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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3132


Senator CHIPP (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(10.29) —Like Senator Puplick I pay a very great tribute to Mr David Jones for his magnificent work as Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. The Australian Democrats, unlike the Opposition, will be vigorously supporting the Broadcasting and Television Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2). While I am paying tributes I would like to pay tribute to the current Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy), who I believe is probably the best Minister for Communications that we have had for a long time. Unlike Senator Puplick, the Democrats believe that this legislation is urgent. When I say that it is urgent I mean that it needs to be passed this session. The Democrats would need to have overwhelming reasons to move any amendments to this Bill because, as we know, the House of Representatives, in its customary fashion, has risen early for the year and if the Senate moves an amendment to this Bill it will lie in King's Hall somewhere between the Senate and the House of Representatives chambers. When legislation is in limbo I do not know where it goes. Is it stuck between the legs of King George V and left there until the House of Representatives resumes or where does it go? The point is that if amendments were carried this Bill would not be passed and the amendments in the original Bill would not apply until February.

I have had some reasonable representations from Ada de Lacy, Executive Director of the Public Broadcasting Association of Australia, and I have received a letter from Barbara Biggins of the Australian Council for Children's Films and Television and a letter from the Australian Children's Television Action Committee imploring me and other political parties to pass this legislation without delay. Therefore, the Australian Democrats would need overwhelming reasons to prevent this Bill being given royal assent. The Broadcasting and Television Legislation Amendment Bill is an essential piece of legislation.

Television has changed the world. In fact, it is a technological phenomenon for which I believe the world, particularly Australia, was not ready socially. We saw it coming but, like many technological advances, we did not prepare our children for it, we did not prepare family life for it and it and it has had a fundamental impact on our philosophy. Television has changed the world and it has changed the way in which we see the world. It took the printing press, which was invented in the sixteenth century, 300 years to have a marked impact on the world or its people. It has taken television less than 30 years to have a massive impact.

School age children in Australia now spend seven hours watching television for every hour that they spend reading. I shall repeat that to emphasise it. Average school age children spend seven times more of their time watching television than they do reading. That indicates how incredibly television has changed our society. Another staggering statistic is that the average school children, during their school lives, will spend 15,000 hours watching television, whereas they will spend only 11,500 hours in school. In other words, they will spend about a quarter more of their time watching television than they will spend listening to teachers in school.


Senator Robertson —And a good deal of it inappropriate for them.


Senator CHIPP —Indeed, a good deal of it is inappropriate and ill-chosen. During their school lives such children will see half a million advertisements. While I am mentioning commercials I pay tribute to the commercial television stations in Australia. By and large, I think they do a magnificent job. In fact, they compare more than favourably with commercial television stations in other parts of the world. But somewhere along the line a most irritating and impertinent phenomenon is being allowed to occur. Why do these television stations allow the advertisements broadcast to be louder than other parts of the programs? I find it impertinent--


Senator Collard —They are not supposed to be. They are supposed to be automatically tuned down.


Senator CHIPP —I know that they are. I have checked this with the Department of Communications. There is some technical device-Senator Collard, with his great knowledge of technical matters, would know this-which enables the frequencies to be fiddled with so that the advertisements appear louder to the listener. I find it offensive to my young children when they are watching a children's show to have to experience the showing of advertisements that suddenly come through much more loudly than the rest of the program. However, that is by the way. An industry which has that amount of influence over the way we see the world, particularly the way the young see the world, has to be subject to government regulation. I think even the most passionate deregulation-minded person would have to agree with that.

The responsibility for regulation, including the setting of standards, falls on the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. I should mention that in order to fulfil that responsibility, the Tribunal needs to be adequately staffed, which I believe is not the case at the moment. Until the Saat- chi and Herald-Sun Television cases, the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal excerised two crucially important regulatory powers, namely, the ability to set quantitative standards, such as those specifying the amount of Australian content which must be broadcast; and secondly, the right to require children's `C' time programs be shown to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal before they were approved for broadcast. This we refer to as the pre-classification power.

As I understand it, the Opposition puts forward a respectable philosophical point about standards. Opposition members have some objection to which Senator Puplick referred to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal setting the standards. FACTS-the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations-also has that view; it objects to the Tribunal setting standards.

I think there are only two other possibilities. One is total self-regulation. With the media having such an incredible effect on human life, particularly children's lives, there must be regulation. But somewhere along the line the Opposition has seriously suggested that Parliament should set the standards. That at first may look a respectable proposition, but can anybody here imagine a debate on a Bill which sets standards? The mind boggles at the kinds of contributions that would come from all over the place if Parliament were to set the standards.


Senator Puplick —We already do in terms of blasphemy and indecency. That is provided in the law at the moment.


Senator CHIPP —Indeed we do, and as a former Minister for Customs, I know the difficulty in interpreting even words which have been specifically designated as that. But we have to go that far and I acknowledge Senator Puplick's point, but when one refers to standards, it goes so far beyond just being blasphemous, obscene or offensive. The only group, as I understand it, to oppose pre-classification was FACTS. Its reservations related partly first, to the effect of pre-classification on investment in children's programming-a respectable point of view; secondly, to the fact that the Tribunal's Children's Television Committee lacked the necessary expertise. I think Senator Puplick raised a question mark about the Tribunal's capacity or expertise in this matter. The suggestion put forward by the Film Industry Standing Committee that pre-classification be done at the final draft script stage has been accepted by the Minister. This would seem to answer one of the industry's complaints. The industry's other criticism that the Children's Television Committee lacked expertise and should be replaced by a panel of industry experts does not, I say with respect, impress me too much. Children's television, including the eight hours of children's drama which licensees are required to program each year, is judged against eight age specific criteria. In order to judge whether the program meets the necessary standard, the Committee needs considerable knowledge of the child audience as well as a knowledge of television production. If the industry is objecting to the expertise or lack of it in that Children's Program Committee, let us look at who is on it. I would like Senator Puplick to tell me which group he objects to and where there is no expertise.


Senator Puplick —I did not draw attention to their expertise. I said that they were going too far in regulating children's television, not that there was any lack of expertise. That was a criticism made by FACTS, not by me.


Senator CHIPP —Then I withdraw my comment about Senator Puplick and I accept what he says. Let us look at this Committee. Three of its members are from the television industry. One member is a writer and publisher of children's books. One member is a librarian expert in the area of children's literature, and one member is a child development expert. One member is a mother of children in the age group covered by the Committee's work.

The Tribunal's power to set quantitative standards is particularly necessary if the world we see on television is to be an Australian world. Only 4 per cent of prime time television is taken up with Australian drama. At least 80 per cent of advertisements are Australian, which is some compensation, as advertising has been a training ground for the Australian film industry. In passing, I make the sad comment that we have allowed overseas companies to take over the Australian advertising industry. I have not the figure with me now but over 80 per cent of our advertising industry in Australia is owned overseas. Therefore, it is essential that there is a requirement in legislation forcing television stations to run Australian-made material. I listened carefully to Senator Puplick's complaint about the difficulties of this requirement, and I accept the thrust of his argument. But if we did not have something in the Act as I have indicated we would have nothing but Coca-Cola ads produced in the United States of America and so on. The Australian film industry and industries associated with advertising in Australia would suffer. The power to regulate the amount of Australian content in advertisements was struck down by the Saatchi case and is restored by clauses 4 and 6 of this Bill.

The Opposition, as I understand it, objects to clause 10 which gives the Tribunal the power to reprimand or admonish a licensee for a breach of program standards, and clause 12 which confers on the Tribunal the power to prohibit a person from live broadcasting for breach of program standards. I know that the industry is concerned about these sanctions and, as Senator Puplick will be moving an amendment in Committee, I will reserve my remarks until that stage.

It must be borne in mind that under clause 7, the Tribunal must call an inquiry before imposing any of these sanctions. Clause 8 provides a defence that the breach of standards was, first, due to a reasonable mistake, secondly, due to reasonable reliance on information supplied by others or, thirdly, was beyond the licensee's reasonable control. In addition, a decision that a broadcaster is in breach of section 119 is reviewable by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on its merits. It is not possible to rely, as the Opposition wishes to, on self-regulation by the industry, backed up by the ultimate sanction of removing or suspending a broadcaster's licence. What government would even contemplate taking a licence away from Kerry Packer, for example?

I am not suggesting that that would be desirable. I think that he has made a magnificent contribution to media in Australia. It is nonsense to say that we should rely on the ultimate sanction of taking away a broadcaster's licence. The value of a major metropolitan television licence could be measured in hundreds of millions of dollars. Metropolitan television stations last year made an operating profit of $63.6m. Removing or suspending the licence of a major television station is not a realistic, flexible or effective way of enforcing broadcasting standards.

This Bill gives power to admonish and gives the Tribunal power to force that admonition to be broadcast by the offending television licensee. For example, if the television licensee broadcasts something offensive, the Tribunal can say to Channel 7, Channel 9, Channel 10 or whatever it is: `As the first item on your 6.30 news, you will broadcast that the Tribunal has admonished you for doing something offensive'. That seems to be a reasonable sort of penalty. It can suspend a person; it can impose restrictions on a person. In other words, it can say, for example, that a provocative announcer on radio must have a seven-second delay button. How the hell they work those things out still mystifies me. When I am doing a talk-back program, knowing how someone can press a button and delay what I am saying for seven seconds, I am mystified. This sort of precaution can be imposed on a person or a television licensee. Perhaps we can talk a little more about that in detail in Committee. Generally we support the legislation and commend the Government for bringing it in.