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Wednesday, 16 December 1992
Page: 5223

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Transport and Communications) (6.20 p.m.) —The reason we have not moved that way—I do not have the Hansard quote from Senator Walters here in front of me—is that which Senator Walters stated in a previous debate in terms of action the Opposition has taken in respect of ABC and SBS. Her assertion that the ABC and SBS would be anxious to fall in line with these codes has in fact proved to be the case; she was correct. I apologise to Senator Harradine, I actually thought we had finished the debate, and I do not have that quote in front of me. But I do agree with Senator Walters on that. The ABC and the SBS have developed codes of practice. The ABC's code of practice in fact has been formalised; it actually has received the formal approval of the board.

Senator Walters —We have not seen it.

Senator COLLINS —No, but it is coming; it is subject to the same purview as everything else is. Senator Walters has not seen the commercial codes of practice either. I am sorry, the ABC one has been circulated; Senator Alston probably has it. I am assured that in fact the ABC code of practice, because it has been formally approved by the board and it is an official document, has been given to the Opposition. I know that the SBS has developed a draft code already. That has not been formalised yet by its board, but I am advised it will be considered by the board on 19 December.

  Both the ABC and the SBS have special charter obligations to inform and educate as well as to entertain. From previous discussions I have had with Senator Alston, I know he agrees with those sentiments. While they are not exempt from observing community standards of taste and decency, they are required to produce programming that is innovative, that reflects the cultural diversity of the Australian community and which represents many points of view. For this reason, the ABC and SBS in particular—and I think it does a superb job of this, because of its multicultural broadcasting obligations—do find it difficult to apply uniform industry-wide sets of standards and more culturally diverse and innovative programming than they provide. And they do provide it, especially the SBS, which I have described on previous occasions as perhaps almost a niche service. It is a very specialised service that commercial television simply does not provide.

  The ABC and SBS are both protected by enabling legislation and by convention from direct interference in programming decisions. The editorial and programming independence of the national broadcasters, which are dependent on Government funding, as an important principle must be preserved. ABC and SBS programming does not rely to the same extent as the commercial media on films which portray high levels of violence. The SBS in particular has a longstanding policy—I know this as an assiduous watcher of SBS—of classifying some adult material for screening only after 9.30 or 10.30 p.m. In fact, as watchers of SBS would know, some of the excellent movies that the SBS broadcasts are broadcast even later than that. ABC and SBS programming does not rely to the same extent, as I have said, on that kind of blockbuster late release movie that commercial television does.

  It has been put to me—and I have accepted it—that if the ABC and the SBS were constrained to broadcasting the same sorts of programs in exactly the same way as the commercial broadcasters there would be a greatly reduced justification for their continued existence in providing the very valuable services that they do. Senator Alston—and I think I am free to say this in terms of the discussions I have had with him on this—is largely in agreement with those sentiments.