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Wednesday, 18 May 1960

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) (12:11 PM) . - Mr. Speaker, I think that at this point in the debate it would be well for us to get back to the Opposition's amendment. We have heard from the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) an expression of strong opposition to the rushing through of this kind of measure in what are being proclaimed as the dying hours of a sessional period. We on this side of the House have been accustomed to this Government's policy of bringing down contentious legislation from time to time in the last hours of a sessional period. We have seen this sort of thing happen in the past with amendments to the Public Service Act and the like which have affected particular sections of the community. It seems to us that this bill is being approached by the Government in the same way in which it has on previous occasions brought in legislation in a hasty manner at the end of a sessional period. The honorable member for Chisholm, who preceded me in this debate, was quite right. I suppose that we have never had a sessional period in this Parliament in which less effective work has been accomplished than has been accomplished in the few weeks of this sessional period. Then, at this late hour, we are asked to pass a measure that will affect in an intensely human way the lives of almost all citizens of Australia. The minutest care is called for in any legislation on the subject to ensure that the human touch is retained in television.

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - If that is so, why has not the Australian Labour Party put up any speakers over the last three hours?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - It is not correct to say that the Opposition has not put up any speakers over the last three hours. Only one Opposition speaker was missed in rotation. Furthermore, the attacks launched on the Government by three of its own supporters in relation to the very subject-matter with which I am dealing may be more effective in bringing the Government to its senses than would be anything that we on this side of the chamber could say. And it is always important, in parliamentary government, to bring a government to its senses when it attempts to do something of the kind that the Government now seeks to do. If some back-benchers on the Government side are protesting strongly - even though, perhaps, for reasons different from those on which the Opposition bases its protests - it may very well be good tactics for the Opposition to watch the effect of those remarks if it wishes to persuade the Administration, even at this late hour, to accept the proposition that is contained in our amendment.

Mr Hamilton - What about getting back to the bill?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - I prefer, first, to look at the amendment before getting back to the bill. The amendment is in these terms -

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 and television stations".

Surely nobody who heard the secondreading speech made by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), will be misled in any way by the suggestion that limiting to15 per cent, the shareholding in a company held by any existing television company with a controlling interest in two television stations will prevent the swallowing up of smaller companies by others.

Mr McMahon - The limitation is on voting power, not only on shareholdings.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - If the limitation is on voting power, the process of swallowing up another company is so much easier. In company with the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Stewart), I have examined the directorates of companies and the ramifications of the controls exercised, both alone and in double harness, over the television and radio stations conducted by newspaper interests. It is no wonder that even leading members on the Government side of the House, including the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Garfield Barwick), feel that the time has arrived for some form of control of monopolies to be exercised in this country, even by this Government. As I understand it, during the next parliamentary recess, the Attorney-General will be examining the problems of monopoly control in Australia. I believe that the PostmasterGeneral and the Government would be well advised, therefore, to put this bill aside until the inquiries which obviously are being made by the Attorney-General are completed, in order that we may see how far the ramifications of monopoly control are involved in this measure before the Government takes one more step in the direction that is proposed and licenses further television stations in this country.

Monopoly is a factor that has developed in Australia to the point at which protests are raised immediately the Attorney-General attempts to restrict monopolies. Over the last fortnight, in the "Sydney Morning Herald ", attacks have been made on the proposal that legislative enactments be adopted in order to deal with monopolies and monopoly control in Australia. That newspaper is not worried so much about the ramifications of this bill, and that causes me to wonder whether the PostmasterGeneral, with his simple belief that this bill will protect television against monopoly, is not in point of fact sponsoring a measure that will be so twisted by monopoly interests in this country as to permit large television monopolies to swallow up smaller undertakings. Surely the Government does not think that monopoly interests will take lying down an attempt by the Administration to force the owners of television films and other programme material to make programme material available to television stations other than those within their own control. Something stronger than a bill of this description will be needed to break the grip that has already been gained by monopoly interests in this country in the field of television.

Mr McMahon - You would vote for this bill, but you would like something better!

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - Our proposition is that the Government put this measure aside for the time being and give us an opportunity to examine it more thoroughly. The Administration should hasten more slowly. If the matter was so urgent, why was not this measure introduced a month ago?

Mr McMahon - Because we have been working on it for six months.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - If you have been working on it for six months, another fortnight will not make any difference. The Postmaster-General ought to go to the Attorney-General and find out how far he has gone with his investigation of monopolies in this country. The whole problem should be dealt with, not only part of it. Surely the Government does not think that, by one measure, it can break the grip on television exercised by Herald and Weekly Times Limited with its control of wide interests.

Mr McMahon - Our purpose is to prevent a monopoly.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - That may be so. I believe that the Government or at any rate some of its Ministers have kidded themselves into the belief that, by one halfhearted, half-baked legislative enactment they can deal with organizations like Herald and Weekly Times Limited.

Let me mention all the undertakings that the Herald and Weekly Times Limited controls. They are the " Sun News Pictorial ", a Melbourne morning paper, the " Herald ", the Melbourne evening paper, the " Advertiser an Adelaide morning paper, and the " Courier-Mail " and " Telegraph " in Brisbane. And these are the people whom the Government believes it can force, by piecemeal legislation such as this, to hand over films to somebody else! This organization also controls television stations Herald-Sun T.V., Melbourne, Television Broadcasters, Adelaide, and Brisbane T.V. Limited. Then, just for good measure, it controls radio stations 3DB Melbourne, 3LK Central Victoria, 4BK Brisbane, 4AK Darling Downs, 5AD Adelaide, 5MU Murray Bridge, 5PI Crystal Brook and 5SE Mount Gambier. And it has been suggested that the Minister is so naive as to believe that a bill such as this will break the grip held by this organization on television films! The Opposition argues that legislation of this type should never be rushed through a free democratic parliament. Honorable members on this side, supported by some honorable members on the Government side, strongly resent the way in which this bill is being rushed through the Parliament in the early hours of the morning. Even the Minister has admitted that the measure affects so many important principles that he prefers to wait until the committee stage to explain its provisions. In other words, the Minister is admitting that he has had to be briefed on the measure, and that he must wait until it is being discussed in committee before he will have the complete brief, and that that is the reason why he was unable to present a properly balanced explanation on the second reading.

Mr Davidson - Do not be silly! That is always the practice.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - At least six times you indicated to us that you did not intend to explain the bill further on the second reading. Make no mistake, it is of no use thinking that the 15 per cent, voting strength provision contained in this bill will break the grip of a monopoly such as that of Herald and Weekly Times Limited. I hesitate to think that even the Postmaster-General would believe that for a second. We oppose the bill because we feel that this Parliament should be con sidering many more important principles. After all, when a measure such as this comes before the House responsibility for the final decision does not rest entirely with the Minister; it is the responsibility of this Parliament to decide what is in the best interests of the people of Australia, and Parliament is the place where every aspect of a measure such as this should be fully ventilated.

Why have we not been given the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board on the manipulation of the people whose activities it is now desired to curb? Every honorable member of this Parliament is entitled to have before him whatever reports are available to show the necessity for a measure such as this. When we analyse the ramifications of the Herald and Weekly Times Limited we get some appreciation of the power held by this organization over every medium of publicity in Australia. Already it has virtually established a monopoly by syndication of the news being disseminated to the people of certain States.

One honorable member on the Government side has roundly condemned the proposal that power should be taken to force monopoly groups to hand their films over to smaller organizations at a price to be fixed. Nobody knows better than the Minister himself that this Parliament has no authority to fix prices. Therefore this provision is merely an effort to draw a red herring across the trail and lead us to believe that the bill is really worth something. When an important measure such as this is brought before the Parliament so late in the session, two important principles are involved. We say--

Mr Bowden - You are saying too much.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - I am paid to have my say.

Mr McMahon - The Australian Broadcasting Control Board will not be reporting on this matter and has nothing to do with it.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - The Minister for Labour and National Service says that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will not report on this matter and has nothing to do with it.

Mr McMahon - It is reporting on the issue of new licences.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - If there has been no report by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board relating to the limitation of shareholdings to 15 per cent. - the provision which we are led to believe will break the grip of monopolies such as the Herald and Weekly Times Limited - then we are entitled to see whatever reports the Government does rely upon for justification of this measure.

Mr McMahon - We do not rely on others in these things.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - Surely the Minister does not just pluck these matters out of the air and say, " This is good enough for us "? It may be good enough for him but it is certainly not good enough for this Parliament.

Honorable members on the Government side, particularly the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfred Kent Hughes), complained that they had not had sufficient time to study the full implications of the measure. We have submitted an amendment because we have not had time to study the bill thoroughly.

Mr Hamilton - The honorable member for Chisholm could have done it over the week-end, but he went to the football.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - Let me say to the parliamentary secretary who is sitting on the sideline that it would take more than a week-end to study all the ramifications of this " Herald " organization. I have heard about lost week-ends and good week-ends, but one thing that honorable members on the Government side are forgetting is that we are now considering a bill which will affect the home life of the whole of the Australian community. Any piece of legislation that is likely to affect the home-life of the people should never be hurried through Parliament in the way in which this bill is being rushed through. We can understand the discomfort of honorable members occupying the back benches on the Government side, two or three of whom have bitterly criticized the haste with which this legislation is being rushed through, especially when we remember the time wasting that has taken place in this House over the past few weeks. We have had thrown in front of us a most important piece of legislation containing 35 clauses, and we are asked to pass it within a short period of its introduction. The bill is so complex that the Minister himself has admitted that he must wait until it is being discussed in committee before he can offer a full explanation of its implications. After all, this is a parliamentary institution, not a debating society. Sometimes I think we members of this Parliament are inclined to forget our responsibilities. I have had practical experience in organizations which operate on an Australia-wide basis, and I have found that in such organizations you must always bear in mind that any decisions you make will affect every home in Australia. If that principle were applied to legislation which affects every home in Australia, the Government would not be hurrying a bill as important as this.

The Opposition has submitted an amendment to the Bill. If the Minister for Labour and National Service is correct in saying that the reports of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will not play any part in the implementation of this measure, then it becomes all the more important that honorable members on the Government side should give serious consideration to the principle behind our amendment. No one could ever convince even the most stalwart supporter of the Minister that there is any necessity to rush legislation of this character through the Parliament in its present form when so many avenues remain to be explored.

I have heard it argued that as only one application for a licence in a particular locality has been lodged, therefore, there should be no delay in granting that licence. If the Government views the matter on that singular basis, it will need more guarantees than are included in this measure to stop an organization such as the Herald and Weekly Times Limited, which already controls numerous stations, from controlling every television station in Australia. The honorable members on the Government side who are interjecting will find that I will be proved to be correct. This is another reason why the Government should allow more time for this matter to be debated fully. If the Government has noted the reaction of the " Sydney Morning Herald " during the past fortnight to the suggestion that the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) will work on the legislation in relation to monopolies, it will realize the importance of hastening slowly with legislation such as we have before us. I repeat that the Government should put first things first. Monopolies should not be tackled piecemeal; we should deal with them as a whole and, in dealing with them as a whole, we should pass legislation designed to protect the country people from the ravages of the organizations that are gradually getting a grip on every means of communication in Australia.

The Government should not think that this means of mass communication will always be on its side. At some point of time it will decide that the Government is of no further value to it, and once a means of mass communication decided to oppose any form of government, it could destroy not only that government but also the Parliament. Let us remember what happened in Czechoslovakia. When the changeover in government took place in Czechoslovakia--

Mr Bowden - By guns.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - You are wrong, it was not done by guns. When the changeover took place, the control of the means of communication was so complete that from that hour only that which the Communist government in Czechoslovakia wanted to be distributed was distributed. Make no mistake about this - every day of the week and every month of the year we are getting closer and closer towards that kind of control in Australia.

The amendment which we have proposed is a realistic approach to this problem, and members on the Government side, instead of criticizing it should be giving it the closest consideration. The Government should let us know the basis upon which the organizations to which I have referred will be permitted to intrude into the sphere of television in the country. Let there be daylight on the transactions which will take place in the setting-up of country television stations. The Australian Country Party should be on its feet clamouring, not for haste but for the security of the people whom it represents. The maintenance of decency in home life is much more important than anything else. With all the vigour that I possess I support the amendment which has been proposed by the Australian Labour Party in the belief that in the long run we will be proved to be right. Let the light of day shine on this problem. Let us have information about the alleged value of the measure. Do not let us walk into something which will leave us wide open to further extension of monopoly control. Instead, let us make secure the decency of home life in Australia and ensure that the people will not be subjected to a monopolycontrolled system of mass communication.

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