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Monday, 9 September 1996
Page: 3094

Senator STOTT DESPOJA(7.34 p.m.) —I rise tonight to express my concerns about the budget impact on ABC's youth national broadcaster Triple J. As Senator Ellison has talked about the smearing of reputations of one sort, I thought I might talk about how young people in this country are having their culture cracked down upon and the fact that the reputation of Triple J itself has been smeared somewhat by comments of other politicians in this place.

I think it is worth noting that on the weekend in Adelaide, my home city, thousands of members of the public rallied to show their support for the ABC. Many were concerned that their favourite programs would be downgraded or indeed axed. I think the most pressing or disheartening vox pops that I heard were those from young Australians, especially young people in remote and regional areas who expressed that Triple J, Australia's only national youth broadcaster, was in fact their lifeline—it was the lifeblood for many young people.

I should point out to the Senate that a book has been published Save the ABC compiled by Morag Fraser and Joseph O'Reilly, who should be commended for getting together a group of media commentators, political commentators and other ABC program hosts. I am honoured to be involved in that publication, submitting a chapter, as I did, on Triple J. Since Save the ABC book was published, we have seen the budget come down and we have seen various programs within Triple J being cut. First of all, we will see the cessation of the Triple J net site. We will also see the cessation of the Triple J expansion program and also the cessation of the Triple J unearthed music competition.

This year Triple J turns 21. It should be thrown a party, not thrown out. I am appalled by some of the comments made about this national broadcaster. In particular, I have to refer to those comments of Mr John Bradford, a National Party MP from Queensland, who has stated:

To allow swearing and disgusting topics to be discussed on a regular basis would potentially influence the ethical standards of most demographic groups. But Triple J is targeted at youth—the most vulnerable of all groups. Some segments boast they broadcast the music parents hate and politically correct toilet humour.

More disturbing, however, was when Mr Bradford received some impassioned pleas from young people, from one young girl in particular in his state, as I understand, and he went public with that young woman's letter not only releasing it to her parents but making it so that she was subject to ridicule in the nation's press for her somewhat colourful language at times as well as her spelling errors.

I have to say that calling for the axing of Triple J entirely, as Mr Bradford has done, raises wider concerns and broader issues: first of all, how we treat young people in this country today. Why is it that the answer to everything, both in the budget process and I think generally, is about cracking down on young people's expressions, cracking down on young people's outlets for expression and clamping down on youth culture? I think that is a sad reaction.

Also, why do we seek to limit freedom of expression and speech in this way? Comments by people such as Mr Bradford overlook the fundamental role that Triple J has played in not only introducing politics to a new and younger generation but discussing previously taboo subjects, like issues to do with sex, drugs and rock and roll—issues that other commercial networks have not necessarily been brave enough to tackle, whether it is in a talkback form or in other ways.

As for politics, there are a few people in this place—in fact, in both chambers—who took advantage of Triple J's excellent political election coverage. Whether it was the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Tim Fischer), the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley), the member for Hotham (Mr Crean), or the Prime Minister (Mr Howard), many of them were taking advantage of the election coverage and were involved in the Hottest 100 competition on Triple J. I do not see all of them being quick to stand in support of Triple J now that its reputation and longevity is threatened.

Every time the Deputy Prime Minister opened his mouth, `Smashing Pumpkins' or `silverchair' seemed to tumble out. So I call on these politicians to start defending young Australians instead of clamping down on their outlets of expression.

The budget is a sinister example of this. Young people are being attacked not only through Triple J cuts but through labour market programs, changes to social security, and higher education, et cetera.

What will happen when we lose Triple J's unearthed competition? What other commercial or non-commercial station will pick up the responsibility of unearthing raw, real Australian young talent? What other broadcaster is going to ensure that young people who have few opportunities and few outlets of expression—certainly in regional and remote communities—will be given the opportunity to express themselves now that the expansion of the Triple J program is to be ceased?

I urge all people in this place to do what Triple J advocates; that is, `beat the drum'—not simply for Triple J but for young people. I have yet to hear any meaningful discussion on how we treat, celebrate or reward young Australians in this country. The past two weeks have seen a litany of attempts to clamp down on young Australians, from regressive juvenile justice laws in various states right through to the regressive budget cuts that target young people more particularly than any other group in this society.

In the same way that I ended my chapter in the book, I say to politicians like Mr Bradford, et al.: if you do not like what is being said, do not turn off. Listen harder and you might actually learn something.