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Tuesday, 16 October 1973
Page: 2210

Mr SHERRY (Franklin) - It is always delightful to have to follow the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Ian Robinson) when he speaks about the media. He so enlightens this Parliament that sometimes I am quite devastated by what he says. I just want to recapitulate on a couple of points he made. First of all, he could not resist the temptation of referring to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, as all Australian Country Party members and Liberal Party members invariably do when a debate on the media comes before this Parliament. He said the that ABC has been given the green light to proceed with current affairs programs. There is nothing to stop commercial stations from also receiving the green light to interest themselves in current affairs but they do not consider this a profitable enterprise. The Government never deters commercial stations from indulging in current affairs programs. 'It does not deter them in any way, as is well known by the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock) who is attempting to interject. The honourable member is a classic example of the old adage that empty vessels make the most sound. He will get his chance to talk later. The honourable member for Cowper raised the old furphy about telephone charges. What we are discussing tonight is the Broadcasting Stations Licence Fees Bill, which has nothing to do with telephone charges, so let us attack the problem as it should be attacked.

The honourable member for Cowper as the vanguard and spokesman for the Australian Country Party on this issue said that it is unfair and is a great impost to impose an increase in the licence fee from S50 to $200. I remind Government supporters that the $50 fee was struck in 1964-9 years ago. Let us examine the revenue of the commercial broadcasting stations to see whether they are being dealt with devastatingly. The licence fee for the privilege of transmitting programs has risen by SI 50 over a period of 9 years. The revenue of commercial stations in 1967-68 totalled $31,441,292 and they each paid a $50 fee. The latest figures available are in the 25th Annual Report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board for 1971-72 and they show that the revenue of the commercial stations was $45,770,912 - almost $46m. Is the Opposition seriously suggesting to this Parliament and to the people of this nation that a licence fee of $200 in 1973 is unreasonable, illogical, and bad economics? Do not be so absurd!

Objection to the Bill predictably was raised oy members of the Country Party. The

Minister for External Territories (Mr Morrison) has indicated that any station which is experiencing economic difficulty will be treated gently. We cannot do better than that. Nine years ago, in 1964, the fee was set. In Australia at the moment 118 commercial stations are in operation and 99 of them are making a profit. I dare say that the 19 that are showing a loss are very possibly - I have not looked at the statistics - situated in country areas.

Mr Innes - They are probably run by the Country Party.

Mr SHERRY - They may well be run by the Country Party and if they are that is why they are making a loss. The honourable member for Cowper suggested that the Country Party stations are being treated badly. Most of these stations are on network hookups anyway and are controlled by the Macquarie network or by other major networks.

Mr Lucock - That shows you know nothing about it at all.

Mr SHERRY - My dear fellow, I know a little more about it than you do - in fact a lot more. It can be demonstrated from the figures I have quoted on the earnings of the 118 stations that there simply is no case to answer if honourable members opposite are going to object to the licence fee being raised from $50 to $200. The honourable member for Lyne takes great delight in interjecting madly. He does not listen to argument at all and that is why he is so uninformed. If country stations are efficient they will make a profit but if they are not efficient obviously they will not make a profit. Why are these 19 stations not making a profit? Why are they finding it difficult? It is because they are unresponsive to the public that they serve. If one wishes to remain in commercial broadcasting it is a fundamental criterion that one ignores the requirements of the public at one's peril.

One of the extraordinary features of the Country Party is that it is never reluctant to make an application for any licence, whether it be for broadcasting or television. It is always first in the queue to apply for a licence. When it cannot run the station through its own inability and lack of professional expertise, it has the gall to come into this Parliament and say: 'My goodness, what a savage impost this is. The licence fee was $50 in 1964 and the Government is asking that the fee be increased to $200 in 1973. This is a savage Budget impost.' What nonsense and what humbug!

Is it seriously proposed by members opposite that this licence fee is exorbitant? I ask you, Mr Chairman: Is this fee exorbitant? I put it to everybody in this chamber and to the people outside that in no circumstances could it be considered to be exorbitant. What the Opposition fails to realise, of course, is that the total amount that will be paid will amount to only $491,204 out of a total revenue of almost $46m.

The Broadcasting Control Board is charged with great and serious responsibility for the technical inspection of these stations and for the supervision of the program and the administrative procedures of the stations. It is also responsible with regard to the licensees of the stations. To suggest that the fee of $50, which as I said before was struck in 1964, is relevant or acceptable now, in 1973, is just being politically unreal. It is an extraordinary thing that the Country Party, particularly, with great regularity and predictability, in this chamber claims that anything that touches its sacrosanct area has to go on being protected. It cannot survive without protection. If Opposition members contend that this increase is unjustified and is a shattering blow to the stations in Australia, I respectfully suggest that they study the annual reports of such companies. I invite the honourable member for Cowper and the honourable member for Lyne to look at page 170 of the 25th Annual Report of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. I think that the information appearing there will fortify honourable members. It reveals that all of these stations throughout Australia are not approaching the abyss of oblivion, either financially or from a program point of view. This Bill is equitable, it is reasonable, it is essential, it is concessional, it is rational and it deserves the support of this Committee.

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