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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3245

Mr SHERRY (Franklin) - Before the suspension of the sitting we were discussing the estimates for the new Department of the Media, and the honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) made some comments and complaints about the media, criticising leaders of his own Party. I think that the honourable member for Boothby merely reinforced the observation made by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) that perhaps the media was spending too much time on trivia. In speaking to the estimates of the Department of the Media I think it is appropriate that in the first instance we recognise the fact that it has been operating for only a few months. It is a completely new and refreshing department. It is a department with awesome responsibility. It embraces, and is responsible for, the totality of broadcasting in this country. At this stage it is worth reminding ourselves that the Department has become a reality in the 50th year of broadcasting in Australia. This in itself is a notable occasion and one that serves to remind us of the conspicuous contribution to our society made by broadcasters, both national and commercial.

I referred earlier to the awesome responsibility of this Department; and indeed it is awesome. Let me illustrate this point. The area of responsibility embraces the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, the Australian Film Development Corporation, Film Australia, the Australian Information Service and the Australian Government Publishing Service, to mention just a few. I want to deal more specifically in the time available to me tonight with its functions and powers in relation to broadcasting. Let me deal firstly with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The Commission is answerable through the Minister for the Media to this Parliament, but its independence is guaranteed by Act of Parliament. Although in recent years it must be conceded that this independence has been challenged, and indeed on many occasions has been threatened, by some very curious and spurious suggestions, the first Minister for the Media, Senator Douglas McClelland, has made it clear that the independence of the Commission will be guaranteed. This is a view that I personally have supported since I have been in this Parliament, and I have no intention of departing from that attitude now.

The attitude of the Government to the ABC is manifest in many ways. Not least is the decision to provide this year an extra $ 10.2m for increased expenditure. This is in dramatic contrast to the proposition floated by the last Government to reduce expenditure by the ABC in the field of public affairs, but fortunately this exercise was withdrawn after debate and protest in this Parliament. Of this $ 10.2m, some $5.2m will be available to improve and develop radio and television programs in many fields and to improve the accommodation of ABC staff. It is in the field of programming that the greatest satisfaction must emerge. It is this field that is of particular interest to me because I have long advocated the expansion of news services and public affairs programs by the Commission. Let me just cite one or two instances where expansion will now occur as a result of this increased allocation. A regional television service has been provided for the Wide Bay district in Queensland. An ABC newsroom with a full time journalist will be established in Burnie in Tasmania as soon as suitable premises can be found and an experienced journalist appointed. Offices will be established in Brussels, Peking and Wellington in New Zealand. The journalists located in these centres will provide news and voice reports for domestic programs and Radio Australia. This indeed is a welcome breakthrough. Radio Australia staff will move into new leased accommodation in Merlin House, Melbourne. New radio studios and recording facilities will be provided. The

Commission's Victorian newsroom and record library will also be established in Merlin House, thus enabling the ABC to vacate the present unsatisfactory accommodation in which it is housed in Lonsdale Street in Melbourne.

Of particular interest to me is the ability, through this allocation, for the extension of public affairs programs. As a result, for the first time on ABC television in February 1974 there will be programs to replace the normal programs such as 'This Day Tonight' and 'Four Corners', which normally go into recess towards the end of the year. I have made submissions from time to time about the increase of personnel in various orchestras maintained by the ABC throughout the country. Due to this increased allocation, it is proposed to increase the permanent strength of the Adelaide Singers from 12 to 16. The strength of the South Australian Symphony Orchestra will be increased by 9 full time players. I am glad that one representation I have made has been received in the way in which I think it ought to have been received, and that the strength of the Tasmanian orchestra wil also be increased by 2 full time players. These are very worthwhile and notable contributions to the expansion of the ABC. The Australian Broadcasting Commission, in its 41st year of broadcasting, has contributed much to our society and to our cultural development. It has certainly made a great contribution to contemporary events and the transmission of great and significant debates. It will make mistakes - indeed we all do - because it is staffed by human beings, but the record will show that its professionalism and integrity are unquestioned.

In the area of responsibility the Department of the Media has an obligation and duty through the Broadcasting Control Board to scrutinise and maintain the standards, both technical and programming, of the commercial stations. I suggest that it would be fair comment that the establishment of the new Department of the Media has been favourably received by ' the licensees throughout this country. They have responded to the wishes of the Department, particularly with regard to Australian content. They also feel with justification that the staff of this Department, with its long experience in commercial radio and television, is sympathetic to their problems and can interpret them with intelligence and an understanding of the complexities of this industry. I suggest that Australia has been very well served by the dual system of broadcast ing, and it is my belief that this newly established Department of the Media will serve as the agency that will ensure that broadcasters of this country, whether they be national or commercial, will be encouraged to look forward to another SO years of successful broadcasting in the interests and general welfare of the people of this country.

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