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Monday, 22 November 1993
Page: 3318

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Science and Small Business and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Science) (3.14 p.m.) —I happened to be on chamber duty in the adjournment debate on Friday when Senator Alston got himself into an absolute lather—

Senator Loosley —You drew the short straw.

Senator SCHACHT —Yes, I got the short straw for the Friday afternoon chamber duty. It certainly was a short straw to witness in here the extraordinary performance of Senator Alston, who was in a lather of indignation about what Conrad Black had said the night before and what the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) had said in Seattle. But after listening to that speech of Senator Alston, I happened to hear Conrad Black being interviewed on PM that night. He said that, in discussions before the election, exactly the same things as put to him by the Prime Minister were put to him by Dr Hewson; namely, that Dr Hewson hoped the Fairfax press would have a balanced coverage of the election campaign. That is what Conrad Black said on PM on Friday evening, which absolutely torpedoed the false and feigned indignation of Senator Alston in here on Friday evening.

  As I said on Friday night in my brief speech, if Senator Alston believes that there was bias in the Sydney Morning Herald in favour of the Australia Labor Party because of the comments and the discussions by the Prime Minister, he should give us the evidence from articles, editorials and cartoons which show that those three newspapers—the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Australian Financial Review—were actually biased in favour of the Labor Party. From my recollection, and I have checked back over the articles over the weekend, one would have to say that for most of the campaign the journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Financial Review wrote the Labor Party off. They said it was a terrible campaign and wrote editorials accordingly.

  Two weeks out before polling day, Tom Burton in the Financial Review wrote, `The Labor Party is doomed. It is going to lose the election and it deserves to lose'. Alan Ramsey abused the Labor Party every Saturday for the five weeks of the election campaign. He said that Labor would lose the election at a canter and that the Liberals were home and hosed. That was consistently written. Geoff Kitney and the journalists for the Sydney Morning Herald, even after the first two weeks of the campaign, said that the Labor Party campaign was terrible and there was really no hope for the Labor Party. The polls had us doomed.

  I want Senator Alston to table in this parliament the articles which prove his point that, even on his worst interpretation of the Prime Minister's remarks, the Fairfax press was biased in favour of the Labor Party. It is demonstrable nonsense and I cannot find any evidence to that effect. No non-partisan balanced reader of those papers would find other than that the Labor Party got hit over the head throughout the whole of the election campaign.

  I want to emphasise that even if in Senator Alston's worst scenario the Prime Minister comes out as saying, `I want a balanced coverage in the press'—which he has admitted—what could be wrong in the Australian public's mind in having a balanced coverage?

Senator Alston —You don't understand the difference between right and wrong.

Senator SCHACHT —Senator Alston cannot prove that there was not balance. In fact, I have just proved to him, overwhelmingly, that the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review and the Age were against the Labor Party.

  The final point I want to make is that when the agreement was given of the FIRB and the cabinet to increase Conrad Black's ownership from 15 to 25 per cent, overwhelmingly the increase was taken up by him buying out the other foreign owner, Friedman and Hellman, who had nearly 10 per cent.

Senator Alston —How much have they got now?

Senator Schacht —They have very little. So there was only a marginal increase in the foreign ownership levels.

Senator Alston —Don't be ridiculous.

Senator SCHACHT —I do not think the total foreign ownership level has gone past 30 per cent. What I am saying is that some of the ownership that he took over was from another foreign owner. (Time expired)