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Wednesday, 18 May 1960

Mr WHEELER (Mitchell) (1:18 AM)

As the hour is now well past midnight, I shall be very brief. It is a long while since we heard the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) in such a cocky vein. Mr. Dougherty having been thrown into the union ashcan, the honorable member is beginning to feel that he is a man of some importance again. I do not want to deprive him of his pleasure. Let him enjoy it while he may. It will have only a short life, since I do not believe Mr. Dougherty will allow him to get away with it, and his shadow will be over the honorable member for Hindmarsh for a long time.

With a complete disregard for the truth, the honorable member for Hindmarsh misquoted the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). The honorable member for Hindmarsh should not deny to the honorable member for Moreton the right to his own opinion, but with the characteristic attitude of the socialist he believes that only his own opinion is of importance. With the intolerance that has always been the stock-in-trade of the honorable member for Hindmarsh, he ascribed to the honorable member for Moreton words which he did not use. Far be it from me, as one who is not a student of the law, like the honorable member for Moreton, to quote from his speech, but we should put the record right. The honorable member for Moreton said - 1 want the House to consider seriously whether it is at liberty to deal in an offhanded way with legislation involving property rights. I am one of those who is driven to the conclusion that liberty has, in very great measure, to be equated with property rights. I know it is distasteful to some honorable gentlemen opposite, but they think in the opposite doctrinaire direction. They do not believe in property rights, but I am one who passionately believes in property rights. When you destroy property rights - the right of an individual or a company or a group of individuals to have property - you are destroying liberty.

How the honorable member for Hindmarsh could twist a statement of that nature for his own vicarious pleasure, I do not know. Of course, the honorable member has been through a lot recently. I would not like to have the hot breath of a man like Dougherty on my neck for all the seats in South Australia. But let us leave the honorable member for Hindmarsh with his distorted idea of those people in the world who do not agree with his opinions. 1 now turn to the bill. It is difficult, in the time which the Government has afforded, to absorb all the phases of the proposed legislation. The possibilities of its effectiveness in the future are hard to estimate. I find myself submerged in a wave of words, in a bill which covers 22 pages; but when one surfaces it becomes apparent that the bill is designed to set up a wholly new administrative machine as between the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, the Postmaster-General's Department and the Public Service Board, with the Australian Broadcasting Commission thrown in where appropriate. The big question which poses itself to me is whether the new authority to be given to the Minister and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board will create harmony, and whether that authority will lend itself to a conflict of ideals in administration.

In addition, the bill itself is hard to comprehend. It refers to previous acts, and without those previous acts, taken side by side and in conjunction with the bill, a true appreciation of the intention of the bill is impossible. There seems to be a predilection, in framing new legislation, for the draftsman to take a short cut and leave the legislator stranded in the woods of deletions and additions. The first ten pages of the bill are concerned with a completely new administrative structure. With tedious repetition, the bill states that section soandso of the principal act is amended, and so on. Surely there should be some means of printing a bill, for the consideration of the House, to show the portions of the old legislation that are being omitted and, by the use of different print, to outline the new provisions. But nobody seems to worry about that. The bill as a whole may be a good one, but it is obvious that it has its weaknesses. That being so, it should be subjected to a closer scrutiny than the Government has permitted.

As I see it, the bill appears to provide for variations in the organization of staff associations. It proposes to bring the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, as well as the Australian Broadcasting Commission, to a stage at which their independence, in respect of staff, will disappear, and to establish conditions comparable to those which obtain in the Public Service. This may be a good thing, but it will destroy the independent character of the commission and the board which hitherto have been able to control their staffing affairs. As far as the Australian Broadcasting Commission is concerned, it has previously been free from ministerial interference. Yet, all the way through the bill the Minister appears to emerge triumphant.

Clause 28 is fairly hard for a Liberal to swallow. To my way of thinking, that clause is far too arbitrary, but how it may be altered I do not know, as I have not had sufficient time to consider the whole matter. Perhaps in the more benign atmosphere of another place adequate consideration will be given to this aspect of the bill. Clause 28 proposes to invest the board - an administrative body - with judicial power. It provides the board with a responsibility far beyond its capacity to discharge without fear of the consequences. That is a highly dangerous thing to do. The board is an administrative body, or a technical body if we wish to so term it, and now it is proposed to make it a judicial body. Let us have a look at the complement of the board as it is at present constituted. The chairman has the background of a solicitor and a parliamentary draftsman, with little business experience. One member was a communications engineer, and another member has similar qualifications. One member is a school teacher and another a retired commercial broadcasting station manager who represents the only hope that the board might appreciate the problems involved in dealing with programmes.

With the very best intentions in the world, one must question the wisdom of placing on those persons the responsibility to determine questions of a judicial nature. The House may remember that I spoke in this chamber of my reactions after I visited Melbourne in February last and had seen the board at work. At that time, the board was engaged, as it is now, in conducting the television inquiry. I was not impressed with its handling of the inquiry. It was obvious that it had lost control of the inquiry, and it was only when the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson), accompanied by the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), went to Melbourne and spoke strongly to the board of the conduct of the inquiry that some semblance of control was established. It is to that board that the bill proposes that judicial power should be given. That is too fantastic for words.

I now turn to proposed new section 92g. It strikes me as an odd sort of business that the Government should be dictating what shall appear in the articles of association of a company holding a licence. I shall not be surprised if, as time goes by and the pressure decreases, the Attorney-General, with his infinite capacity, presents the Government with a model set of articles of association which, like the celebrated "Tiger" salve, will be the cure-all for all complaints.

Overall, the second-reading speech of the Postmaster-General was rather disturbing;

Mr Ward - Mr. Deputy Speaker, as the honorable member for Mitchell is making a number of good points, could you arrange for an attendant to go amongst the Government benches and wake up Government supporters?

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