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Thursday, 19 May 1960

Mr GALVIN (Kingston) .- Mr. Chairman,I have been waiting patiently for the Postmaster-General to follow up his statement that the second-reading stage was not the appropriate stage at which to explain in detail the provisions embodied in this clause. I hope that we shall not see the spectacle of the discussion of this clause being gagged before the Minister explains fully the meaning of it and before the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) also explains it in detail and deals with the matters that have been raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). Proposed new section 92 of the principal act seeks to limit the ownership and control of commercial television stations by one company or concern to two only. Proposed new section 92b defines the meaning of the term " control " as it is used in these provisions. One of the difficulties about which we are concerned is the problem of establishing the ownership or interest of newspaper companies in respect of television companies, because it seems extremely difficult to establish just who owns what and how much is owned by each interest involved.

Mr Ward - Or who commits an offence.

Mr GALVIN - Or who commits an offence. The Postmaster-General pointed out that the Government recognized that a company may be effectively controlled in a commercial sense by persons who hold less than 51 per cent, of the voting power, and also that in relation to an activity such as the management of a television station control can be exercised by a variety of means other than the possession of voting power at a general meeting.

I think the committee is entitled to an explanation by the Attorney-General of the opinion he has given on this provision. The honorable gentleman gave an opinion some time ago when he was engaged by the Herald and Weekly Times Limited. Before he came to this place, he was paid a large amount of money to give an opinion on this matter by the newspapers of Australia which form the combines that control the television stations to-day. At that time, he gave an opinion in which he stated clearly that it would be most difficult to assert how a company was controlled, and that a minority of shareholders could control it.

Mr Timson - Is the honorable member going to continue to read this report?

Mr GALVIN - If the honorable member for Higinbotham could persuade the Attorney-General, who is paid a salary by this Parliament, to rise in his place and not remain silent, I might stop referring to this legal opinion. The bill has been debated at some length on the second reading and in committee. I do not know whether the Attorney-General is still smarting under the lashing he got when the telephone-tapping legislation was under consideration, but the fact is that he continues to sit in his place like a sulky child and refuses to speak. It is said that this is not his bill, but as he will have to prosecute in any proceedings under this provision of the measure, he is under an obligation to this Parliament to explain just what will happen if charges are laid and cases are submitted to a court. The Attorney-General stated in the opinion he submitted to the Herald and Weekly Times Limited -

For my part as a legal proposition I find the conception of minority shareholders being in a position to exercise control of a company quite untenable and contrary to the relevant and consistent decisions of the courts.

I ask the Attorney-General to consider the position of the Herald and Weekly Times Limited in the various companies in which it holds slightly less than 15 per cent, of the shares - the proportion mentioned in this bill. The Herald and Weekly Times Limited has an interest amounting to 14.6 per cent, of the shareholding in the Adelaide television company and 10.5 per cent, in the Brisbane company.

Mr Ward - It just misses control.

Mr GALVIN - It seems strange that the proportion is set at 15 per cent, and that the Herald and Weekly Times Limited holds less than that percentage of the shareholdings. In view of the legal opinion expressed previously by the AttorneyGeneral, I urge him to give us the benefit of his knowledge and to tell us whether he believes this legislation could withstand a challenge in the courts. When he gave this opinion, he received a much larger salary that he is receiving now, but, as a servant of the Crown, he should now give the committee the benefit of his legal knowledge and explain the details which the committee finds so complicated.

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