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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 18

Mr HAYDEN - My question, which is directed to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, follows upon the answer he has just given. The Minister will recall that in his answer he referred to the renewal of a licence in 1973-74 while a breach existed. Is is a fact that he was referring to the renewal of the licence of MTN Mumimbidgee? If so, are the facts associated with that matter that the two companies involved in that review were the National Mutual insurance company and Henry Jones Ltd? Is it a fact that National Mutual had its limit of prescribed interest and was coincidentally a shareholder in Henry Jones, which bought into MTN? Is it a fact, therefore, that National Mutual indirectly achieved excess prescribed interest? Is it a fact that, under section 92K of the Act, it was recognised that National Mutual was brought into this situation by circumstances beyond its control, that at that time the then existing Australian

Broadcasting Control Board operated as an advisory body, that the Minister had a discretionary power in this matter, and that in all the circumstances proper procedures and legal obligations were followed? Is it a fact that since 1977 the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal has replaced the Board, the distinction between the Board and the Tribunal being that the Tribunal is quasi-judicial, with no discretionary authority available to the Minister? Finally, is it a fact that the circumstances related to the endeavour of News Ltd to acquire more than a prescribed interest were the product of a predetermined course of action, which was undertaken with determination and persistence and was designed to circumvent the effect of the Act?

Mr STALEY - The fact is that in a number of the 41 cases contained in the list - is is not a complete list - from the Broadcasting Tribunal the matter was accidental and in other cases the matter was deliberate. There is no question but that in many cases it was the result of quite deliberate ownership changes by broadcasters. I could seek some more information from the Broadcasting Tribunal in response to the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition. However, let me again make it clear that, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, in those days the Minister had the power to propose and dispose in the licence area, and in those terms. Today, I as Minister do not have that power.

Mr Hayden - But you ignored your responsibilities.

Mr STALEY - I did not ignore my responsibilities. I sent the matter to the Broadcasting Tribunal, which, according to the Opposition's Senator Ryan, is the proper body to initiate these things. Senator Ryan was reported in the Australian of 16 August as saying that Labor's view is that the Tribunal has the responsibility to initiate its own investigations over alleged breaches. She said she was confident that that would happen under the new chairman, Mr Jones. The fact is that the examination of those matters is for the Tribunal. In the long run, of course, as I pointed out quite clearly in the information I gave in the last session, if the Tribunal feels it necessary, if a breach is not remedied by agreement, then it can contact me and I can raise the matter with the Attorney-General, who ultimately has the responsibility for any prosecutions.

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