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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3135


Senator PUPLICK(10.52) —I move the amendment to clause 12 circulated on behalf of the Opposition. I move:

Clause 12, proposed new sub-section 119 (1), leave out `the program standards were not complied with or'.

I will be brief on this matter. The reason for moving this amendment is that we believe that if people are to be punished, as indeed they can under the provisions of section 119, there ought to be a great deal more clarity in terms of what it is they are to be judged against. We do not believe that a contravention of program standards should carry the same weight as contravention of the Act.

I draw attention to the fact that section 119 of the Act has been a live issue. For instance, in February 1979 the Melbourne radio station 3CR was subject to an Australian Broadcasting Tribunal inquiry over some alleged anti-semitic broadcast. Certain restrictions were placed on it. In a subsequent case the Melbourne public broadcasting section 3RRR had its licence renewed in October 1978 for a period of only one year instead of the usual three years, for the simple offence that a volunteer broadcaster had broadcast what was deemed to be an offensive record. The station was punished accordingly. In May 1972 the Broadcasting Tribunal directed that no live interviews with Dave Allen, Peter Cook or Dudley Moore should be broadcast on Australian stations because their language was regarded as causing offence to people. So these three fairly well known and well established international comedians--


Senator Chipp —And very funny ones.


Senator PUPLICK —Indeed, as Senator Chipp said, they are extremely funny people. The Tribunal directed that they were not to be allowed to be featured in live interviews. In December 1974 Mary Hardy was called on to show cause why she should not be put off the air for use of an expletive. In March 1975 Mr Graham Kennedy got into a certain amount of trouble for making certain calls which he indicated were the imitation of a crow. Since then both Ian Chappell and Derryn Hinch have had certain problems with their broadcasting-in one case I think deliberately; and, in the other case, somewhat more accidentally-and with the operations of the Broadcasting Tribunal. After all Ian Chappell was punished for the sort of off the cuff slip that characterises most of the public utterances of the President of the United States, who does not quite know when the microphone is on or when it is not on. Yet Ian Chappell has been subjected to a regime under section 119 which is now proposed by the amendment in the Bill before us to be extended.

We believe that breaches of the Act may in fact form a proper basis for people to have judgement rendered against them and for punishment to be imposed on them. What we do not believe is that the breaches of the program standards, that is to say, the way not in which the Parliament interprets the Act but the way in which the Broadcasting Tribunal interprets the Act, should carry the same weight as the actual principal legislation. We have had trouble finding out what the program standards are in a number of instances. They are not easy to obtain and they are not published in the sort of way that the Act and the Regulations under the Act are published. For instance, one cannot go to the Government Bookshop and obtain a copy of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal program standards in the way in which one can obtain a copy of the Broadcasting Act and the regulations made under that Act. Therefore, people may find themselves in breach of standards which are not well known or which are not standards specifically given the approval of the Parliament or subject to parliamentary approval in the way in which regulations are subject to that approval. We believe that this is an excessive power and that it is one which should not be in the legislation.

Finally, we believe the power is excessive in that it is not just that people can be punished by being taken off the air; they can be punished be being restricted from undertaking other activities. The words in the Act are `passing or selecting programs for broadcasting'. Thus, a whole broadcasting career might be put in jeopardy. The restriction might be for an hour, a day, a month, a year or it might be a permanent ban. Although the decision is reviewable on its merit by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, I put it to the Committee that the sentence is not reviewable in the same way and, secondly, the standards-the touchstones against which one must be tested-are not reviewable by the AAT. More importantly, they are not reviewable by the Parliament. This is an excessive power which should not be in the Act and the Opposition has therefore moved this amendment which I commend to the Committee.