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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 871

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) - I support very strongly the appointment of this proposed committee and, in doing so, join with other honourable members in congratulating the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) in having moved this motion. This is not the first occasion on which the House is indebted to him and I am sure that it will not be the last. I think that the amendment proposed by the Government is perhaps an improvement and I am glad that he and his seconder have welcomed it so that it can now become the motion. In passing, I congratulate also the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) on the announcement he has made regarding the future conduct of private members business. This is most important for this House, and the fact that he is supporting the principle of private members business coming to a vote is, indeed, something which T believe we should all commend and support.

In relation to the particular matter before the House, much has been said and there is little need to add to it. I believe the matters of technical difficulties that have been raised can be overcome. They do not seem to me to be insuperable. However, other matters before the committee will be far more difficult than the resolution of these technical points. Many of these points already have been canvassed. There are 2 things which are in a way separate, which the committee will have to consider. The first is the impact of television upon the efficiency and conduct of this House. In some respects this may be important, in others it may be regressive. I do not know. It obviously will have a great impact and the committee will have to be looking at the effect of any suggestion it makes about television upon the conduct of affairs in this House.

The second point which the honourable member for Bradfield raised concerned the communication between this House, the electors and the people of Australia. It is a related question, I suppose, but it is a separate question and it may be that what is consideration going in one direction with regard to conduct in this House may go in another direction with respect to the relationship between this House and the electors. This would have to be weighed, one against the other. On the question of matters which may come before the House, I regard, with some apprehension, any possible editorial function in these telecasts. I am afraid that it is almost impossible to be certain of fairness. It may be that the committee can devise some way of doing it but I have some doubt whether it is possible, editorially, to be fair.

The next point - I think this was raised by an honourable member opposite; I forget which but it is a good point - whether television will tend to exaggerate the fewer principle - to make the personality of a few leaders or the leaders more important than the personality of honourable members of this House. This is something which is quite important and has to be evaluated. Thirdly, I feel that whatever is done in the first place should be done gradually. We should not endeavour to lay down from this committee a final decision. It would perhaps be better to start in a smaller way with the objective of expanding after the experience of a year or two rather than to try to start with a full and complete scheme.

It does seem to me that question time lends itself particularly to the introduction of any possible television program. At question time the House is full. All honourable members participate. Perhaps question time could be used in such a way as to give to all honourable members a reasonably fair chance and without introducing the difficulties of editorial selection. Mr Speaker or Mr Deputy Speaker must do a certain amount of editing at question time when giving the call but nevertheless there are conventions in this House which do give a certain fairness. I would hope that if we started anywhere we would start with question time and if it be thought that the whole of question time is too long to inflict on viewers or if it be thought, for example, that question time should be confined to a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes on the air then perhaps we could consider a bit of a lottery. That is to say, that the 20 minutes to be selected should be by chance so that everybody would get a fair go and we would not have the editorial responsibility superimposed on the position and we would not get the bias of an editor.

If it be found for technical reasons that the whole of question time cannot be televised - I myself would prefer to see the whole of question time televised - then I think that the segments to be televised should be selected by chance so that there would be a fair opportunity for every member of the House and editorial opinion would not be superimposed. I say all these things with the background that if anything is to be introduced it should, in my view, be introduced on a smaller scale to start with and later on expanded as experience indicates. I support the amended motion and once again congratulate, as we all do, the honourable member for Bradfield for having brought this matter forward.

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