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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1879

Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(10.30) —I take this opportunity to refer to what I was trying to say earlier this evening. In fact, I have given comments to the Press. Of course, with my limited time now, I have to abbreviate my comments. In the Sunday Mail of 16 October there was an article the relevant part of which read as follows:

Last night, State ALP campaign director Mr Peter Beattie admitted a member of his party had contacted the Communications Minister Mr Michael Duffy's office.

He had sought the same ratio in news reporting as had been granted to the parties as free time for policy speeches, he said.

Mr Beattie said he had discovered the ABC news service was giving equal time to each party after the Corporation had stated that electioneering time would be on a 60 minutes to the ALP, 40 minutes to the Nationals and 40 minutes to the Liberals basis.

'I almost hit the roof when I found out,' he said.

'There is a discrepancy between the allocation of electioneering time and news time.

'We contacted Duffy's office and we were told the news time should be allocated in the same ratio as electioneering time.'

In reply to my question today the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) described the statements by Sir Robert Sparkes and Mr Mike Evans of the National Party of Australia as a baseless and disgraceful lie and went on to announce that he was instructing his solicitors to issue defamation proceedings immediately. He also said that no one had spoken to him about anything connected with this allegation and that he had asked his staff about it. The Minister said -I quote from the Hansard 'greens':

They advised me that none of them was asked by anyone to request, direct or otherwise influence the ABC to change its current policy concerning the allocation of broadcasting matter.

This brings us to the first contradiction. The Minister said at first that his staff was not asked to influence the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in this matter, but when I pressed him he told a significantly different story. he said- and again I quote from the 'greens':

Mr Beattie contacted my office to ascertain what the coverage was. He sought information.

Tonight the Minister said that it was not Mr Beattie, so presumably it was somebody acting for Mr Beattie. One minute no one is talking to the Minister's office about this; the next, someone, is only seeking information. It is pretty shoddy treatment, I might say, for a Minister to perform in this way. This Minister has effectively misled the House and provided the truth only when he has been pressed for it. Most of us would have expected more of the Minister than what he did today in answer to my questions.

A further conflict arises between what the Minister says happened and what Mr Beattie says happened. I remind the House that the Minister said that Mr Beattie or someone else merely sought information. I also remind the House that in the Sunday Sun report Mr Beattie is quoted as saying that he had discovered that the ABC was giving equal time to the three major parties. He is quoted as saying that he contacted the Minister's office and sought the same ratio for news reporting as had been given by the ABC for policy speeches. Mr Beattie is quoted as saying:

We contacted Duffy's office and we were told the news time should be allocated in the same ratio as the electioneering time.

That meant that instead of each party getting equal time the Australian Labor Party was to receive 43 per cent of the news time and the National Party and the Liberal Party were to receive 28 per cent each. Mr Deputy Speaker, you can understand why I am concerned and why I questioned the implications of this matter.

Mr Duffy denies that he had any part in it. He does so despite the fact that he has given conflicting answers on this issue to the Parliament, despite the fact that those answers are themselves in conflict with the statement attributed to one of his most senior personnel in Queensland, and despite the discriminatory policy which is blatantly in favour of his own party against the protests of journalists of the ABC who recognise that there has been interference in their freedom to be able to report the news properly on news value. That is what has happened as a result of some interference coming from somebody in the Minister's office; it has been done as a result of Mr Beattie's requests. Mr Beattie said the Minister would do something and would fix up this matter.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The right honourable member's time has expired.