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Thursday, 22 May 1980
Page: 3172


Mr Staley -On 15 May 1980 (Hansard, page 2778) the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) asked me a question without notice regarding a letter said to have been sent to me by Sir Reginald Ansett which drew attention to acquisitions by News Limited of shares in Ansett Transport Industries Limited.

The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

There is no record of such a letter having been received by me. However, on 22 January 1980 my colleague, the Attorney-General, wrote to me enclosing a letter dated 5 December 1979, in which Sir Reginald referred to this matter. Copies of these letters are at Attachment A.

On 19 December 1979 the Attorney-General acknowledged Sir Reginald's letter, and on 22 January 1980 wrote to Sir Reginald and advised that, as the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942 was administered by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, he had referred Sir Reginald 's letter to me for consideration (Attachment B).

I had already asked my Department to make inquiries of the Tribunal for advice regarding the share transactions which had taken place and any communications which had been recieved by the Tribunal from the parties concerned. Subsequendy, I received advice from the Tribunal in a letter addressed to my Department dated 20 February 1980. This advice is at Attachment C.

On 6 February 1980 Sir Peter Abeles wrote to me on behalf of Ansett Transport Industries Limited on the same matter, enclosing a copy of his letter to the Attorney-General (Attachment D).

On 26 March I responded to Sir Reginald saying that I had obtained information from the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and had considered this carefully. I concluded that, in all the circumstances, I did not propose to take any action under the Broadcasting and Television Act (Attachment E).

On the same day I also wrote to the Attorney-General, enclosing a copy of my letter to Sir Reginald informing him of my belief that, under the circumstances, a prosecution should not be instituted (Attachment F). In forming this view, I had regard to the fact that the Tribunal had given notice of its intention to hold a public inquiry on this matter. I will continue to keep the matter under review and there will be an opportunity to re-assess the position when the Tribunal 's Report is available.

Attachment A

Attorney-General

Parliament House,

Canberra, ACT 2600 22 January 1980

Dear Minister,

I am writing to you in connection with a letter dated S December 1979 that I have received from Sir Reginald Ansett. A copy of the letter is attached.

For the reasons set out in his letter, Sir Reginald Ansett asserts that News Ltd has contravened section 92 of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942 by reason of certain share acquisitions by that company in Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. He asks that action be taken to investigate the matter and to enforce that provision.

Although the effect of section 92KA of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942 is that a prosecution for an offence against the provisions of section 92 may not be instituted except with the consent in writing of the Attorney-General, the question whether any action of the kind suggested by Sir Reginald Ansett should be taken on behalf of the Government is primarily a matter for you as Minister administering the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942.I am accordingly referring Sir Reginals Ansett 's letter to you for your cosideration.

I am attaching a copy of my reply to Sir Reginald Ansett advising him that the matter raised in his letter has been referred to you.

Yours sincerely,

PETER DURACK

The Hon. A. A. Staley, M.P.,

Minister for Post and Telecommunications,

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Attachment A(ii)

ANSETT TRANSPORT INDUSTRIES LIMITED

(Incorporated in Victoria)

Registered Office: 489 Swanston Street,

Melbourne, Australia

Telephone 345 3144. Telex AA30085.

Telegrams and cables 'ANSETT'

Melbourne. P.O. Box 362F, Melbourne 3001. 5 December 1979

Senator The Hon. P. Durack,

AttorneyGeneral,

Parliament House,

CANBERRA, ACT 2600

Dear Senator Durack,

You will be aware that this Company through two whollyowned subsidiaries is the owner of two commercial television licences in Melbourne and Brisbane respectively.

You will be aware that News Limited is the owner of a controlling interest in United Telecasters Sydney Limited, the owner and operator of one commercial television licence in Sydney.

We draw your attention to the statement in today's issue ofThe Australian', a newspaper owned by News Limited, that News Limited holds over twenty-five per cent of the shares in this Company.

Such acquisition constitutes a flat contravention of Section 92 of the Broadcasting and Television Act, 1 942.

We ask that you take full action to investigate the matter and to enforce this law of the Commonwealth.

Yours faithfully,

R.M. ANSETT,

Managing Director

Attachment B 19 December 1979

Dear Sir Reginald,

I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 5 December 1979 concerning a statement in 'The Australian' newspaper of 5 December 1979 which indicated that News Limited holds over 25 per cent of the shares in Ansett Transport Industries Limited.

I will write to you again on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

PETER DURACK

Sir Reginald Ansett, K.B.E.

Managing Director,

Ansett Transport Industries Limited,

P.O.Box362F,

MELBOURNE, Vic. 3001

Attachment B(ii)

Attorney General,

Parliament House,

CANBERRA, ACT 2600

22 January 1980

Dear Sir Reginald,

I refer to your letter dated 5 December 1979 requesting me to take certain action in relation to an alleged breach by News Ltd of the provisions of section 92 of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942.

As the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942 is administered by my colleague the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, I have referred your letter to him for his consideration.

Yours sincerely,

PETER DURACK

Sir Reginald Ansett, K.B.E.,

Chairman, Ansett Transport Industries Ltd,

P.O.Box362F,

MELBOURNE, Vic. 3001

AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING TRIBUNAL

153 Walker Street, North Sydney, N.S.W. 2060

P.O. Box 1 303, North Sydney 2060

Telex ' ABTEE '26683

Telephone 922 2900 20 February 1980

Mr Robert Lord

First Assistant Secretary,

Broadcasting Policy Division

Postal and Telecommunications Department 153 Walker Street

NORTH SYDNEY. N.S.W. 2060

Dear Mr Lord,

I refer again to your letter dated 11 January 1980, concerning the purchase by the News Group of Companies (News) of shares in Ansett Transport Industries (Ansett) in relation to the provisions of the Broadcasting and Television Act (Act) which govern the ownership and control of commercial television stations.

The Tribunal has received several letters from News and a letter from Ansett which have a bearing on the matter. There have been a number of telephone discussions as well.

On 12 December 1979, News Limited advised the Tribunal that the News Group had purchased 43.6 per cent of the share capital of Ansett and was continuing to purchase shares with a view to acquiring up to 50 per cent of the issued ordinary share capital of Ansett. The letter acknowledged that provided the Tribunal approved the sale of News' interests in NWS Adelaide (since approved), and Ansett disposed of its interests in TVQ Brisbane (negotiations partly completed), the News Group would no longer hold prescribed interests in television stations in excess of those permitted by section 92( 1 ) of the Act. The same correspondence said that it was the intention of one or more companies in the News Group to apply to the Tribunal for approval of the acquisition of the Ansett shares, as soon as matters relating to NWS and TVQ were resolved. It was also pointed out that the ultimate holding company of the News Group had become The News Corporation Limited and all companies in the Group would become direct or indirect subsidiaries of that company.

Details of the authorised and issued share capital of News Corporation Limited, News Limited and News Investments Pty Limited, which form part of the News Group of companies, were notified to the Tribunal on 4 January 1 980. The News Corporation Limited advised the Tribunal on 25 January 1 980, that News and Ansett were currently seeking a buyer or buyers for TVQ but one factor which had contributed to the delay was that the sale of the John Fairfax Limited interests in station QTQ Brisbane was the subject of concurrent negotiations.

Advice has since been received that QTQ is being purchased by AWA Ltd and that Ampol Petroleum Ltd was acquiring some 60 per cent of the issued share capital of TVQ. In a letter dated 13 February 1980, Sir Peter Abeles, the Joint Chief Executive of Ansett Transport Industries Limited advised the Tribunal that a preliminary agreement had been reached for Ampol Petroleum Ltd to acquire some 60 per cent of the share capital of TVQ and that negotiations were continuing for the sale of the balance of the Ansett interests in TVQ.

In the letter from News Limited dated 13 December 1979 a copy of which was forwarded to your Department on 1 5 January 1980, the company acknowledges that its Ansett shareholding transaction caused a contravention of the ownership and control provisions of the Act in that it held at that date a prescribed interest in both TEN Sydney and NWS Adelaide, and automatically acquired through Ansett a prescribed interest in ATV Melbourne and TVQ Brisbane. On the facts available, the Tribunal was aware of this situation. However, it has been the practice over the years for such contraventions to be corrected either through negotiation with the parties concerned or voluntarily by such parties as soon as they realised the situation in which they were placed. There is no record of any prosecutions having been launched in connection with contraventions which have occurred from time to time.

It is the opinion of the Tribunal that continuation of the previous atutude to contraventions is desirable where it is clear, as is the case in regard to the News Group purchase of the Ansett shares, that every attempt is being made to remedy the contravention as soon as possible. On the general question of the institution of court proceedings regarding contraventions, the Tribunal believes that the powers and functions conferred upon it by the Act do not impose any responsibility for it to initiate prosecutions in relation to contravention of the ownership and control provisions. However, the Tribunal accepts that where a contravention exists and the offending party refuses to take corrective action, the Tribunal should hold a public inquiry and, if appropriate, direct the divestment of the excess interests. If such a direction were to be ignored, the Tribunal would report the matter to the Minister with a view to the Commonwealth instituting legal proceedings.

I understand that your letter was written as a direct result of a letter which Sir Reginald Ansett forwarded to the Attorney-General some time ago.

As you are aware Sir Reginald has since disposed of his personal interest in Ansett Transport Industries to the News Limited Group. The Tribunal has been informed that Sir Reginald does not wish the subject matter of his letter to be pursued and that the Joint Chief Executive Officer of Ansett Transport Industries will be writing to your Department to this effect.

In conclusion, I should mention that although the News Corporation Limited has yet to make a formal application for approval in relation to its purchase of the shares in Ansett and the full extent of any contraventions cannot be established until then, the Tribunal has invited members of the public to furnish submissions on the matter. On receipt of these submissions the Tribunal will determine whether the transactions should be the subject of a public inquiry, pursuant either to section 92F(4) or section 1 8( 1 ) of the Act.

Yours sincerely,

B. J. CONNOLLY

Secretary

Attachment D

ANSETT TRANSPORT INDUSTRIES LIMITED

(Incorporated in Victoria)

Registered Office: 489 Swanston Street, Melbourne, Australia

Telephone 345 3 144: Telex AA30085. Telegrams and cables ANSETT' MELBOURNE, P.O. Box 362F, Melbourne, 3001 6 February 1980

The Hon. A. A. Staley, M.P.,

Minister for Post and Telecommunications,

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

My Dear Minister,

On the 5 December 1979, Sir Reginald Ansett wrote to Senator Durack making certain allegations about News Ltd's acquisition of shares in Ansett Transpon Industries Ltd. The Attorney-General finally replied to that letter on the 22 January 1980, indicating that he had referred the matter to you.

For this reason, I enclose a copy of a letter which I have written to the Attorney-General today.

Yours sincerely,

E.H. P. ABELES

Joint Chief Executive

Attachment D(ii) 6 February 1980

Senator The Hon. P. Durack,

Attorney-General,

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Senator Durack,

I refer to a letter addressed to you from Sir Reginald Ansett dated 5 December 1979, and to your replies to it dated 19 December 1979, and 22 January 1980.

I have had the matter referred to in Sir Reginald's letter considered and, our advice is that the views concerning contravention of Section 92 of the Broadcasting and Television Act by News Ltd expressed in that letter are incorrect.

Accordingly, so far as this Company is concerned, would you regard Sir Reginald's request that you investigate the matter as withdrawn.

Yours sincerely,

E.H. P. ABELES

Joint Chief Executive

Attachment E 26 March 1980

Minister for Post and Telecommunications Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Sir Reginald,

I refer to your letter dated 5 December 1979 to my colleague, the Attorney-General, concerning a possible contravention of Section 92 of the Broadcasting and Television Act 1942.

I have obtained information from the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal and have considered this carefully. In all the circumstances, I do not propose to take any action under the Broadcasting and Television Act.

Yours sincerely,

A. A. STALEY

Sir Reginald Ansett, K.B.E.,

Chairman,

Ansett Transpon Industries Ltd, 489 Swanston Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000

Attachment F 26 March 1980

Minister for Post and Telecommunications

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

My Dear Attorney-General,

I refer to your letter dated 22 January 1 980, under cover of which you provide a copy of a letter dated 5 December 1979 received by you from Sir Reginald Ansett.

I attach a copy of a letter dated 20 February 1 980 from the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal to my Department providing background information on this matter and reporting developments since Sir Reginald 's letter to you.

Under the circumstances, I believe that a prosecution should not be instituted, and I have written to Sir Reginald as attached.

Yours sincerely,

A. A. STALEY

Senator the Hon. Peter Durack, Q.C.,

Attorney-General,

Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600







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