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Thursday, 2 June 1960

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Leader of the Opposition) . - Again after a very hurried glance at the amendment, but without having had any opportunity of hearing the detailed argument in the other chamber, the committee is expeced to accept the dictum of the Minister, and to regard the amendment as merely of a drafting nature. We have our suspicions about all the activities of the television companies in Australia. As we have said repeatedly, and have shown by our votes, we do not believe in newspaper companies or big organizations being allowed to own and control television stations. I speak subject to correction, because, as I have said, I have had no chance to study the matter and to inquire from officers of the department the exact meaning of the words used - but section 92a (1) seems to have been inserted to protect the interests of a body like the Melbourne Herald and Weekly Times Proprietary Limited, and to give it an opportunity to comply with the provisions of the act. The present amendment seems to be designed to help another company, and I suppose, like 92a (1), helps every other existing licensee with the exception of one - Channel 9, in Melbourne. I have a feeling that this particular alteration is designed to help that particular company because the controlling interest in it sold out recently to the English company, Pye of London, which has taken control of Electronic Industrie?. Limited of Melbourne. Quite obviously, that English company could not be" allowed1 to- hold! a television licence if the overseas content of the ownership were more than1 1-51 per cent. Of course, if Pye of London owns Electronic Industries Limited, and that company owns Channel 9, then one television station, is completely owned by an overseas concern. It seems to me that the Government has decided to give these overseas concerns another twelve months in which to dispose of their interest above 15 per cent, of the share capital to some Australian interests. If that is so, the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) should have told honorable members of the fact. The amendment has not been drafted to meet a hypothetical case that may arise in the future; it has been drafted to deal with an actual case and to accommodate these overseas people.

Mr Wheeler - Do you say they are given an undue advantage over an Australian company?

Mr CALWELL - I think they may have a substantial advantage if they are given another twelve months in which to shuffle their shareholding. We are not at all happy about this whole question of control. We believe that such things as proxy shares could be operated at shareholders meetings, and that the bill as drafted will be evaded at some future time. There are loop-holes which can be used and those holding an interest of less than 15 per cent, can, in the ordinary way of business, arrange for a sufficient number of proxies to give them effective control. This would defeat the purpose of the bill.

The Postmaster-General has not told us why the amendment, to which he asks us to agree, had to be made in the Senate in the first instance. He has not told us why the position was not thought about whilst the bill was in this chamber. He has not told us whether outside influences were exerted on the Government to cause it to make this alteration. Now that the bill is back in this chamber, he has not given us the argument that was used in the other chamber and he has not given us any criticism of this provision that may have been offered. Again, we have been asked to push the provision through, as if it were of no consequence. We on the Opposition side feel that television is vital and that the control of television stations is of enormous importance to the Australian people. Elections may be won or lost on television performances in the future. Business people may be defeated because of the use of the television screen. Some people may secure unfair advantages by the use of the television screen, even though they may use it legitimately. The public is entitled to some protection against the misuse of this great medium of propaganda and information. This is the public domain that is being used. The ether belongs to the people and it is through the ether that all the images are transmitted.

I suggest that the committee should be most careful to ensure that overseas interests, which are coming here in everincreasing numbers, are not allowed to evade any of their legal obligations. They may try to avoid their obligations. When I think of Pye of London, my naturally suspicious nature immediately raises the question of monopolies, because I think of a wool pie, which is a means of robbing producers of the full value of their product. Pye of London is a ruthless monopoly in England, and it can do a lot of harm in this country. I hope the Postmaster-General will be a little more enlightening than he has been. I believe that this provision was inserted for the benefit of overseas interests and for those who will purchase existing licences from time to time. The earlier provision was inserted for the purpose of giving companies, which originally complied with the law, time in which to comply with the provisions of this legislation.

Mr Davidson - Do you not think that that is fair?

Mr CALWELL - I am coming to that point. I think that is fair, and that would apply to the Herald and Weekly Times Limited and to some other companies. However, this amendment seems to me to be specially devised to help Pye of London, and I do not think it is entitled to this protection. The original provision laid down that no overseas interests could own more than 15 per cent, of the shares of a television or radio company. When Electronic Industries Limited of Melbourne sold out to Pye of London, the question immediately arose of how far Pye of London should be allowed to hold the licence for Channel 9.

Mr Davidson - But it did not hold the licence. Electronic Industries Limited held the major shareholding.

Mr CALWELL - That is true, and it sold out the whole of its interest to Pye of London. The London concern is now the legal owner.

Mr Whitlam - Sir Arthur Warner did that.

Mr CALWELL - He is Electronic Industries Limited. I did not want to mention this for fear of creating further suspicion, but Sir Arthur Warner happens to be the leader of the Liberal Party in Victoria. Perhaps he made representations or perhaps some one else made representations, but I shall leave Sir Arthur Warner out of it. Electronic Industries Limited sold 100 per cent, of its shares to Pye of London. Pye of London now owns and controls Channel 9, although the legislation forbids it to do so. It owns more than 15 per cent, of the shares; indeed, it owns 100 per cent. This concern is now to be given another twelve months in which to dispose of 85 per cent, of its shares. Why was it not required to dispose of that 85 per cent, at the moment that it purchased the Melbourne undertaking?

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