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Wednesday, 7 September 1983
Page: 519

Mr CHARLES(6.50) —I was very pleased to hear the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), who obviously was speaking on behalf of the great protectors of public enterprise, although I do not think the track record of conservative governments over the last 30 years tallies with his words in that regard. May I just state what the Broadcasting Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill and the Television Stations Licence Fees Amendment Bill are all about. They provide very modest increases in the maximum licence fee rates. For broadcasting stations the increase in average gross earnings paid as fees is from 5 per cent to 5 1/2 per cent; for television stations it is from 7 1/2 per cent to 8 per cent. Those increases will apply only where the annual gross earning of a station are in excess of $9m. It must be noted that only one radio station in Australia will be affected. Although it was interesting to hear that the Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters had objected, in fact only one radio station and the 16 biggest television stations in Australia will be affected under these guidelines . It is a fairly modest increase.

The honourable member for Murray talked about superannuation, taxation and Budget deficits. He should have a chat with the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard). The Opposition wishes to bring the Budget deficit down by $1,500m to $2,000m, yet the honourable member for Murray says that these fees should stay as they are or be reduced and that no money should be brought in from the communications area. I would like to know what Budget and taxation measures the honourable member for Murray would bring into being were he on this side of the House. There has always been a degree of taxation in the communications area; it is not new. In fact not so long ago I spoke on Bills introduced by the previous Government which lifted the rates. The raising of revenue through enterprises such as Telecom Australia is not new, and I think it should occur.

The previous Government took ad hoc decisions which affected not only the communications industry but also the film industry. In 1981 the Fraser Government introduced section 10BA of the tax Act which was supposed to be a cure-all for the film industry. That was a gimmick for the 1980 election and it brought the whole film industry just about into total disarray. It has taken this Government to pull that industry out of that hole. One does not cure industry problems by making one decision or bringing in a quick gimmick during an election campaign; policies have to be thought through. Over several decades we have seen ad hoc decisions in regard to the media, communications and the broadcasting and television industry which have put broadcasting policy in this country into disarray. On the other hand, this Government has moved in a clear and co-ordinated manner in regard to Australia's communications. We have resolved to proceed with the launching of the Australian domestic satellite. It has to be remembered that that idea was first floated in 1979 by the then Minister for Communications, Mr Staley. This Government, in the few months in which it has been in office, has made a firm decision to launch the Australian domestic satellite into orbit in 1985. The Government is now proceeding to finalise its decisions on ownership and transponder use of the satellite system. This should be completed within six to eight weeks when we will be finalising all aspects of this new and very important communications capacity for Australia -another clear step forward for this Government and Australia.

This Government has made a clear decision not to proceed with cable television at this time. That decision has been applauded by most people, except the few who I think unrealistically had vested interests in cable television going ahead . Most people who are aware of the difficulties, even the people who put substantial submissions before the Broadcasting Tribunal, realise that it was a correct decision. The inquiries which the Government is now proceeding with through direct and clear-cut decision-making under the guidance of the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) have added confidence to the Australian broadcasting industry.

The Minister, in his second reading speech, noted that to offset the modest rises introduced in this legislation the Government is considering proposals to encourage the production of Australian television programs. This would be particularly beneficial to the Australian industry. Those proposals are being considered now by this Government and any money that can be generated in that area through legislative amendments such as those before us would be greatly appreciated by the industry. Again, the Government is moving the industry forward in a very positive way.

A lot has happened in the communications industry in the last decade, especially in the last few years, and there is a lot more to come with this great revolution in communications. We have seen the Dix Committee of Review of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, now the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. We have seen the seven-volume report from the Tribunal on cable and subscription television and we have heard the whole satellite discussion. The revolution in communications will continue for several decades and we will see many changes. It will be up to the government of the day to move with those changes, for the betterment of Australia and its people, to make those new communications work. The decisions taken by the government of the day-and some of them will be taken by this Government within the next few months-will be vital to the long term benefit of the industry, and thus the country, because I think communications will not only create growth in industry, finance and employment but will also be very important for the country. Therefore, it is important that we encourage the industry.

The Australian Labor Party, even when in Opposition, encouraged the integration of the public and private sectors. I have acknowledged before that we on this side of the House are not just public sector people. There needs to be a viable and co-ordinated private sector which is stimulating in its output. I believe that we can find the right mix and that it will be beneficial to this country in many ways. As a result of the explosion in the number of films and television mini-series being made in Australia, mainly by the private sector, the commercial area, some of our programs are now being exported. When I was in New York last year several well-informed people mentioned to me that they were really very interested in seeing Australian programs. They had seen a number of them and they were very interested to see more. Indeed, many parts of the world are looking to this country for greater development in our television and film exporting area. I think it is an area that will not only, as I have said, be beneficial to the related industries but also have a great rub-off internationally for Australia. Even in the foreign affairs area, many nations refer to Australia and know what Australia is all about through its media, through its export of television programs and films. The higher the quality of those exports the better off we will be.

I will leave the reference to Telecom and to the Overseas Telecommunications Commission to the Minister when he replies. I am sure he would like to reply to the Telecom and OTC questions that were raised by the honourable member for Murray. I think it is quite amusing, as I said at the outset, to find the conservative Opposition, the conservative Government for nearly 30 years, which over that time badgered public enterprise day in and day out, now turning around -

Mr Duffy —It had inquiry after inquiry.

Mr CHARLES —As the Minister says, it had inquiry after inquiry into various public enterprises and now it is saying that we are sending Telecom and OTC to the wall. I think honourable members will find that the decisions already made and the decisions that will be made in the next few months and over the next few years by this Government will have quite the opposite effect. We are trying to get the right blend of public and private enterprise in what I believe is a very important industry for this country and, in times of trouble, its defence.

I have much pleasure in supporting the Government and the modest rises provided for in these Bills. This is the second set of rises in the last three years, the first having been made by the previous Government. They are modest measures, and I am quite sure that with the ongoing participation and investigation by the Government to offset these rises, with the encouragement of Australian industry and programs, as the Minister mentioned in his second reading speech, the industry and Australia will be all the better.