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Wednesday, 21 October 1970

Mr CHARLES JONES (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - I wish to bring forward 2 matters which concern the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) and the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme). On 13th October I directed to the Postmaster-General a question in which 1 referred to the reduction of 29 per cent in the rate paid for the carriage of mail by domestic airlines. The Postmaster-General said in reply, amongst other things, that of the 2 domestic airlines, the arrangement had been accepted by Trans-Australia Airlines but not accepted by Ansett Airlines of Australia. The implication is that TAA readily agreed to the reduction in the rate and that the Ansett organisation was still negotiating or discussing it.

I would like the Postmaster-General to table in this Parliament the file of correspondence on this matter between the 2 airlines and his Department so that honourable members would have an opportunity to peruse it. They would be able to see for themselves what transpired in communications with the 2 domestic airlines and for that matter, also what happened in negotiations with Airlines of New South Wales, East-West Airlines and the others. We are aware that apart from East-West Airlines, the rest of them are mainly members of the Ansett organisation.

I believe that TAA accepted the Government's decision under protest and under duress, for the simple reason that it is a Government authority and for no other reason. The Postmaster-General is not present in the chamber tonight, but honourable members opposite could ask htm to table the file so that we could better understand the bureaucratic manner in which the rate was reduced by the Government by 29 per cent. We could see whether the reduction is justified. If it is justified, we could ask why it was not done much sooner when the' costs of wages, fuel, air navigation charges and other expenses were much less than they are today. If the reduction is justified today, it should have been applied years ago. I should like some explanation from the Postmaster-General as to why it was not reduced some years ago. I ask him to look at these few points and to give me information on them. Most important of all. 1 want the Minister to advise us of the conditions under which TAA accepted the decision. Also, f should like information on the terms which were laid down m regard to the carriage of mail by Ansett because I believe that in no circumstances has Ansett ever accepted the proposition =is fair and reasonable. I believe that this reduction in charges is a typical example of bureaucracy on the part of the Postmaster-General's Department.

One does not get the opportunity very often to speak in the adjournment debate. Bearing this in mind, I should like to refer also to another matter. On 9th July I wrote to Mr Wright, Chairman of the Australian Boradcasting Control Board, and drew his attention to what I considered was a breach of section 116(4.) of the Broadcasting and Television Act. I wrote in the following terms: [ will be grateful if you could answer the following question:

(1)   Was a By-election held in Melbourne on the 20th June 1970 for the Upper House seat of Monash.

(2)   Does Section 116(4.) of the Broadcasting and Television Act prohibit the televising of any election matter after midnight on the Wednesday before an election.

(3)   Did the Board according to custom send a circular- to all Television Stations reminding them of the Monash By-election and Section 116(4.). Was this reminder sent to the ABC.

(4)   Did the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. J. G. Gorton, MP, hold a Press conference on Thursday, 18th June and was this press conference televised throughout Australia including television stations in Melbourne.

(5)   Did the contents of this press conference contravene Section 1 16 (4.) of - the Broadcasting and Television Act.

The reply dated 22nd July which I received from Mr Wright included a copy of section 116(6.) of the Broadcasting and Television Act. So far as I was concerned my main question was whether the matter I had referred to was political. In reply to my first question Mr Wright answered yes. He agreed that a by-election was being held at that time. In answer to my second question Mr Wright stated:

(2)   Section 116(4.) of the Act prohibits the televising of election matter as defined in the Act from midnight on the Wednesday preceding an election to the close of the poll. I attach for your information a copy of the definition of election matter in section 116(6.) of the Act.

My third question to Mr Wright was in the following terms:

Did the Board according to custom send a circular to all Television Stations.....

To this question Mr Wright answered yes. In answer to my fourth question Mr Wright stated:

(4)   The Board has not checked as to whether the conference was televised Nation-wide, but is aware that it was televised by some stations in Melbourne.

In answer to my fifth question he stated:

(5)   Not so far as the Board is aware. If such a question did arise, in connection with a telecast of this kind, you will realise that it could be decided only by the Courts.

This was in answer to my last question in which I asked whether the contents of the Press conference had contravened the Broadcasting and Television Act. In my view there was an obvious breach of the Broadcasting and Television Act which clearly lays down conditions regarding the telecasting of election material. We have had this reaffirmed by the Government within the last week. We were told that there would be a complete blackout of all election material, whether televised or broadcast, from the Wednesday prior to the Senate election. So this prohibition has been reaffirmed. What I want from the Government is an explanation as to why the television Press conference which the Prime Minister held on the Thursday before the Monash by-election was allowed to be televised in Victoria. I want to know why the Act was contravened and why some action has not been taken against the broadcasting stations and television stations?

I wrote again to Mr Wright on 29th July and stated:

In my fifth question I asked 'Did the contents of this press conference contravene Section 116(4.) of the Broadcasting and Television Act'. In reply you said 'Not as far as the Board is aware. If such a question did arise, in connection with a telecast of this kind, you will realise that it could be decided only by the Courts'.

I then went on to ask what he was going to do about it. the reply I received from Mr Wright was as follows:

In reply to your question, the Board does not propose to make any further inquiries in the matter. Those members of the Board and its Executive who observed the programme did not consider that it raised any question that there was a breach of section 116(4). You will appreciate that, to involve a contravention of section 116(4.), the matter broadcast or televised must fall within the definition of 'election matter' as set out in section 116 (6.'). This section is specific in intent and is more limited than is implied in the general expression 'political' as referred to in your letter.

All I want to draw attention to are some of the matters that were referred to by the Prime Minister on that occasion in his television interview with the Press. He referred to the National Service Act and Victoria in particular. He was asked very pertinent questions about whether he would take proceedings against certain members of the Australian Labor Party who had made a statement at that time which had upset him.

Mr Hurford - That is not political, though.

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