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Wednesday, 21 August 1996
Page: 2793

Senator SCHACHT(1.39 p.m.) —I just want to say a few words following on from the remarks made by my colleague Senator Ray about the media coverage of the recent Olympic Games. I do so as shadow minister for communication. First of all I want to endorse the very measured remarks that Senator Ray made about the quality of the coverage, both by ABC radio and by Channel 7. I, like Senator Ray and a lot of Australians, spent far too many hours—into the early hours, and even the late morning hours—sitting in front of a television set watching the Olympic Games.

Some people might say that this really is going over the top a bit. But when the rest of the world is willing to compete with each other on the sporting field, and get the joy, the success and the pride in their own country's performance that come from it, one can say, `It is much better for people to compete on the sporting field than as in past centuries when often they would be competing on the battlefield for national glory.'

I noticed, a week or so after the Olympic Games had concluded, the SBS, on a Sunday morning, ran programs from Poland, Italy and Greece. Each of those programs did a summary of the achievements of their own sports people and what they had achieved at the Olympic Games. It was covered with exactly the same level of pride as that of Australians who watched and heard our athletes perform. Once again, it shows the enormous positive power the Olympics has as a pre-eminent international event.

Like Senator Ray, I believe there will be a threat to the ABC's future as a broad based national broadcaster if the government goes through with these dreadful funding cuts, which will be $210 million over the next four years. If it is true that a thousand people will be retrenched from the ABC, I understand that the ABC will have to borrow the redundancy money from the Department of Finance and then repay it over the next couple of years. I am told that those thousand redundancy packages could approach $50 million.

That would have to go on top of the $210 million to be cut so we might be looking at a $250 million cut to the ABC's funding over the next four years. There is no doubt that that would wreck the structure of the ABC. It would mean that the institutional experience and skill of all of those people who were mentioned by Senator Ray in being able to give such an excellent coverage would, in large measure, disappear. That is one reason why I call on all Australians, no matter where they live, no matter which party they support or belong to, to put a submission to the Mansfield inquiry—people have until the end of this month to put in a submission—demanding that the broad charter of the ABC be left untouched so that the excellent coverage that was achieved in Atlanta by ABC radio staff can be available in an even bigger and better way for Australia's great moment when we have the Sydney Olympics in the year 2000.

Again, I endorse the remarks made by Senator Ray that Channel 7's coverage was a considerable improvement on Barcelona. Senator Ray touched on the issue that, because of the scope of the Olympic Games and the large number of individual sports, it is almost impossible for one channel to provide live coverage of every event. Events are held each day, many of them simultaneously at different venues around the Olympic site. But, nevertheless, there was an improvement by Channel 7 and we got better coverage.

I think in the case of some of their commentators—some of whom were selected because of their reputation in the media generally, but not in sports—they stumbled a bit trying to explain the technicalities of some of the sports that they were covering. I think Channel 7 has to have a further look at making sure that the person commentating, even on delayed broadcast, knows the rules of the sport being covered, knows the intricacies of it and the background to it. With some of the team sports that are now being covered, the rules are quite technical. Because the sport may not be well known in Australia, we need a specialist who understands it.

The major issue I wish to raise for Channel 7 for its coverage of the Sydney Olympics is that of team sports. As Senator Ray said, because we are the host country, we have automatic entry to every team sport in the Olympic games, even team sports such as handball, which got very little coverage because there is very little interest or participation in it in Australia. We can also enter men's and women's soccer, men's and women's volleyball, men's and women's beach volleyball, women's softball, men's and women's hockey. There are also, of course, men's and women's tennis. Australia will automatically enter all of those sports without having to go through qualification. No matter how Channel 7 tries to juggle it, I suspect it will find it very difficult to give coverage to all of those sports, even when we are playing for a gold medal or a medal of some sort, let alone all those we participate in.

I think Channel 7 is going to have to look at negotiating appropriately and it should make arrangements for some of these team sports to be covered by another station. For example, I am sure it could reach an agreement that men's and women's soccer could be covered by SBS.

Senator Woods —Why?

Senator SCHACHT —Because they will not be able to cover all of the soccer on Channel 7.

Senator Woods —Some sort of ethnic thing, is it?

Senator SCHACHT —No. Why I said that is that at the recent Atlanta Olympics there was a whole tournament of men's and women's soccer. There were some soccer matches which Australia did not participate in. But, by world standard, they were matches that any soccer fan would have liked to have watched for the whole of the match.

Senator Woods —So it should be on Channel 7.

Senator SCHACHT —But if they are on Channel 7 another sport misses out. All I can say, Senator, is that there will always be someone missing out if you only have one station, and maybe there is a chance that Channel 7 ought to have a look at making some of those arrangements. For example, I would draw your attention, Senator Wood, to the fact that in the men's soccer tournament, Nigeria beat Brazil in an absolutely pulsating, exciting match that was world class.

Senator Woods —It should have been on Channel 7, not synchronised swimming.

Senator SCHACHT —There will probably be some people Senator Wood, who would say, `We have an interest in synchronised swimming. We want to watch it.' You may not have that taste. I may not have that taste. But that is the problem. So I think that is an area where there are some issues that Channel 7, as the host broadcaster for the Olympic Games, which is covering it for all Australians because of the extreme interest, is obviously going to have to discuss with the Olympic Committee. I hope it can do that sensibly.

I have to say that I hope we do not have a repeat of the arguments about other television stations getting news coverage and being able to interview athletes. Without apportioning blame on this, I really think the arguments between networks over whether people should be able to be interviewed on other networks, and so on, ought to be able to be resolved amicably between all networks, particularly for the Sydney Olympic Games.

Others have made the point, and I make it too, that the Australian athletes at the Sydney Olympics will be funded overwhelmingly through programs supported by Australian taxpayers. There is a community interest there for news services, and so on, that ought to be looked at, and that issue has to be amicably settled.

Overall, I think Channel 7 has an enormous task ahead of it. I am sure they will be able to meet that challenge. But I think they could look at a couple of these ideas that I and Senator Ray have raised about further improvement, particularly how to cover all the team sports at the same time, which I think will be very difficult. They should also look at how to cover those major team sports even when Australia is not participating as there will be people wanting to see adequate coverage of that top quality sport.

I will also say in conclusion that the real issue here is that we have this threat to the future structure of the ABC—the cuts to the ABC—which could really affect the radio broadcast it will give of the Sydney Olympics. That is why the Labor Party in opposition will strongly oppose the cuts to the ABC that the government has outlined in the last few weeks.

Sitting suspended from 1.49 to 2.00 p.m.