Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 28 September 1949

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Is the motion supported?

Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,

Mr MENZIES - The purpose of the motion, as honorable members will have gathered from the letter read by Mr. Deputy Speaker, is to discuss the recent Political Broadcasts (Federal Elections) Order made under the Australian Broadcasting Act that was passed towards the end of last year. Honorable members will recall that under that measure a board was set up and that among the powers conferred upon the board was one to ensure that facilities should be provided, on an equitable basis for the broadcasting of political or controversial matter. That provision was the subject of some discussion in this chamber. The danger inherent in such controls was, in fact, pointed out in a single paragraph with very great clearness by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), who was at that time acting as Leader of the Opposition in my absence abroad. The honorable member for Wentworth said -

Freedom of speech and of expression is an essential part of the machinery of democratic government, and our right to choose our own press has always been part of our prerogative as a free .people. With the development of radio broadcasting, the unfettered right of people to choose their own radio programmes followed as a natural corollary of the right .to choose their own press.

I think that that statement is not to be improved upon. It consisted of a plea for one's freedom of choice in listening. In spite of that, the board, having been set up, has produced1 an order which has been tabled in this House. I should regard it as an under-statement to describe that order as a clumsy, oppressive, and, in some ways, a fantastic attempt to control the listening of the people in the course of a federal election. It is a sample of what can come from the bureaucratic mind at it? worst. I want to point out to honorable members what this new order is. It is the new order with a vengeance ! In paragraph 4 of the order that was tabled yesterday there is a provision which compels the policy speeches of the leaders of political parties to be broadcast over all stations, both national and commercial. I have no personal complaint about that because no political leader would have the slightest objection to having a guaranteed audience, or an audience guaranteed up to the point that if they do not listen to him they cannot listen to anybody else. I suppose that that is not without merit. But here we come to the most curious anomaly. The order says that the leader of a political party is to have his policy speech broadcast, and that it is to be broadcast without charge, that is, if his speech is broadcast on interstate relay by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In other words, if the Australian Broadcasting Commission says to him, "Your policy speech will be broadcast over our interstate relay ", every commercial station in Australia, must put it on. Who is going to have the advantage of that provision? There are three people in this House who are identifiable as the leaders of political parties, but those are not the only political parties in Australia. There is the Australian Communist party, which professes to be a political party, and at any given time in this country there are a dozen other movements which are quite capable of putting up people as candidates for election to the Parliament. We have seen that happen before to-day. The Douglas credit movement ran a whole covey of candidates in one election. So it is necessary to consider whether there is any restriction on these parties. I looked to see whether " political party " had been defined. " Party " means " a political party on behalf of which candidates are nominated at the election ". The one restriction is that they must be plural. So that, under the fourth paragraph of this order, any party which is a political party and which puts forward two candidates at the next federal election can come along and say, " Our leader is entitled' to be broadcast over all the stations of Australia". Doubtless the Government's answer would be, " Yes, as the order stands, that is the position ". But then, of course, those people would not be broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. In other words, the decision on who is to be treated as a leader and what party is to be treated as a party is to be in the sole discretion of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. This is abandoning ourselves to bureaucratic control with a vengeance. Under this order it is perfectly clear that there is to be no restriction on how many parties, with their leaders, are to have this advantage of free access to the air except the right of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to say, " You shall not broadcast because in our opinion the views of your political party ought not to be broadcast ". For all that I know, the Australian Broadcasting Commission may say to the leader of the Australian Communist party, " Your party is recognized as a political party, and therefore it will be given time over the interstate relay. Having been given time over the interstate relay by the commission your broadcast speech must he taken by every commercial station in Australia ". The Government has resolutely declined to attach any illegality to the -Australian Communist party. Therefore the Australian Broadcasting Commission can hardly say, " The commission is not going to give you this. privilege because it does not like your face ". The Australian Communist party would be entitled to say "We are a political movement, and as the Government insists that we are perfectly legally run we have a right to be heard ". In the result, the Australian Communist party's policy speech, delivered by its leader, will go over every broadcasting station in Australia. We may have the singular spectacle, as a result of this piece of bumbledon, of broadcasting stations devoted, to the propagation of Christianity being compelled to broadcast the views of atheistic Communists. That could be the result. I emphasize that under paragraph 4 that I have been, discussing so far, there is no restriction relating to 15 per cent, of candidates or 15 per cent, of seats. Those considerations do not apply at all. In order to bring himself within the right to go to the Australian Broadcasting Commission and have his policy speech broadcast, a man need only be the leader of a political party that submits more than one candidate at the federal election. The one restriction is that if the Australian Broadcasting Commission does not like him he may not operate. If the Australian Broadcasting Commission, over which the Parliament has no control in this matter, decides that it will allow eight or nine leaders of socalled political parties to operate, these consequences will follow.

Mr Calwell - We can disallow the regulation.

Mr MENZIES -! quite agree that we could disallow the regulation, but the Australian Broadcasting Commission will not make that determination by regulation. It will be merely an administrative decision by the Australian Broadcasting Commission which will be notified to me in a courteous letter. It will never take the form of a regulation that can be disallowed in this House.

The fifth paragraph of this astonishing order, which appears to be the first fruits of this new body, provides that the time is to be distributed between the political parties on an equitable basis, so that every commercial broadcasting station that decides that it would like to give time to the Australian Labour party must be prepared to give equal time or equitable time, whatever that may mean, to the Liberal party, the Australian Country party, and the Australian Communist party. The one restriction in this case is that that time must be paid for. I have never heard of the Communists being short of funds-

Mr Calwell - Nor the Liberals-

Mr MENZIES - Nor the Australian Labour party. I am not going to be drawn into that side-show now, but I should like to go into it at a convenient time. All that I say is - and this is admitted by the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) - that I have never heard of the Australian Communist party being short of funds. If that political party is entitled to demand time over any and every commercial station it will be able to pay for that time. There is one restriction only on the party that can so apply in this connexion and that i9 that it shall be a party which is nominating candidates in at least 15 per cent, of the electoral divisions in not less than three States. It needs to be putting forward eighteen candidates-

Mr Archie Cameron - Nineteen candidates.

Mr MENZIES - The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) is taking account of the fraction. Some of them would be only half portion candidates. If they do as I have indicated they will be entitled to come along to the commercial broadcasting stations and say, " You are giving so much time to Labour; we demand similar treatment ". and they must be given that time. The balance must be held quite fairly. If one leader is given good listening time, so must the other leaders also have good listening time. This access to the air must he equal. I have no doubt that some honorable members have gnashed their teeth over this provision and have asked themselves; " What sort of business is this ? "

In Melbourne the broadcasting station that is conducted by the Trades Hall is a very good broadcasting station, which puts on good programmes. It is devoted, quite reasonably, to the propagation of ideas, so far as ideas go over this station, which favour its own political point of view. I do not quarrel with that, but accept it. Under this fantastic order, if my party goes along to the Trades Hal' sta tion and says, " We demand equal time ", then equal times must be given to us. If the Communist party goes along - and it will if this order stands - and says, " We demand exactly the same treatment as other political parties by your station, so that people who are accustomed to listening to your station, and who may, therefore, be largely people of your own political view, will be forced to hear our propaganda couched in whatever language we think fit to employ ", then the Trades Hall station will not be able to refuse.

I need say nothing more about the utter nonsense in the idea that broadcasting stations which are devoted to the propagation of Christian morality should be compelled to convey to their listeners teachings that are neither moral nor Christian. If this order stands, they will be put in the position of becoming the sponsors of those ideas, or becoming breakers of the law of the Commonwealth. This order, of course, is based on the fantastic idea that the community is made up of such stupid (people and morons that all their food, intellectual and otherwise, must be measured out to them. It is really the perfect production of the socialist mind. Everything must be controlled. Everything must be measured out neatly. After all, the Government controls broadcasting, and here we are told, in the clearest terms, that everybody is to be put on the same level in his approach to the public mind over a wireless station. T can only .assume that, if the Government controlled the newspapers, the same sort of provision would apply to them.

There are many ways of approach to the public in which a free choice may be exercised by a man or by an organization. The public may be approached by speech from the public platform, by radio, by advertisements, by pamphlets and by canvassing. Are all these to be neatly rationed so that no person and no organization shall have more than another ? The whole thing becomes ludicrous when it is all done in the sacred name, apparently, of equal access to the public mind. I begin to wonder whether, some day, we shall find that the churches of this country will be required to open their pulpits to people who hold precisely the opposite views to those of such church authorities so that both sides may be heard under careful government control. The whole of this business is a most striking example, first, of thu fact that this itch to control even the thinking of the people is one which grows and grows in the bureaucratic mind; and secondly, of the consequence of upholding the legality of communism. The Government has manufactured its own dilemma. Lt could say to the Communist party " You are not to be allowed the same access as other parties have to the public over the air ", which would sound singularly like attaching a ban to the Communist party, or it- could say, " We uphold your legality " in which case it could not maintain support of this order which insists on the preaching of communism being made compulsory for any person operating a wireless station in Australia, and listening to communism being made almost compulsory for those who listen to broadcast programmes in Australia. I have not the slightest doubt that most honorable members opposite feel as we do, that this is a stupid order.

Mr Duthie - The right honorable gentleman is surely not blaming us for the order.

Mr MENZIES - I have no doubt that the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) would be the first to take credit for it if it were a popular order. He would be throwing his chest - as far as possible - and claiming all the credit. This order is on his doorstep just as much as it is on the doorstep of every other person on the Government side of the House. All that we can hope for is that his obvious desire to apologize for the order will be translated into action by his showing his insistence that the order shall not stand.

Suggest corrections