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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1885

Mr DUFFY (Minister for Communications)(11.05) —Let me repeat my words:

The Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Anthony), in a supplementary question without notice this afternoon, asked me whether it was true, as reported-so the right honourable member said-in the Sunday Mail, that Mr Beattie had contacted my office . . .

In answer I replied that Mr Beattie had contacted my office to seek information as to what allocation of broadcasting time was being afforded the parties. That was my belief at the time. However, on checking the matter further, my staff advised me that Mr Beattie did not himself contact my office on this matter at any relevant time. Further, I have checked the Hansard record of my answer to the principal question put to me by the Leader of the National Party of Australia and I confirm the accuracy of that answer in every particular.

I have heard other people say so often, and it is now obvious that it is so very true, that there are some very slow learners opposite and it is necessary to repeat again-I do not know whether it will ultimately sink into the head of the right honourable member for Richmond, the Leader of the National Party-that no person had spoken to me at any time about anything connected with the allegations until Monday last, when the Press reports were referred to me. Further, there is no question about my staff's involvement in this matter. They have advised me that none of them was asked by anyone to request, direct or otherwise influence the ABC to change its current policy. Further, I have been advised by my staff that none of them has spoken to the ABC on any matter connected in any way with the Queensland election.

As I indicated to the right honourable member earlier today, I have been advised by the Department of Communications that in fact the Board of the ABC at its August meeting-I emphasise, at its August meeting-determined that the Labor, National and Liberal parties should be granted 60, 40 and 40 minutes respectively of free time for election announcements in the forthcoming election . My Department further advises me that it is the ABC's policy that the proportions of the ABC's news coverage of the election by party will reflect those for free time allocation; that is, the duration of the news coverage will, as close as practicable, be at a ratio of 3:2:2 for the parties respectively. There has been no interference by me or by any member of my staff and there has been no interference by this Government in respect of the Board's decision. I am advised by my Department that the ABC decided that it would in fact give a coverage as close as practicable at a ratio of 3:2:2.

There has been and there will be no interference by this Government in the Board's decision. Those decisions are completely and properly for the ABC to determine pursuant to its Act and, as I indicated today, this is a matter which the right honourable member has grave difficulty in understanding. We on this side of the House have no difficulty in understanding the fact that the ABC, as the national broadcaster, operates entirely independently. If the ABC made a decision to grant time of 60, 40 and 40 minutes for free time election announcements, that is a matter for the ABC Board. It is none of my business.

Secondly, with respect to the news coverage to the election, the decision was that it would reflect the proportions for the free time allocation; that is, as I indicated-I have to say it for the third time-that the duration of news service would be at a ratio of 3:2:2 for the parties respectively. Again, that is a matter that the ABC decides. I would not know what the ABC decided on that matter because it is not any of my business. If I wanted to find out as a matter of interest, the only way I would do so would be to request the Department to tell me. I did not in fact do so in this case because I was not all that interested, simply because, I repeat, whatever decisions are made by the ABC are matters for the ABC.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! It being 11.10 p.m., the House stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.

House adjourned at 11.10 p.m.