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Thursday, 11 September 1958
Page: 1194

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - We have not heard much from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr.

Calwell) in the course of the current session of the Parliament, and 1 think the reason has been obvious enough, lt is because there are so few topics that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition can select to speak on at unity with the colleagues who sit beside or behind him. To-night he has broken his silence; he has got back into the kind of form which earned for him a little earlier the nickname, " Curse the Press ".

Once again the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has swooped like a hawk on his defenceless prey. He has found a topic which has enabled him to ride again his favourite hobby-horse. This form of exercise used to give him great pleasure in the past. What is the burden of the honorable gentleman's attack? Is he attacking the Government for the decision which it has made, and which was announced earlier in the day?

Mr Calwell - I tried to make that clear.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Let us examine for a moment what the decision was. The Government had before it a report relating to the installation of television stations in two of the capital cities of the Commonwealth - Brisbane and Adelaide. When the Government came to consider that report, it had behind it a certain amount of experience of the operation of television in two other capital cities of the Commonwealth - Sydney and Melbourne.

What has been the experience in relation to those two other capital cities? We have had three television stations, two commercial and one national, in each of those cities. I do not happen to be a television fan myself; I do not even own a television set; but I gather the impression from many people who do own television sets that the system is working out very well in those two cities, that they are getting a variety of programmes, and that there is competition between commercial interests. Of course, those commercial interests have to maintain certain standards, not only by virtue of the operations of the board which determines these matters but also because the government station itself sets a certain standard to which the commercial stations must relate their activities. I must say that I have heard remarkably few complaints about the operation of television in Melbourne and in Sydney.

When we as a Cabinet had to consider whether we would adopt the main recommendation, namely one commercial television station for Brisbane, and one for Adelaide, we put these questions to ourselves: Is it not desirable that there should be competition between these various interests? Is it not desirable that the user, who has to pay a very considerable sum of money - as it is to most people - to purchase a television set should have in return for that expenditure, which includes a substantial amount of government impost, a variety of entertainment from which to choose? Further, is it not desirable in a democracy such as the one in which we live that there should be a range of viewpoints expressed? And I suggest that the more viewpoints there are expressed through different television stations, the better is the public interest served.

They were the principal considerations we had before us. We had a further rather interesting fact which I think is not brought out in the report itself. Presumably, the board had it in mind that because Brisbane and Adelaide had smaller populations than Sydney and Melbourne they were not so likely to be able to sustain two commercial television stations as the two principal capital cities, Melbourne and Sydney were. But it is a fact, as I understand, that the number of television sets in use in both Melbourne and Sydney has exceeded the earlier estimates of the board. AH the indications are that that process is going to snowball. In other words, earlier estimates of what a community could sustain in the way of commercial operation of television have been shown to be conservative estimates in the case of Sydney and Melbourne. It is reasonable to assume, in the light of that experience, that there were also conservative estimates in relation to both Adelaide and Brisbane. If we were to ask the people of Adelaide and Brisbane whether they would prefer two television stations, one government and one commercial, or three stations, one government and two commercial, there is little doubt about what their preference would be. They would want the variety that the three stations could give to them.

If the board's purpose is to ensure that commercial television stations shall be able to operate profitably, and it doubts whether two can operate profitably, is it for the

Government to decide whether these various substantial and admittedly quite wealthy groups can stand the financial hazard involved in competition between two commercial stations? They have applied for the licences. One has only to read the report of the board showing the groupings of interests to appreciate that they are well able to stand up to the risks involved in the operation. Why, then, should we be tender in attempting to remove any hazard which might come their way?

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) made it a point of criticism that they are powerful groups. I confess that, on the Government side, we were not happy when we first had to deal with this problem to find that wealthy interests of public presentation, whether by radio newspaper or some other form of public propaganda or presentation, were in a position to control a particular station. However, let us be realists in this matter. This is a hazardous business. If television is to be efficiently presented, it requires people who are able to stand up to the risks, people who are able to sustain the early losses. It obviously fits in quite neatly to the scale and manner of the commercial operation of newspaper organizations, radio organizations, entertainment organizations and manufacturing organizations which have an interest in the manufacture of either radio or television sets. So it is quite natural to find these interests coming in rather more readily than other commercial interests, because not only are they able to take the risks, but they have an interest, linked with their other interests, in seeing that the show prospers. That is what has happened.

Mr Duthie - Wheels within wheels.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Our friend opposite says " Wheels within wheels ". His scepticism may have some basis, but is it warranted on the facts and the experience? J was one of the sceptics who did not like the way this thing was working out in the first instance, but at least I had enough realism to face up to what seemed to be the necessities of the situation. I confess my own fears - and I think I speak for my colleagues in the Cabinet - have not been realized. I think this thing is working out pretty well. As a community, we are getting a variety of programmes and a variety of viewpoints.

I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) can fairly claim that his brand of politics is not being given fair chances of expression through the medium' of television. If some of the rather fulsome press accounts are to be believed, he is quite a television star and has been given frequent opportunities to demonstrate his capabilities in that field. In this particular instance, the Government had to decide whether it should accept the view that in these two capital cities the viewers should have one commercial station or the view that they should have two. Exercising the best judgment we could, on the facts before us, we said "Let them have two". I believe that the people of Brisbane and Adelaide will applaud the decision that they shall have two.

We have not yet made a decision as between A. B and C. At this point we do not feel entirely qualified to say who should get the licences as between A, B and C. Having appointed this expert body, we now say to it, " You have gone into this matter pretty fully. In the light of the knowledge that we have decided that there shall be two commercial stations in each of these two capital cities, go ahead and recommend to us the people whom you think should get the licences ". The recommendation by that body will come back to us for decision.

I do not want to take up the time of the committee unduly, .so I shall conclude on this note: Although the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has galloped through a sort of tirade on this matter, I believe that the real motive behind his attack was conveyed to us when he told us about his version of the policy of the Labour party. What we are doing runs contrary to what he believes would be Labour policy on this matter. It runs contrary to the nationalization of television and broadcasting. I want to say by way of tribute to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that he is a genuine and convinced socialist. He has never backed away from that. I do not know many men on the other side of the chamber who have been more conscientious and more devoted to the objective of socialism which was adopted by the Labour party in 1921. He makes no bones about it. He says that the radio broadcasting systems of this country should be nationalized, and owned and operated in the public interest as a nationalized concern. He carries bis reasoning a. logical step further and says that the television services of this country should be socialized, and owned and operated by the government in the public interest. He stands on that quite firmly. But once again we find the Labour party hopelessly divided on a major matter of policy. The right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) does not believein the nationalization of radio and television - not on your life. Again we see that the only unity which is to be found in the Australian Labour party at this time is the kind of unity whichexpresses itself in unity tickets at industrial elections.

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