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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 866

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) - I would like in the first place to congratulate the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) for bringing this important question before the Parliament. It is a matter which was considered by the House of Commons and the House of Lords some 6 years ago and on several occasions. I am happy that the Government has moved an amendment which has been Incorporated in the motion, because I think that what the amendment proposes is the logical procedure to follow. It is certainly something that we and our committee should look at very carefully. I suggest that many members might see themselves developing as television stars in the sense that their appearance on television would add something to the vote that they enjoy in their electorates.

Mr Cohen - They might lose votes.

Mr CROSS - That is true. Indeed, other members might be fearful that the image they project would at times not win them votes. I think the basic purpose of this resolution is to look again at what can be done to bring the Parliament closer to the people. I would like to congratulate the honourable member for Bradfield for his consistent work in Parliament and to congratulate also the new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Bryant) who is unfortunately not with us today because he is recovering after a short stay in hospital. Both these gentlemen have tried to work for the Parliament as an institution and develop the importance of this Parliament to the people of this country when all the influence of the media and other pressures in the community have been directed towards focusing attention on the Executive Government, on the Prime Minister, on the Cabinet and on things that take place at that level. We have a Prime Minister, whose leadership I am very proud to follow, who holds a Press conference regularly on Tuesday. This conference is broadcast and it is much publicised. Some of the newspapers run a section entitled "The Prime Minister's Press Conference' which gives attention to the decisions made by the Executive, decisions made by the Cabinet.

The function of televising the Parliament ought to be to bring home to the people that, notwithstanding the importance of the Executive Government, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister, decisions can be made at that level only subject to the government of the day enjoying a majority in this place and subject to the approval of this place in many ways. I would think that if we see televising of the proceedings of this House, whether full time or on an occasional basis, as having the purpose of bringing the institution closer to the people, this will be a well motivated idea. There are of course many ways in which this can be done. One can televise the glamour activities of Parliament - the opening of Parliament, various parliamentary functions or the swearing in of members. One can imagine that proceedings could be televised when the Prime Minister or another Minister makes a very important statement - a defence statement or a foreign affairs statement- or when the Leader of the Opposition is replying or when some matter of great public interest such as what is often called an urgency motion is being debated.

Mr Cohen - Such as the statement about the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

Mr CROSS - That is true. An example is the statement made by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) in the Senate this week. When a matter of great interest is being debated it could be televised. On the other hand there are dangers in televising the personalities of the Parliament. Somehow as this procedure develops we have to get through to the people the importance of the backbenchers because the personalities, irrespective of what Party they lead at this or any point of time, are in those positions only because they enjoy the support of the backbenchers in their Party.

One of the things I am concerned about, and is a reason why I incline to the idea that we should work on an occasional system, is whether we can balance the 2 matters of tha televising of national issues and the getting across of the story of and the role played by the Parliament through the constructive speeches made on both sides on the issues which come before us. As we all know, there are many occasions on which we would not choose to have Parliament televised. In the chamber at this time there are a great number of seats vacant. But mat does not mean that all the honourable members who are not in the chamber are in the billiard room, in the bar, playing squash or enjoying the comfortable surroundings of the parliamentary gardens. It probably means that most of our colleagues are in their offices attending to correspondence, attending meetings of parliamentary committees or using their time in' some other constructive way. We realise that if we sat in this chamber for every minute of the day we would not be using our time to the best advantage and most of the preparatory work for our speeches would not be done. One of the problems of television is that we would have to get this message through to the people. On occasions I have heard people in King's Hall saying, in effect: 'Good heavens! I was just in the gallery. Parliament is meeting and there are only half a dozen members in the House. Where are they?' This is one of the problems. If we were to televise Parliament we should not televise only the proceedings in this chamber but also, if we did that on an occasional basis, the parliamentary comittees at work, committees such as the Joint Committee on Public Works, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and no doubt, on occasions* the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence which is a matter to be discussed later this day. We should show the working of Parliament in total.

The dangers in this proposal have been mentioned before. It has been said that we might be altering our Standing Orders to conform with television techniques and that we would then turn this place into an opera house rather than a house of discussion. There are, of course, other problems such as (he cost of televising proceedings and perhaps the provision of a second channel to enable this to be done without intruding on other aspects of television. I am one of those people who do not believe that the standard of television in Australia is high. I suppose it is unfair of me to say that because I see very little television but I do notice my children at home looking at all sorts of film entertainment and the like which I would not regard as being a very useful way in which to spend my time. Of course, the Parliament would be in competition with entertainment programs. I am not reflecting on any honourable members in this House when I say that there would be times when some of the more entertaining programs on television would have a much greater drawing capacity than the televising of the Parliament. These are amongst the problems which have to be looked at.

The big problem, as I see it, is that of developing personalities because television does encourage the development of personalities. Television tends to focus on people who have the sort of skills which in earlier days made Jack Davey and Bob Dyer great radio personalities and which today make great television personalities. If televising the proceedings of this House means that we are to televise personalities only I do not think we are really helping the institution of Parliament. In supporting the approaches taken by the honourable members on both sides of the House I trust that, when this matter is considered, the televising of the Parliament will be looked at not in the light of whether this will give some political advantage to the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition of the time, or enable other honourable members to become television personalities in the Parliament, but at the way in which television could be intelligently and fairly used, as is the tradition of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in broadcasting, to enable this institution to be better understood by the people of Australia. They may then have brought home to them the importance of this institution in scrutinising the decisions of the executive government. One of the sad facts of life is that there are few people in the Australian community who really understand how the Parliament works. If arrangements can be made which will enable the televising of the proceedings or part of the proceedings of this House and of the Senate and, of course, of our parliamentary committees and other activities in such a way as to enhance the prestige of this institution and bring to the people of Australia a better understanding of how the Parliament works, I very enthusiastically support the motion.

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