the Government as far as broadcasting policy is concerned at the moment in respect of the number of different broadcasting initiatives which the Government is running, some of which, in fact, are quite incompatible with each other. For instance, the report dealing with the question of localism in Australian broadcasting notes that the Department is reviewing the recommendations of the Oswin inquiry, that 800-odd submissions were received by that inquiry and that it has an ongoing and continuing commitment to the policy of localism in broadcasting.

At the same time, Mr Duffy, the Minister for Communications, has announced that the primary objective now in Australian communications policy is to move to a situation of equalisation. This will mean that all persons who receive television programs in Australia will eventually be able to receive three television station transmissions, the same number that is currently available to most consumers in Sydney, Melbourne and other major cities. The inevitable consequence of a policy of equalisation is increased dominance by the metropolitan networks. The consequence of equalisation is networking and networking means the death of localism. It is therefore impossible to pursue both policies, localism and equalisation, at the same time. That is one of the indications of confusion in Government policy.

The report on page 40 refers to the system of supplementary licences. Supplementary licence hearings were intitiated. Only one of those hearings-the supplementary television broadcasting licence for CTC-7 in Canberra-has substantially proceeded. Nevertheless, the Minister has attempted on two separate occasions to abort that supplementary licence inquiry by trying to apply pressure to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to defer the inquiry until a review of legislation is made. Nevertheless, the Tribunal has continued to pursue that matter. The whole process of supplementary licences is incompatible with the process of equalisation because supplementary licences were designed initially to provide an additional part service rather than a second or third service in the same broadcasting market. So there is confusion as far as that is concerned.

The report draws our attention to the on-going debate between the Minister and his Department and various forces within the community and the Government Party on the question of the future of the Special Broadcasting Service-whether in fact its long term future is guaranteed independently in accordance with some of the recommendations, whether all of the Connor report recommendations will be taken up and whether, in fact, the Service will be merged within the operation of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The report also draws our attention to the report previously presented by the Forward Development Unit on the future directions for broadcasting in Australia. There are a number of recommendations in that, which, if adopted, would be contrary to those currently laid down within the Government's own framework. There is the question of the two-station rule which is referred to on page 37 of the Department's annual report. If in fact changes are to be made in the two-station rule, again the protection of localism and the position of regional television operators will be severely disadvantaged. There is within this report one absolutely monumental understatement. It occurs on page 59 and reads:

Disappointing mail service standards, particularly by Australia Post in New South Wales, have been a matter of concern for some time.

We have here a statement of high import thrown away in one and a half lines that there is something crook with the mail service in New South Wales and that it is a matter of concern-not that the Department, the Minister or anybody else is prepared to suggest anything that can be done about it or anybody is prepared to take any positive steps to do anything about it. The Department has confirmed what all of us would have previously recognised on the basis of our own experience-that is, that the New South Wales mail system is a matter of concern. This is something that ought to be drawn particularly to the attention of the Senate. The report makes it perfectly clear that a major rewriting of the Broadcasting and Television Act is now long overdue. The Government must clearly indicate what its priorities are in the future of broadcasting in Australia.

Question resolved in the affirmative.