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Thursday, 15 October 1970

Mr SHERRY (Franklin) - The Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) in his explanation of why some of the estimates submitted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in fact were reduced has given us certain reasons. I accept his explanation as it was given to us. At the same time, the Minister chided us, in quite a very pleasant way of course, to take a broader view of his Department and its activities and responsibilities. But he would realise that lime will not allow us to concur with that invitation. In the brief time that I do have available, I wish to talk about 2 points in this debate on the estimates of the Postmaster-General's Department. 1 refer first to the Twenty-second Annual Report for the year ended 30th June 1970 of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. This report, was presented quite recently. I wish to make one or two comments relevant, I think, to what the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) has said about the ABC and its responsibilities of objectivity, integrity and impartiality.

Firstly, the report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board is interesting at this time in the context of the cry for increased Australian content in television.. I do not think that anybody in this Committee would willingly deny the validity of the argument being presented. As the honourable member for Curtin has said, although in a somewhat different context, it is time for us in this country to create our own cultural image both here and abroad. The time has come, I think, when we have to accept the responsibility of transmitting abroad our own culture, our own point of view and, in fact, our own nationalism.

The cry against increased content basically is expense. It is interesting to look at the figures in the Twenty-second Annual Report of the ABCB and to see that in 1968-69 of the 45 television stations in operation 37 made a profit. Only 8 television stations failed to do so. The reason why the great proportion of these television stations failed to make a profit, T suggest, is purely and simply a political reason, not an economic reason - that is, the granting of licences in areas where no such licences should ever be granted. The total net profit for the financial year 1968-69 of Australian commercial television stations is shown at page .10 of the Report as being $15,387,145. So, the profitability of these television stations is not really in doubt.

An interesting development has occurred. T refer to page 25 of the Report. A commercial television station in Hobart, TVT Channel 6, and commercial television channel TNT9 in the north of the State have joined now with the Tasmanian Department of Education in transmitting educational programmes and teacher training telecasts. This move I applaud. I suggest with the greatest deftness in the world to the Postmaster-General that he may like to encourage an expansion of this idea. On page 104 of the same report it will be noticed that the Board is again engaged in a review of the Australian content requirement. The report says:

It is apparent that this review will take longer than the Board had earlier expected but it is being carried out as quickly as possible having regard to the Board's very heavy programme of inquiries in various fields.

I think due regard to and a general close scrutiny of all the cases put forward is in itself a very valuable move but I suggest that the Board be not overlong in reaching a decision on this very important matter. Let us go back to the historic document, the Vincent Committee report, which was produced some years ago. At page 1 it refers to television programmes and Australian content. In Part I of the report under the heading: 'Public Concern Over

Television Programmes. Evidence of Public Concern', it said:

There is much public concern over television programmes. This concern, as might be expected, comes mainly from the more informed or responsibly minded section of the community, and it is widespread.

G.   The disquiet is with programmes from both the Australian Broadcasting Commission and commercial television, although the greater weight of criticism is levied against commercial television.

These points made many years ago in the Vincent Committee report are still valid today. There has been a great deal of procrastination and delay in truly implementing the conditions laid down when these gentlemen Originally applied for their licences. This is how it has been skirted in so many ways. I do not have time to go into all the facts that make the Australian quota system at the moment an unfair reflection of the volume of Australian television productions shown on television. If one looks at the survey conducted by the Australian Broadcasting Commission and reprinted in the 'Canberra Times' on Wednesday, 23rd September under the heading: 'Rating Objectively' it can be seen what is meant. The answer from the commercial stations is that people are not prepared to watch Australian television programmes. I do not accept this. Of course, this is completely negated by this survey because if one looks at it - I have not time to quote it all - it will be found that 60 per cent of the top rating programmes in this country are written, produced and acted by people here. The argument will not wash that people are not prepared to watch Australian television productions because 60 per cent of the top rating programmes are in fact indigenous.

Let us turn to the ABC. The broad spectrum of the Commission's activities makes it a massive undertaking at any level. Let us take a brief glance at the diversity of its activities. They range from news, music, drama; documentaries; training for Asians, a worthwhile project; opera; school broadcasts; publishing; and, as an entrepreneur, visits by overseas artists, sustaining symphony orchestras, help for migrants, and the Washington Bureau link - the sorts of things the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland) has been talking about. I suggest honourable members in this House take a glance at the Commission's report. This is a very interesting document and highlights and exemplifies what I have said about the massive complex technological operation that is the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

In conclusion might I sum up the 2 points I have made. It is simply not a question of whether we can afford an increased Australian television content. It is rather a question of whether we cannot afford it. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) has indicated quite properly some interest in indigenous productions. He has displayed both vocally and visually an interest in this country's nationalism. Surely the time has come for us to be energetically and actively concerned with our image and our culture because we are now a nation. Let us project that nationhood with pride in our creative and artistic talents. I have outlined, albeit economically, the complexity and immense responsibility of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. That this responsibility is accepted and discharged with integrity, professionalism and purpose is the complete answer to those lofty critics on the Government side who constantly criticise the activities of the ABC. I am very thankful to the Minister that he has not succumbed to the temptation to place any sort of political gag on it. This immense duty of the Commission is discharged. It has a duty to discharge; it has a duty to entertain, inform, educate and to transmit at home and abroad an account of the contemporary Australian scene.

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