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Tuesday, 11 February 1986
Page: 135

(Question No. 496)

Senator Boswell asked the Minister representing the Minister for Communications, upon notice, on 23 August 1985:

(1) Is the Minister for Communications aware of responses to an advertisement placed in the Brisbane metropolitan press by a Brisbane man, Mr Paul Wells, in relation to the declining standards of Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) news and program presentations; if so, is the Minister prepared to refer the responses to a totally independent source for assessment, as a basis for reconsidering Board and senior management decisions on the so-called `new direction' of the ABC.

(2) Will the Minister review the structure, personnel and decision making processes of the current ABC Board, in view of the ABC's loss of audience support over recent program and format changes and the departure from the ABC of some of its key presenters and staff.

(3) Will general radio and television services to country areas be made more relevant to the particular needs and wishes of non-metropolitan viewers and listeners.

(4) Can the Minister assure ABC staff that further changes to ABC program style and format will not be undertaken without full consultation with senior production staff and that justification of such changes will be made, both publicly and internally.

Senator Walsh —The Minister for Communications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question based on advice received from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC):

(1) The advertisement placed by Mr Paul Wells was a private advertisement and no information on the outcome of the advertisement has been made available to the Minister. Similarly the ABC has received no information about the outcome of it.

(2) The Government established the new Corporation and appointed a new Board of Directors in the expectation that the ABC would be reformed and it is now midway through its most profound changes in fifty years. The Government supports the implementation of policies and strategies which are intended to lead to the development and improvement of the national broadcasting service. There is no intention to review the matters suggested by the honourable senator given the continuing steps for reform within the ABC.

(3) The ABC Board and Management are endeav- ouring to provide improved radio and television services which are both identifiably Australian and identifiably different from the programs offered by the commercial stations.

The Board has decided that in television the ABC should primarily be a national and state-based provider of programs, while in radio the introduction of the Second Regional Radio Network allows the ABC to extend its regional services as well as providing national and state radio services. The Board of Directors came to the conclusion that with the introduction of the domestic satellite many more services are likely to be available to regional areas through commercial television and this needed to be taken into account when planning the ABC's future directions as the national broadcasting service.

However, following the decision to phase out local regional television from Rockhampton and Townsville, the Corporation received a number of complaints from viewers living in affected areas. After a meeting in Townsville in early 1985 between ABC executives, Queensland politicians and representatives of civic and rural industry groups, an ABC committee of review was formed to see how the Corporation, given its current funding constraints, might best serve the people in North Queensland.

On 26 November 1985, the Committee presented to North Queensland Federal Parliamentarians a final draft version of its report on this matter and discussed at length the report's contents. The report will also be made available to the Queensland ABC Advisory Council. Comments and responses received from these groups will be considered before the ABC takes further action to finalise the report.

(4) These are not matters for the Minister but fall entirely within the province of the ABC especially in respect of programming style and format.