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Wednesday, 18 May 1960

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) . - Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has let the cat out of the bag this evening. When my colleague, the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), asked him what he would do about television if he got into power, the Leader of the Opposition said that he would nationalize it. I cannot say that hearing that sort of thing is any new experience for us, because, on looking through the records, I find that the present Leader of the Opposition said exactly the same thing in 1952. He said that the Australian Labour Party would make television a government monopoly and would keep it that way. I should like, on behalf of the Government parties, to thank the honorable member for the remarks that he has made to-night. I can assure him that they will be used with great effect at the general election next year.

We all know that Labour's policy is nationalization - nationalization of this and that. The Leader of the Opposition said, at one point, that he was using a hack neyed phrase. Perhaps I may use one and say it is a pity that the Labour Party does not nationalize crime in order to ensure that it does not pay.

Mr Bryant - I hope that observation was original!

Mr FAIRBAIRN - It was original about ten years ago, but it was not thought up by me.

The Leader of the Opposition went on to say that if there has to be a monopoly the Opposition would prefer a government monopoly to a private one. We say that there does not have to be a monopoly and that this bill has been designed to ensure that there is not a monopoly. Let us see what this measure will do. Really, it will only put into effect in law principles which have been Government policy for very many months. It will implement a decision which was taken by the Government a long time ago, because it will prevent one company from having a controlling interest, in more than two television stations. A company may own two completely, but it will not be able to go further than that except to have a shareholding of less than 15 per cent, in a third company or more companies. This means, in effect, that a company will not be able to control more than two television stations.

This bill will also prevent any one man from being a director and sitting on the board of more than two television companies. In order to ensure that programmes will not be tied up, the measure will require television programmes to be sold on just terms where it is reasonably believed that the owners of programme material are trying to tie it up and prevent a station from getting it.

How on earth can the Leader of the Opposition - who, I am sorry to see, has left the chamber - honestly call this a Packer benefit bill?I suggest that if any criticism is levelled at this measure it ought perhaps to be made on the score that we as a government have moved too much into the control of television. In that, perhaps, we have come too close to the Australian Labour Party. I should say that if any criticism is forthcoming it ought to come from the true-blue Liberals, not from members of the Labour Party.

Personally, I am not completely happy about the Government's decision to limit the controlling interest of any one company to two television stations. I can see the possibility of a television company saying, " If we are allowed to control only two stations, we shall establish them in the most profitable places". In other words, they will seek to control stations in Sydney, Newcastle or other areas where there are large accumulations of population, and where television stations are likely to be most profitable. When we come to the area which I represent, and to the outback areas, we shall probably find that television companies will say, "We should like to have established a television station at Wagga Wagga or somewhere like that, but we are limited to controlling two stations and we cannot establish a third ".I foresee a situation in which no one will be willing to apply for a licence to operate a television broadcasting station in certain country areas when applications for licences are invited. However, we shall not know for certain about this until the time for the allocation for licences in those areas arrives.It will be agreatpity if as a result of this measure, theextension of television in country areas is limited.

At present, part of my electorate is servedby quite alargebroadcasting network known as the Macquarie network.I do not know howmany radio stations it controls, butI can say that we have had excellent service from that network. On no occasion has there been any sign of the tying up ofprogrammes or of monopoly controlby that organization,andI believe thatthesethings would not occur even if one company controlled more than two television stations.

The Government's decision to force the sale ofprogramme material onjust terms iscertainly a new departure from recognized Liberalthinking. I am well aware of the reason for it.Although so far. we have not been riven any evidence that a television station has on any occasion been unable to obtain films or otherprogramme material.I should be happv to agree with this principle if such evidence were put before the House. There are many television programmesavailable at present, and I do not think it matters verygreatly if "The Mousketeers " or "Wyatt Earp " or any other particular programme is not available to one station, because other material which is just as suitable and which will entertain people just as well can easily be obtained.

I have already mentioned the Leader of the Opposition's forthright statement in which he let the cat out of the bag completely by saying that the Australian Labour Party wanted to do only one thing - nationalize all television stations in Australia. Apart from that, the honorable member seemed to take up half his time with abuse of the Australian Country Party. This may be a useful, humorous diversion to practise when one has not anything else with which to fill in his time, but the honorable gentleman's performance rather reminded me of the story about a person making a public speech. One of the notes that the public speaker had jotted down was, " Weak point. Shout! " I felt that the Leader of the Opposition, too, had some very weak points and that he tried to get over them by resorting to abuse of the Country Party and otherwise filling in his time.

The Leader of the Opposition suggested that the Government was shamming. His only argument in support of that contention was the statement, "This reads all right on paper, but we know that it will not work ". We on this side of the House know that the Government's proposals will be made to work. We do not know what the legal position is, of course, and no one can know that yet. But we do know that any government which legislates in this field must run the gauntlet of possible legal challenge. We do not yet know whether or not there will be a challenge. If there is, we shall cross our bridges when we come to them.

Mr Cope - You have the AttorneyGeneral on your side.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - All I can say to the honorable member is that the present Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) would be by far the best man available for any appeal to the High Court of Australia. In fact, he almost has a vested interest in that court, I might say, because he knows it so well. I am sure that if there is any one who can win a case for the Government in the High Court it is the present Attorney-General.

The Leader of the Opposition, at the conclusion of his speech, bogged down in a long piece of legal jargon which he read at great length, but which he did not seem to understand particularly well. I do not propose to say any more in reply to the observations made by the honorable gentleman, but I wish to make a number of points in relation to matters which affect my electorate in particular and most of Australia in general. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson), in his secondreading speech last Thursday evening, rather patted himself on the back and said that 60 per cent, of the population is now served by television. My feeling is that it is wrong 60 per cent. I come from the country. I ask honorable members whom they would prefer to see enjoying the benefits of television. Would they prefer television to be available to the city resident, who only has to catch a tram going to the city to have an opportunity of viewing films at half a dozen different theatres and who has an opportunity of watching sports events, of going to plays and of hearing lectures all within a very short distance of his home? Or would honorable members prefer television to be available to the person who lives in the back-blocks, the person who in some cases may not see any one else for days or weeks on end, the person who may be living 40, 50 or 60 miles from the nearest town?

Mr Bryant - On your argument, the station should be erected at Ayers Rock.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - That would be a good idea if we could cover the whole of the continent from there. There are, of course, areas in which there are not enough people to warrant the erection of a television station. The point I make is that the people who should be considered first are those who do not have the amenities that people in the cities have. This Government believes in decentralization, but the tendency in the development of television so far has been towards centralization.

People in the country districts are becoming sick and tired of the delay in hearing the claims of people wishing to set up television stations in country centres. Television has been operating in Australia for five years now. Late in 1954, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board mapped out a programme for the assignment of television channels in Australia. The Board said that 55 areas would have to be catered for, but as yet only five areas have television stations. At this rate, it will be 55 years before all the 55 areas are catered for. I am not referring to the back-blocks, or to such places as Ayers Rock. The smallest aggregation of people mentioned by the board is in Geraldton, where there are 15,000 people. I say it is high time that we got cracking. I feel that the Government should impress upon the Australian Broadcasting Control Board that it is not happy with the progress that is being made and say that it expects the board to give it within the next few months a time-table for the allocation of channels in every area of Australia, so that those who are now waiting the opportunity to do so may be able to go ahead and erect television stations.

I emphasize that in this instance we do not ask the Government to spend any money; all we ask is that private citizens or companies shall be given the right to spend their money. My colleague, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray), who is not here to-night, told me that only one company applied for the provisional licence in the Townsville area, yet the hearing of this company's application has had to be delayed until the New South Wales applications have been dealt with. That took four of five months. No doubt there will be a delay for a similar period while the Victorian applications are being heard, unless something is done to hurry the Australian Broadcasting Control Board along.

Mr Davidson - It is nearly finished with those.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - I am glad to have that assurance. When there is only one applicant for a licence, as is the case in Townsville, surely to goodness it should be possible for a competent person to decide within a week whether a licence should be granted to that applicant. Having decided that a licence should be granted, for heavens sake let the applicants go ahead and get into operation with the least possible delay.

After the introduction of what I think is called the third phase of television, when a large number of licences have been issued simultaneously, there will be a tremendous demand for electronic parts for television transmitters made either in Australia or abroad, and people will be rushing in hundreds of thousands, seeking to buy television sets. All of that will be happening at once. Surely it would be much more sensible to space out the granting of licences and so spread this demand. Surely it would be much better for the board to notify applicants as each decision is arrived at, so that the erection of television stations may be spread over a period. I repeat that we are not asking for Government assistance or Government finance; all we ask is that private citizens be given the right to spend their own money. What does it matter if one or two of these people go bankrupt? They will be losing their own money, not the Government's money. For heavens sake, let us cut out this cautious approach by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board.

In conclusion, I hope the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson) will do his utmost to see that a time-table is produced for each and every area in which there is any likelihood of the development of television, so that the people concerned will know that on a certain date they are likely to have this amenity.

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