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Wednesday, 18 May 1960

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Leader of the Opposition) . - The Opposition does not regard this bill as satisfactory at all, and I move the following amendment: -

That all words after " That " be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: - " consideration of the bill be deferred until after presentation to the Parliament of a report from the Broadcasting Control Board on its provisions with particular reference to the practical effects of those provisions purporting to limit or restrict control of companies owning or operating broadcasting or television stations ".

The Opposition is not satisfied that the bill is " within powers ", as the lawyers say. It provides for a system of price control. It provides that anybody who owns films shall be obliged to sell those films at a reasonable price and, if they will not sell them, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will decide the issue. We think the Government should have cleaned up that point before the bill came before the House. Either the Government has the power to impose a form of price fixing or it has not. We wish that the Constitution did provide power for the Commonwealth to fix prices. We think it would be far better in the interests of the economy if this Parliament could pass valid laws for the fixing of prices. The Government can ensure that the workers' wages are fixed - and wages, of course, are the price of labour - but the price of no other commodity can be fixed by the Commonwealth. No other commodity or service can have its price determined by any Commonwealth authority.

The Government in this legislation proposes to do a certain thing. We believe that the Liberal Party is merely taking the Australian Country Party for a ride. We think that the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) not only drafted the bill but also wrote the second-reading speech for the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson). The poor old gentlemen in hillbilly corner think that they are obtaining something that is really worthwhile, but they are doing nothing of the sort.

Mr Clark - lt is another form of telephone tapping.

Mr CALWELL - Yes, tapping the more expensive telephones. We had a complaint from the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. King) to-day about the effect of the bill which increased telephone charges. He voted for the bill but now finds that it is acting to the detriment of primary producers.

The Liberal Party has taken the Australian Country Party Postmaster-General for a ride once. It took him for a ride on the bill that I have just mentioned, and it is taking him for a ride on this bill. Everybody knows that, as soon as the legislation is passed, the powerful interests that are supposedly being attacked by it will take action in the High Court to have the legislation invalidated. That is as plain as a pikestaff. If that does not happen, the Government will be bound to bring down legislation to fix the prices of commodities and services in the interests of the Australian people. We know that, at a later stage, the Government proposes to accept a Liberal Party amendment to the legislation, and that the Australian Country Party will vote for it. This amendment will substitute a judge for the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to determine what is a fair price to be paid by a station for films supplied to it.

The Attorney-General, who is a brilliant lawyer, but a completely hopeless politician, has no objection to reversing his attitude even within the short space of 24 hours. He will accept this amendment, although last night he said that he would not have a judge determine whoso telephone should be tapped. On that occasion, he said he did not want judges doing the dirty work of politicians. However, under Liberal Party pressure, with the Australian Country Party concurring, provision will be written into the legislation to permit a judge to determine the price of films. I ask members of the Australian Country Party to stand up and be counted on this issue. They have been forced into position after position, just like so many dumb, driven cattle, at the behest of their Liberal Party masters. They are being told that, if two senators move along the lines upon which surrender is to take place in the Senate, the Australian Labour Party will line up with the rebel senators and help the Liberal Party. 1 do not know who gave any assurance to anybody on that score. We of the Labour Party have not determined any attitude to amendments that may be moved in the Senate by some senators who are not concerned to ensure that independent country stations are established so much as they are concerned to protect those people who own films and control the stations now owned by newspapers in capital cities. We of the Labour Party, of course, do not agree with the present set-up, and neither should anybody else who has the interests of this country at heart. Every capital city television station throughout Australia, with the exception of one in Melbourne, is owned and controlled by a newspaper interest.

Mr Whitlam - A city newspaper!

Mr CALWELL - I have said every one of them is owned and controlled by a newspaper interest, and that would be a city newspaper interest, of course. We think that there is a monopoly growth which threatens the liberty of Australians. On® group is controlling the newspapers and radio and television stations, and that does not happen anywhere else in the world. Members of the Country Party are quite prepared to accept that dangerous, and perhaps ultimately disastrous, state of affairs, provided that they can get what seems to them to be an independent set-up in country districts.

Mr Hamilton - What do you want, nationalization?

Mr CALWELL - Yes, if I can get it, but I cannot. If I must have a monopoly, I would sooner have a monopoly that is under the control of the elected representatives of the people than a commercial monopoly that is controlled by boards of directors who are answerable to nobody except to shareholders, even a minority of shareholders. They are not concerned with the public interest so much as they are with making a profit and in order to make a profit, maybe debauch the standards of the people by pandering to their lower instincts.

Members of the Country Party say, " Let us have this bill, because thereby we will prevent those who own two stations in two States, under the regulations which exist to-day, from establishing an effective ownership in a third station anywhere in Australia and presumably, of course, in a country district ". This bill stipulates a figure of 15 per cent, in respect of voting power and beyond that figure any person able to control it is said to have an effective control of a station. We think that is not good enough. We have to start from the beginning and if we cannot get what we want - and it is very doubtful that we can because of the rulings of the High Court over section 92 in the banking case and the airlines case - then we are not going to settle for the present unsatisfactory situation.

Mr Hamilton - What figure do you suggest?

Mr CALWELL - I am not suggesting any alteration from 15 per cent. My complaint, and that of the Labour Party, is against the effective ownership by newspaper interests of all the commercial television stations in the capital cities. No member of the Country Party can object to that complaint. But where we fall out with the Country Party is that its members are prepared to accept that situation and give endorsement to it and then say, " Let us protect ourselves from any incursion of the octopus control of these organizations into country districts ". We say that that hope to the contrary is illusory because once this bill is passed and newspaper interests are able to own and control their present equities in capital city stations, it will not be long, no matter what is in this bill to protect country interests from a take-over or a merger, before ultimately the city stations will own and control the country stations. It is a vain hope.

Country Party members are relying on a very weak reed if they are relying on the present Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) to protect them, because he does not want to protect them. But he is a very clever man; he is a very brilliant man; he wants to get this legislation through Parliament and then he will say, " I gave you my opinion about the matter but the High Court holds a different view". So, in the end, the Country Party will find that all these country stations will not be independently controlled but will be dominated and controlled by big city interests, and that is not a good thing in the national interest.

Mr Turnbull - That is your opinion.

Mr CALWELL - Yes, and it is a very sane and sound one. I would hope that the honorable member would agree with me. To the extent that he disagrees with me, he is hopelessly wrong. I have a pretty shrewd idea that this may be a Packer benefit bill because Consolidated Press of Sydney owns only one station. No matter what is done in this bill that organization can still get control of another station in New South Wales, and it may be after the control of the Wollongong station and then it can have that control, no matter how much more than 15 per cent, of the shareholdings it has. That is not a good thing.

What does the Country Party propose to do about that particular situation? Of course, there is the Melbourne " Herald " group, which has the control of a Melbourne station, Channel 7. The group has effective control of a station in Adelaide also and although it says it does not have the control of the Brisbane station, to all intents and purposes it does have such a control. This bill does not disturb its ownership of three stations.

Mr Davidson - Of course it does.

Mr CALWELL - The PostmasterGeneral says it does. I will guarantee that in any contest between the Melbourne " Herald " and this Government the Melbourne " Herald " will win and we will make a final settlement as to our respective positions after the High Court has given its decision on the matter. This Government will not take the matter to the Privy Council. Pontius Pilate-like, it will wash its hands of responsibility and somebody else will have to tackle the problem at a later stage.

The Conservative Government in England is much further advanced in its thinking, and is far more radical than the present set-up in Australia. The Conservative Government, in addition to maintaining the British Broadcasting Corporation, set up what it called an independent television authority. That was an independent concern which built stations and then asked private interests to tender for time on the television screen. That system in Australia would be preferable to the present system. It would not be as good as nationalization, but it would be much fairer and a much more reasonable system than the present one. The independent television authority in England is responsible to the British Parliament. Those who own and operate television stations in Australia are using the public domain for the dissemination of their signals and their messages. The ether is the public domain, but once we licence private interests, as we have done under our television legislation to date, we have given almost the ownership, or some right, to the use of the ether. As a National Parliament we should never part with it.

I can see the head-on crash that is coming between ourselves and certain big vested interests in this country. I do not mind it. Sooner or later the High Court of Australia will have to decide what are the powers of this Parliament in regard to radio and television, and I think that court will decide satisfactorily. If the court does not, it will be up to the Government to secure powers by referendum to enable this Parliament to pass effective laws in regard to radio and television. If we cannot pass those laws then we will come under the dictatorship of press combines which are not responsible to the people of Australia. The press combines can do what they want to do regardless of public opinion or anything else. They can make or unmake governments, if my worst fears are realized, and that is not a good thing in a democracy. This is antagonistic to every concept of what democracy stands for.

We will press our amendment and if the Government will not defer consideration of the bill then we will vote against the second reading and we will carry on that procedure in the Senate. We give no guarantee now to any Liberal Party rebels in the Senate that they will be able to use us in the pursuit of their designs. They may be convinced that they can use other people. We do not like, and we never did like, the legislation under which television stations have been set up in this country. We have never liked the way the Australian Broadcasting Control Board has operated. We think that there are great public interests in this country whose claims have been completely ignored by the Broadcasting Control Board and the Government. Only the profit-making instrumentalities have ever been considered. The universities and other organizations such as returned soldiers' organizations and trade unions which do not exist to make money or to exploit the public have the right to have their views presented to the people. There ought to be provision in this legislation and in similar legislation by which the universities and similar bodies with no interests but that of education to serve can present their stories to the public. This Government is dedicated to what it believes to be the interests of private enterprise. The Government makes a fetish out of a principle. But it is not really concerned with private enterprise, because in the bill itself it has provided that those people who have films may not exercise their rights under the doctrine of laisser faire capitalism. They may not buy on the cheapest market and sell in the dearest market. They have to accept the dictum of a government instrumentality on the prices at which they sell their films. To that extent the bill contains a socialist provision, and the Australian Country Party is prepared to swallow it. As my very distinguished colleague the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) once said about the Australian Country Party because of its dealings with the Commonwealth Bank, and its insistence that the Commonwealth Bank should finance all agricultural pools at the lowest possible rates of interest, " the Country Party is prepared to socialize its losses and capitalize its gains ".

Mr Hamilton - That is a hackneyed phrase.

Mr CALWELL - It is not a hackneyed phrase. It is one that the honorable member for Canning, as an ex-trade unionist, does not want to be reminded about. It is a perfectly true and trite statement of the Australian Country Party's position. Members of that party want the best of all possible worlds. They try to use anybody and everybody in the pursuit of their objectives. They are completely unprincipled when it comes to public policy. They are the greatest catchascatchcan merchants who have ever come into this Parliament, always seeking something for themselves, at the expense of the public interest if necessary, and allying themselves with their political enemies in order to get positions in the Ministry and i.i order to get legislation of this sort. Members of the Australian Country Party, Sir, believe that the big fish of the cities will not swallow the little fish in the country. Well in natural order of things the big fis!. ;i'.viivs swallow the little fish, and no mr ter what the provisions of this bill may be those so-called independent country television stations will not be independent for very long. 1 believe that the Postmaster-General should have resigned when the Liberal Party took him for a ride on the Post and Telegraph Rates Bill. I think he ought to resi«n because of the scurvy way the members of that party have treated him over this particular legislation.

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - You will have to do better than you are doing.

Mr CALWELL - Well, of course, I do not often take notice of the minnows in this House, but if that is the best that the honorable member for Wannon can offer by way of interjection, he should not be in this Parliament after next year. As a matter of fact, he has been here too long. The Postmaster-General did bring down a bill of this sort in 1958. It passed this House.

Mr Bowden - To what party did the Minister belong?

Mr CALWELL - What is the Chairman of Committees saying by way of disorder?

Mr Bowden - To what party did the Minister who brought down this bill belong?

Mr CALWELL - The present PostmasterGeneral brought down the bill in 1958. It passed through all stages in the House of Representatives, but for some reason or other it was dropped in the Senate. The Postmaster-General said in his secondreading speech on the present measure that the 1958 bill had not been proceeded with in the Senate - and I quote - " for reasons which I need not elaborate at this stage ". We would like him to elaborate the reasons why the Government did not proceed with that bill in the Senate.

In another part of his speech the PostmasterGeneral said that there were matters in this bill which could be more fully dealt with in committee. But we are not to have an opportunity to debate the bill in committee. The measure is to be rushed through with about three or four speeches on each side. The debate on the secondreading will be gagged, and the bill will be gagged through committee. It will then pass to the Senate, and the Senate will be told to pass it forthwith or else come back in a fortnight's time to consider it further. If the Government really thought that there was any merit in this bill, if it had nothing to hide, it would have brought the bill to the second-reading stage then let its further consideration stand over until we come back for the Budget session, so that all outside interests could have something to say about the worth of the proposals in the bill.

Mr Hamilton - You know all the political tricks.

Mr CALWELL - I know all the political tricks! I wish I did. The honorable member for Canning would not be here if 1 knew them all. The Parliament is asked to pass this bill in the short space of about three hours, and this is a bill of considerable importance and considerable volume. There are 35 clauses in it. We will be asked to pass it in three or four hours, although it has taken the Australian Broadcasting Control Board six months to prepare it. lt was slapped down on the table of this House last Thursday night and within a week it is expected to be passed by both Houses of the Parliament, and one day later it will be presented to the Governor-General for the Royal assent. The Postmaster-General said in his second-reading speech on the measure -

The bill, which I now introduce, incorporates all the matter dealt with in the previous bill, except for one item, and also includes additional provisions which experience in the Held of broadcasting and television since 1938 has shown to be clearly desirable.

He just makes statements but never produces proof to show the desirability of what he urges. This statement was to some extent misleading in that it implied that the present amending legislation was similar to that presented in 1958 and not proceeded with. Mr. Speaker, that is not true. The 1958 bill consisted of four pages. The current bill consists of no fewer than 22 pages. The 1958 bill was described as a machinery measure. The present bill is obviously much more important than that.

No reference, Sir, was made in the 1958 bill to the ownership and control of commercial television stations, which is the real core of the present legislation. This bill seeks to limit the ownership and control of commercial television stations by any one company or concern to two only. Proposed section 92b defines the meaning of control in terms which I shall read for the benefit of honorable members. It says -

For the purposes of this Division, a person who is, or who, by any application or applications of this section, is deemed to be, in a position to exercise control of more than fifteen per centum of the total votes that could be cast at a general meeting of a company is deemed to be in a position to exercise control of that company and of any voting rights of that company as a shareholder and of all acts and operations of that company.

Now, even a pettifogging lawyer could alter the articles of association of a company to enable big interests to escape from the operation of that provision - that clumsily prepared provision. Yet it is cleverly prepared. It is sufficiently cleverly prepared to delude members of the Australian Country Party. The key words in the clause are " in a position to exercise control ". The interpretation of the word " control " is contained in proposed section 91 (2.) which states - control ' includes control as a result of, or by means of, trusts, agreements, arrangements, understandings and practices, whether or not having legal or equitable force and whether or not based on legal or equitable rights.

The phrase " in a position to exercise control " becomes more important when the opinion of the Attorney-General, who drafted the legislation, given to the Herald and Weekly Times company of Melbourne, is brought into consideration. On 14th October, 1958, the Melbourne "Herald" published a statement answering allegations by members of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board about that company's " control ", or alleged control, of other companies. The " Herald " sought the opinion of two Queen's Counsel, one of whom is now the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, who has drafted this legislation.

Mr Bandidt - A good man.

Mr CALWELL - The honorable member for Wide Bay need not remind me that the Attorney-General is a good man. As a matter of fact, I think he wears a halo. He is a very good man and a very clever lawyer, but I think he is a political failure. The Broadcasting Control Board's interest in the matter arose from the grant of television licences in Adelaide and Brisbane by this Government in which the honorable member for Parramatta is now the Attorney-General. The " Herald ", in its statement, declared that the company had interests of 37 per cent, in Advertiser Newspapers Limited, Adelaide, and 37 per cent, in Queensland Press Limited, the holding company for the " Courier-Mail " and the Brisbane " Telegraph ".

The statement continued that the Advertiser company had agreed to take up 40 per cent, of shares in Television Broadcasters Limited of Adelaide, and that Queensland Press Limited, through its operating companies, had agreed to take up 28 per cent, of the shares in Brisbane T.V. Limited. The " Herald's " statement continued -

Through these links The Herald and Weekly Times will have an interest of 14.6 per cent, of the Adelaide television company and 10.5 per cent, in the Brisbane Company.

That is the way in which the Melbourne " Herald " is able to control three television stations - one in each of three important capital cities - no matter what appears in this legislation.

The annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, published in

June, 1959, sets out the shareholdings in all the television companies operating at that date. From this information, which appears on page 27, it can be seen that of the 1,500,000 shares in Brisbane T.V. Limited, Queensland Newspapers Proprietary Limited, publishers of the " Courier-Mail ", hold 240,000 shares and Telegraph Newspaper Company Limited holds 156,000 shares, a total of 396,000, or 36 per cent. For the Adelaide station of Television Broadcasters Limited the position is that, of the 3,000,000 shares, 900,000, or 30 per cent, are held by Advertiser Newspapers Limited. With this confusion as to the actual position of the " Herald's " interests, the interpretation of the words already referred to becomes all the more important.

The opinion of Sir Garfield Barwick, Q.C., as he was known in those days, was based upon the phrase in the existing section 91 and was reached after an examination of the more recent cases bearing on the question before the British court of appeal and the reasoning of the justices of the High Court of Australia. The present Attorney-General stated then, when he was counsel to the big television organizations, that the construction of the words " in the position to exercise control " was, to use his own words -

.   . a legal question, not to be resolved by references to speeches or answers to questions made in Parliament.

He said that the control of a company and, through it, of its assets, was a matter to which other statutes had been addressed and that some of them had received judicial consideration which had " yielded a fairly consistent result ". He went on to state that one must credit the draftsman with familiarity with such decisions when approaching the legal construction of the phrases in the existing statute. That is the statute which this legislation proposes to amend. He described it as follows: -

.   . an instrument prescribing precise legal rights duties and inhibitions in the language of the law and not in the jargon of the businessman.

After stating that, I ask honorable members how much wiser they are as to the meaning of the language of the existing law and what might be thought of the language in the present legislation. The present Attorney-General's next comments have an important bearing upon the present legisla tion. Referring to the Australian Broadcasting Control Board which, to-day, is still the board of 1958, he said that the board " appears to reject " what, to his mind, was the accepted legal construction of such words and to conclude that a shareholder with a comparatively small percentage of the shares of a company might in certain circumstances which remained unspecified effectively control a company. He said -

The Board then appears to think that that company is in all circumstances debarred from holding a commercial television licence, or at least so long as the shareholder himself holds such a licence.

He maintained that the critical word was " control " which, to his mind, could - only be used by force of the position of the person himself and not by force of the inactivity of other persons where that inactivity cannot be compelled .

So many legal technicalities in the opinion which the present Attorney-General gave in this case two years ago are in conflict with the language of this bill and the argument of the Government that the House would be justified in carrying the amendment that I have moved for the purpose of deferring consideration of this legislation by the Parliament until all interested parties can make submissions and until the people of Australia are better informed of its contents.

I hope that other honorable members who follow me will point out some of the injustices that are operating in regard to country districts and that they will point out some of the evils that could flow from precipitous action by this Parliament in rushing this legislation through. I understand that the Broadcasting Control Board wants an affirmation of a principle by this Parliament as to whether there should be independent country television stations. The Opposition is prepared to vote for any resolution that will affirm that principle. But the Broadcasting Control Board says that it does not want to make decisions in regard to country stations and all the matters before it until Parliament passes the legislation. We of the Opposition say that we will affirm the principle if that will help the Broadcasting Control Board to make up its mind. Then, in the Budget session, the Parliament can consider the legislation after the Broadcasting Control Board has decided which companies are to obtain the licences that are available around Australia.

Mr Hamilton - Do you believe in independent country stations?

Mr CALWELL - I have made my position clear beyond all reasonable doubt. 1 have suggested the affirmation of the principle by a resolution of this House, following the withdrawal of this bill.

Mr Hamilton - You want to nationalize only the city stations.

Mr CALWELL - I make the best possible use of any situation, in accordance with right principles. If I cannot get all that I want, I do the next best thing, but if I were to vote, as the honorable member for Canning suggests, for independent country stations, I would expect the Country Party to vote for independent city stations. I cannot guarantee that it would proceed so far. It always seems to have some vested interest or other to serve. Its members live precariously; they live dangerously. Their party should never have come into existence and the sooner it disappears from the political scene in Australia, the better it will be for the health of Australian politics.

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