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Wednesday, 23 October 1974
Page: 1890

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - I think the expression used by Senator Laucke is particularly apposite. The Liberal Party will not lend itself to any proposal which will make this Commission or any other commission which plays a significant role in the media become a docile servant of government policy. We have seen sufficient in what the Labor Party has done in so many other spheres since it has been in Government to make us apprehensive as to the ways in which power could be used. I am sorry that Senator Steele Hall allies himself with the Labor Party on this particular issue because I believe it is a vital matter which liberals hold very dearly. In this area of the media one does not allow the media to come under the control and direction of government. Unless one resists that tendency on occasions when the desire to exercise that type of government control is apparent, before long one will find that so many areas of the media are under governmental direction.

It is probably coincidental but it is frightening nevertheless that at a time when there is controversy about the powers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the extent to which that Board may or may not have power over television and broadcasting stations- I do not embark upon the merits of whether what is proposed is good or bad- we have, at much the same time, this debate on what should be the Minister's powers over the Film Commission and the extent to which he should be able to direct what films should be made by this Commission. It is not only a question of what films might be made by the Commission because we know there are other provisions in this Bill under which the Minister has the power to issue requirements to any and every motion picture theatre in this country as to the short films- films of less than 60 minutes, I recall- which must be shown by theatres. It is a power of enormous influence.

We feel that if there is to be the development of an Australian film industry- the Liberal Party is clearly committed to that course of action because it established the Australian Film Development Corporation in 1970- let us ensure that the films that are made take their place along with other films in this country and let us ensure that the Commission does not become a docile servant of government policy. We have had some debate on the accountability of this Commission to the Parliament. No one questions that any statutory corporation should be accountable to Parliament. There is no suggestion that this Commission should not be accountable to Parliament. It is accountable to Parliament in the sense that the Parliament is entitled to know what the Commission is doing. The Parliament is entitled to receive a report from the Commission as to how it has conducted its operations. Parliamentary committees are entitled, if they are properly appointed, to call before them officers of the Commission and seek information as to how the Commission is operating. All of that aspect of accountability to the Parliament is well recognised.

But it is another question entirely- and it is Senator Steel Hall who has got himself confusedto say that the approval of the Minister as to what films should be made and what financial assistance can be given is merely another form of accountability to Parliament. It is another question because it is merely a section or an aspect of the larger issue: Should the making of films be a departmental matter as it always has been under the Commonwealth film unit; or should it be a matter for a Commission? The Minister has adopted the policy of establishing a commission. The Opposition is prepared to go along with that broad approach but as I said earlier the Minister cannot have it both ways. He cannot have a commission and at the same time tie that commission down in so many ways that virtually everything it does is subject to the direction of the Minister

The Minister for the Media referred to the position in Canada. Whatever the position in Canada it can be no more than a guide upon which we operate in Australia. I would have thought that no matter where we look to get our analogy, it is the Australian scene in which we desire to have legislation. We will do what is appropriate to the Australian scene. I would have thought, if the Minister was referrering to the Canadian Film Board that he would do far better to refer to the Australian Broadcasting Commission because that is operating in a similar area. Indeed, I commend to the Minister for his reflection what he himself said when this question of the accountability of the Australian Broadcasting Commission to the Parliament was being debated in 1 97 1 . He said: . . one thing that is transparently clear is that the Australian Broadcasting Commission has been given autonomy in regard to its operations. I would agree, as members of the Opposition agree, that it is entitled to autonomy in its operations. We have always said that. We have always supported that principle.

I would have wished that the Minister for the Media would have supported that principle in government as he espoused it in opposition because there is no question that if the Minister were to seek to exercise a power as to what film the Australian Broadcasting Commission were to make and as to what programs the Australian Broadcasting Commission were to produce, there would be an outcry from an enormous number of areas- no less, I imagine, than from the Australian -Broadcasting Commission itself. Whatever be the type of regulation, controls or other means of ensuring that statutory commissions act in accordance with their charters, that form of ministerial control is something which the Liberal Party will not support. I would hope that the Labor Party would never support it either. The analogy, I think, is a sound analogy.

In respect of the power which is given to make, promote, distribute and exhibit films and in respect of the power to provide financial assistance to a State or authority of a State for the purchase of Australian films which are of educational or national interest or importancewhatever that means- the Commission should have the right to make decisions and to report in due course to the Parliament how it is operating. The Minister will know how the Commission is operating. If he is dissatisfied with the Commission, he has the power to change it. But I do not believe that he should have the power day by day to direct its operations. I think that is a denial of the whole purpose of statutory corporations.

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