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Monday, 16 September 1996
Page: 3480

Senator SCHACHT —My question is to the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Alston—Mr Howard's doormat. Minister, do you agree with Mr Donald McDonald, the chairman of the ABC, that imposing ABC cuts before the Mansfield review had even commenced was putting the cart before the horse? Do you agree with Mr McDonald's claim that the ABC must provide a comprehensive service catering for all Australian needs and tastes rather than a service which simply complements what others do?

Senator ALSTON —Senator Schacht, quick off the mark as usual—I think this is about five or six days old but, nonetheless—

Senator Bob Collins —So what?

Senator ALSTON —Well, I suppose it took him three years to roll his own party in relation to issues of policy in Australia Post. It is important to understand in this whole debate that it was very important in establishing the Mansfield review that we should indicate funding levels at this stage so that the ABC would have certainty of funding and the time to review its operations and range of activities in line with the new funding level. The proposed Mansfield review will be a major input into determining the range of activities.

It is quite clear that if Senator Schacht has the wit or the will to put a few thoughts on paper—I suppose the time has expired; he had every chance but I bet he did not take it—he could have made a submission—

Senator Robert Ray —When did submissions close?

Senator ALSTON —They closed some weeks ago. It may even be possible that you could get leave. But the important thing is that we should all await the outcome of the Mansfield review.

There are a number of important issues, particularly whether services to regional and rural Australia ought to be properly protected in the charter, and whether news and current affairs should be properly catered for in the charter. Once again, it is a very sad state of affairs when you can draw attention to existing inadequacies in the charter and you find the sort of knee-jerk, pavlovian response that says, `We're not interested in any change to the charter'—in other words, once again playing pure politics.

If you want to argue these issues—I think I have already demonstrated to the Senate your contribution on the ABC, which basically consisted of a couple of desultory press releases taking the union line, wanting to make sure that management got thrashed rather than the workers—that is not what I call sensible policy debate.

Issues such as the ones you raised about comprehensiveness or complementarity are the sorts of issues that will be addressed at the Mansfield inquiry. I trust you will have a constructive approach when you get that report.

Senator SCHACHT —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, you may be interested to know that I have indicated to Mr Mansfield that I will be putting a submission in.

Senator Alston —That you will be!

Senator SCHACHT —Yes, and I will have discussions on this. You might be interested to know that 11,000 submissions were received—you would not have known that—and it took six days for the fax machine to be cleared in Mr Mansfield's office. So con cerned are the Australian public to preserve the ABC. Do you agree with Mr McDonald's call for public hearings, as part of the Mansfield inquiry process, or do you think that there should be no hearings and no chance for the public to further expand on their views about the future of the ABC?

Senator ALSTON —What a devastating self-indictment. We have just been told that 11,000 Australians managed to get their submissions in on time yet the shadow minister, the bloke who ought to be right on top of the field, ought to have the issues at his fingertips, ought to have had his press release drafted the day after that announcement, is still weeks later wondering what he could possibly say to Mr Mansfield to cover up his own inadequacies. That really is a very sad state of affairs.

I hope that Mr Mansfield will demonstrate the sort of compassion that you do not deserve and will give you leave to table your submission out of time. You have the resources of the union movement. You have thousands of rolled gold supporters who would stop at nothing to provide funding. All you had to do was ask. We could have helped you. I could have given you some background material. There are plenty of people here who could have helped you. Senator Ray no doubt could have helped you. I know you are a slow learner, but I did not realise that you were such a slow writer. Certainly, if you have anything useful to contribute, I am sure that you will put it to Mr Mansfield eventually. (Time expired)

Senator Schacht —You didn't answer the question.

Senator ALSTON —I forgot.