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Tuesday, 25 September 1973
Page: 1499

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - I am very concerned, as all people should be concerned, about the attitude of the Government towards the media generally and particularly towards the media serving the community outside the metropolitan area. Recently the Government, under pressure from the Opposition, agreed, to proposals put forward by the Australian Country Party member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) with regard to postage on country newspapers. I welcome this concession. But in view of the overall approach of this Government towards the community I still wonder whether this is but a temporary reprieve or whether there has been a change of heart by the Government on this issue.

However, tonight I want to refer to the attitude of the Government towards another vital component of the media - the commercial broadcasting stations. Those stations serving people living outside the metropolitan area have received the most savage treatment from this Government. The increased charges for broadcasting the Australian Broadcasting Commission news and the increased charges for land lines will force some country broadcasting stations to close down or at least to reduce the service now being provided for listeners. These country stations are essential to provide a medium for local advertising and par ticularly to notify changes in advertised events. It is worth noting that announcements by these country broadcasting stations are the only way in which this information can be provided to very many people in country areas, particularly those who have waited for years for telephone connections to be provided. With this Government's concentration on the provision of telephones for city residents they could have a long wait yet before they will have the telephones by which they can receive other information.

The commercial broadcasting stations in the outlying areas of this country - in many instances they are not so far outlying - play a very important part in the community life of the district. It would be nothing short of a tragedy if, by the insistence of the Government on these very largely increased charges, they were unable to carry on. I have referred to the increased charges for the broadcasting of the ABC news. These charges have been increased enormously. On the information I have, I believe that under the new proposals some of the stations will have to pay up to 400 per cent more for this service. I have it on good authority that some stations are con,sidering having to forgo the provision of the ABC news for their listeners because it is not economical for them to carry on.

In the case of land lines the cost has been increased in some cases up to about 50 per cent. Since these increased costs are more than the profit earned by the stations, inevitably the money invested to provide the service to the community in those areas will be lost unless substantial relief is provided. It is my object tonight in raising this question in the adjournment debate to appeal to the Government to take into account the serious position of these stations. It is all very well to say that something has to be economical. The work that is done by these stations in providing a service to those people helps to retain people in those areas where the provision of food is the major industry. Surely we all know the need for the continued production of increased quantities of food in Australia in particular. It is not an exaggeration to say that people in those areas are getting fed up with the problems and difficulties they have to face on every hand and they are concerned that they will not receive anything like a reasonable return for the efforts they make or anything like reasonable consideration for the disadvantages that they suffer. They will feel like giving the job away and becoming extra residents in the already overcrowded cities - and I am not drawing an exaggerated picture at all.

I have referred to some of the worst affected stations, but other stations affected by seasonal conditions and the fact that the producers can get only low prices for some of their products have found that their advertising revenue is reduced to such an extent that their operations have come down to about an even keel. With the improved seasonal conditions and improved prices they were beginning to look forward to a return to profitability, but now the stations will again be forced into operating on an unprofitable basis simply because of the increased government charges being forced upon them.

I am not blaming the Government for the advertising situation because it is something which was set in train at an earlier date. I want to be completely fair about that. We ali know that tobacco advertising was a substantial source of revenue for these stations. Now that it is being phased out the Government surely should give some assistance to these stations so that they can regain the position that they held previously. But what has happened? Apparently the Government has decided that this would be the opportune time to deal a death blow to these stations by imposing very heavy increases in government charges, knowing as it does that they also have to meet the increased costs of recent salary rises.

Why does the Government want to get rid of these stations, if in fact that is what it is trying to do? Is it because so many of them serve country and rural areas? Is it because the Government considers that they give a broad view of all matters of interest to the areas they serve; or is it because the Government considers that some of them might have some sympathy for the country people generally and perhaps for the Australian Country Party? That reminds me of an answer given by the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen), who I am pleased to see in the House. In answer to a question asked on 22 August about country newspapers - I have time to read only the last portion of his answer - he said:

AH we have done is suggest that rural newspapers should pay the same as the general public. What is wrong with that? Unless that attitude is adopted the public will be asked to subsidise owners of small industries - perhaps uneconomic industries - who obviously vote for the Country Party.

That was rather an illuminating sort of observation by the Minister. Has the Government applied the same thinking to this excessive increase in charges on our commercial broadcasting stations? I am very concerned about this matter. As I said earlier in this speech, the Postmaster-General gave some alleviation to country newspapers in relation to the charges that were to be imposed. I hope that he will be consistent when dealing with the broadcasting stations, because these 2 sections of the media are interlocked. They have to be combined to give the necessary service to the people in country areas. I appeal to the Government and to the Postmaster-General to have a look at this problem that is facing the Country broadcasting stations and to see whether it is possible for the Government to grant them sufficient relief to enable them to carry on providing their service.

The owners of country broadcasting stations do not derive a large amount of revenue from them, as do the owners of the city broadcasting stations. Of course, the city broadcasting stations do not have to use landlines to anything like the same extent that country broadcasting stations do. So we are faced with the position that we could lose country broadcasting stations which have been in existence for many years and which in some instances have made no profit and in other instances have made very small profits. They have been prepared to carry on and to provide a service to the community. They have been prepared to give sporting news on Saturday afternoons to the people in the surrounding areas. Does the Government intend to deprive the people of this service because of the miserly amount of money it will gain by imposing these charges? The responsibility rests squarely on the Government. Is it prepared to keep these stations in operation by leaving charges at the level at which they stood or at least increasing them only to a minor degree? Will the Government put these stations out of business completely? I will leave it to the Government to decide.

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