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Wednesday, 24 September 1958

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I propose to say something about replies given by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) to complaints from this side of the House regarding the inadequacy of provision made for Australian artists on television programmes. Now seems to be the appropriate time to raise this matter, because, when I look at the Government benches, I am reminded of a television programme. I think it is called "Tombstone Territory ". The Postmaster-General said, when presenting his survey, that it had been made by an independent authority. By that means he tried to throw doubt on the accuracy of the survey that had been made by people engaged in the industry or those who hoped to be engaged in the industry. It is not difficult to ascertain which survey is the accurate one, because the television programmes are published in the daily press and one can work out for oneself how much time is devoted to Australian artists and how much time is devoted to imported musical recordings.

Actors Equity, which is vitally interested in this matter, predicted that Australian artists would not get a fair go if television was established in this country with hungry commercial interests hoping to extract the greatest profit possible from the undertaking regardless of whether they were giving service to the Australian community or acting in the best interests of the country. Actors Equity took a survey for the period 16th July this year to 22nd July, inclusive. Channel 9 in Sydney had a total viewing time during the week of 744 hours. The Postmaster-General misleads us when he talks about the Australian content of television programmes because he lumps together such things as sport, news, children's programmes, magazine programmes, documentaries, variety shows, and musicals. If we examine the position carefully we find that very few Australian artists are employed on television in Australia to-day. Those who are employed are not given an opportunity to improve their techniques. They are not given adequate time to rehearse for the very few Australian programmes that are televised. Of the 74± hours that Channel 9 was telecasting, sport took up four hours five minutes. There was one announcer, and the other people engaged in the sport sessions were obviously unpaid. News sessions took up one and two-third hours and required only one announcer. The children's programmes accounted for 2i hours and in those programmes the employment prospects for Australian artists are practically nil. The magazine programmes, such as "House and Garden", "Beauty Case", " Dick Hyde's Motor Show ", " Thursday at One", "Cookery News", and "Do it Yourself" took up eleven and a quarter hours. Twelve artists, five demonstrators, and eight musicians were involved in those programmes. The documentary programme accounted for half an hour. The variety shows accounted for two hours. The " Bobby Limb Show " employed an orchestra of seven persons and nine artists. It took up half an hour. A show called " What's My Line " employed five performers. " Australia's Amateur Hour " requires one compere and one pianist. The remainder of the people involved in " Australia's Amateur Hour " are unpaid performers.

The musical shows took up one and a half hours. There was one musician employed for one hour and another musician employed for half an hour. In addition, seventeen hours of viewing time were taken up with imported musical recordings. During that period of seventeen hours one Australian announcer was employed playing records for one and a half hours. During the period of the survey the time allotted to Australian plays on channel 9 was nil. There were no Australian plays employing Australian artists during that period.

Channel 7 was in no better position. Its total viewing time during the same week was 84 hours 53 minutes. The Australian content of its programmes was 29 hours 53 minutes. The artists state that when they do get an opportunity to appear on television they are not afforded sufficient time for rehearsal, so that they can put their show over in a proper manner. Knowing of this handicap, the Postmaster-General stated in the House that the technique of Australian artists is not up to the standard required on television. He also said that every encouragement is being given to them.

The honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa) has pointed out that the Pagewood Studios are closing down. We are all aware of the struggle that Pagewood Studios have had to keep afloat. Now they are compelled to close. It would appear that the prospects of Australian artists being afforded opportunities to make short films and prepare live shows for television are becoming more remote than ever. It is said that General Motors-Holden's Limited is negotiating for the purchase of the Pagewood Studios. Apparently they are going permanently out of action.

The Melbourne stations are no better. HSV channel 7 in Melbourne had viewing time of 57 hours 35 minutes during the period 16th August this year to 22nd August inclusive. The Australian content of programmes on that station was 19 hours 55 minutes, including all the sporting and news sessions and the other sessions that I mentioned with regard to Sydney. In the whole of the period there was one quarter hour devoted to an Australian show, a comedy show employing five artists. During the rest of the period only a few comperes, a few guest artists, and a few musicians were required.

GTV channel 9 had a total viewing time during the same period of 76 hours 10 minutes. The Australian content of its programmes was 25 hours 36 minutes. The time devoted to drama during that period - I am referring to drama performed by Australian artists - was nil. Australian musical shows took up 30 minutes for the whole of that week, and employed one artist for fifteen minutes and a vocal quartet for fifteen minutes.

That is the extent of the employment of Australian artists on the various television stations. It is no use the Minister coming into this House with a prepared brief from the commercial interests that control the television stations and saying that every encouragement is being given to the development of Australian art and Australian shows, because that is not happening. People who possess television sets - and there are quite a few of them in Melbourne and Sydney - have complained about the quality of programmes. I have seen the socalled western programmes criticized in some of the journals devoted to television. 1 regret to say that the national stations are no advertisement for the activities of the Government in this particular field. Recently I asked a question in regard to the failure of the national stations to put over their programmes properly. People are complaining that they are not getting proper service from the national stations. I frequently have viewed programmes of national stations, and have been amazed at the poor quality of some of them. One such programme is " Leave it to Hesling ". I viewed it merely because some people had complained about it, and I never talk on any subject unless I know that I have the facts at first hand. So I took the opportunity of viewing this programme. The leading actor was supposed to be a star artist, but the programme was an insult to anybody's intelligence.

There is no doubt in the world that one of the reasons for the poor quality of the programmes of national stations is that this Government does not believe in government undertakings. It does not believe in national effort, even in the field of television, and so it wants to give advantages to the commercial people, to whom it is handing out television licences. Those people control not only television stations; they also have the radio and newspapers tied up. If ever a monopoly existed in this country in the sense that one group of interests - perhaps divided into various companies and organizations - controls an industry, it is evident in this control of the whole system of publicity in this country. I hope that the Government will take note of my protest.

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