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Thursday, 18 September 1958

Mr CAIRNS (Yarra) .- I do not want to detain the House for long, but I wish to bring to the notice of honorable members a matter which I think is of considerable importance. Recently, speakers on the Government side of the chamber have been very concerned, it would appear, about the Labour party. They want to make sure that it keeps in good condition and does not do anything that is wrong. Well, Mr. Speaker, frankly I am a little concerned about the Government. Recently, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board presented a report, which was tabled in this House, concerning the issue of television licences in Brisbane and Adelaide, and I feel that what has happened with regard to that report shows that there is something seriously wrong with the Government in its relations with the television licensees. I suggest that the relationship of the Government with the television licensees has reached such a stage that it should be the concern of the Australian people, difficult as it will be for the Australian people to discover the facts, because the Government, no doubt, in relation to this matter, will be protected by a press curtain through which publicity will have great difficulty in penetrating.

The position, simply, Mr. Speaker, is that this Government asked the Broadcasting Control Board to inquire into the issue of television licences in Brisbane and Adelaide. It was the joh of the board, so the Government said, to ensure that those licences would be issued to companies made up substantially of local capital, and it was also the job of the board to make sure that those licences would be issued to companies which did not control one or more television stations in other parts of the Commonwealth. I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that only if the Government had the strongest possible reason for disagreeing with the recommendation of the board should it do so. But in this case, not only has the Government disagreed with the recommendation of its own board, acting upon its own principles, but it has completely reversed the decision of the board.

The board recommended that there should be only one television station in Brisbane and in Adelaide, and it stated in the report good reasons why there should be only one in each city. It showed that the population of those two cities was about a third of that of Sydney and Melbourne, and that the extent of retail sales, as a measure of how television sets would sell, was less than a third. For those reasons, the board stated that there should be only one commercial licence and, of course, one government licence, in each of those two cities. But the Government has instructed the board that two licences should be issued. It is interesting to notice that the board included in its report correspondence from senior officers of television companies, saying that if the board did recommend that there should be only one licence, then those companies should use their influence with the Government to ensure that two licences would be issued. I say, Mr. Speaker, that those companies have used their influence with this Government and that the Government has given way to that influence. I say that when this country has a government which will do precisely that, it is the concern of the people of the country to think about the nature of the government.

The second point is that the Broadcasting Control Board seriously and carefully examined the situation and found that if it granted a licence to any of the applicants - three, I think, in the case of Brisbane, and four in the case of Adelaide - it would be granting a licence to a company which already controlled television stations in Sydney and Melbourne. It showed in correspondence that these companies had collaborated together to submit their applications, and it showed in its report that some of these companies were jointly controlled. So, in view of the instruction that the Government had given to the board that it was not to grant a licence to these companies if they already controlled one or more television stations, the board recommended that licences should not be issued to any of these applicants.

On the very day that that report was tabled in this House, the Government issued to the board what in fact is an instruction that it is to select from those applicants the one to which this television station licence in Brisbane and the one in Adelaide will be issued - the very opposite to what the board has recommended, and the very opposite to the principles that the Government laid down to guide the board in its determinations. So I say, Mr. Speaker, that when we have a government in office which will seriously, and with consideration, not only make modifications in the report of one of its own boards, but also overrule the board and instruct it to do the very opposite of what it has recommended, we are in a very serious situation indeed. If there is not political corruption involved In this, I have never seen a case where such was involved.

The issue now is that of the independence and integrity of this board - a board of four men selected for their position in the community. They are being instructed to do the very opposite to what they recommended. The question that is before the people is whether that board will agree to reverse its decision. Is it going to take its instructions from this Government? Is this Government going to destroy the independence of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, as it has permitted the independence of the Tariff Board to be destroyed? These boards are being made subject to the Government's will, one after another.

This Government is serving, not the interests of the community, but the interests of the monopolies in all fields. One of the most effective of the monopolies, because of its power over public opinion, is the monopoly of television. If this procedure is allowed to go on much longer, control of public opinion in Australia will fall into very few hands; hands which do not represent the interests or the needs which should be of concern to the people. So, I believe this is a matter of first-rate importance. We have a board which has been over-ruled by the Government which has become powermad. A government which is prepared to put up a performance like this on the eve of an election has no regard for public opinion or the responsibilities of office.

I challenge the Government to give an answer that is more substantial than the Leader of the House saying, in effect, " I am, and we are, the judges of television. We believe there should be two stations in Brisbane and Adelaide. We believe these licences should be issued." What does the Government appoint a board for, if it is going to act completely contrary to the board's recommendations? Why go through the farce of having boards which are supposed to be independent if they are to be treated in this way? This goes to the root of government in this country. The Government is showing all the signs of political corruption, and it will come to an end very soon.

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