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Wednesday, 23 October 1974
Page: 1915

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - Clause 1 1 contains another of those authoritarian powers which the Government is seeking to take under the guise of the Australian Film Commission Bill. Once again I am amazed' that Senator Hall is prepared to support an intrusion into privacy which I believe can have no legitimate warrant in our society. To equate the desire of the Government for the Film Commission to get information by compulsory process from any person with the compulsory powers that are occasionally found in health Acts which are concerned with public health is, I think, to have a sense of proportion which does not put public health or the Film Commission in its correct perspective. I ask the Senate to consider the width of this power. Clause 11(1) states:

For the purposes of performing its functions, the Commission shall keep itself informed, whether by the collection of statistics, the conduct of market research or otherwise -

I underline the fact that the words 'or otherwise' comprehend almost any means one can think of by which one can get information- of all aspects of making, promoting, distributing and exhibiting films in Australia.

I emphasise the words 'all aspects of making, promoting, distributing and exhibiting films in Australia'. It is difficult to conceive an expression in the area of the film industry which would give wider ambit to the area in which inquiries can be made. Sub-clause (2) of clause 11, which deals with the compulsory process, states:

For the purposes of sub-section ( 1 ), the Commission or an authorised person--

Once again we have this authorised officer of the Commission, a member of the staff, who may purport to act on behalf of the Commission- may, by notice in writing served on a person either personally or by post, require the person to supply, within a period specified in the notice -

I interpolate here that according to the whim of the member of the Commission or the authorised person that specified period may be 12 hours, 24 hours, 7 days or a month; there is no restraint whatever placed upon the period except that it must be a reasonable period in the judgment, of course, of a person or a tribunal afterwards and scarcely in the judgment of the person faced with the requirement to comply with the notice at the time it is received- being a period that is a reasonable period having regard to the action to be taken to comply with the requirement, any information in his possession relating to the matter specified in the notice.

The 2 significant things which I have not mentioned but which ought to be mentioned are that this notice may be served upon any person and it may relate to any information in his possession relating to the matter specified in the notice. It is a power of enormous width. It is not limited to a producer, exhibitor, script writer, director or actor. It relates to any person who might go into a theatre and who might be given a document when he enters the theatre which has a number of questions on it which it is hoped that individual will answer for the purpose of obtaining statistics. Of course, if the Commission felt so minded it could require that person at some stage in the future to submit that document filled in. I do not think that is an altogether unreasonable assumption to make when one considers the way in which this present Government is obsessed with material which is obtained from all quarters with regard to forming judgments based upon surveys. Who knows what this Commission might want to do in the future? But I take another side of it.

I say this specifically for Senator Hall because of what he said earlier in this debate. Is it right that a commission which is engaged in the making and the exhibiting of films- presumably doing it on a commercial basis- should be able to compel information from its competitors as to their costs and as to their prices? Is the Minister able to say what a commission- yet to be appointedand whose composition I suppose he has not finally decided upon, might require in the exercise of its functions at some stage in the future? Of course he cannot. The Commission may well say that as it has the power to compel this information why should not it exercise that power. Is that the way in which private enterprise, individuals and companies engaged in production in our type of economy are to be subjected to the requirements of government? It is quite consistent with everything that this Government has been doing that it should subject the private sector to all types of restraints and why exclude the film industry from the whole private area?

The immensity of this power is such that I cannot understand why the Senate, unless it is bent upon authoritarian designs should give the power to any commission in this area of film production. Sub-clause 3 of clause 1 1 requires that a person served with a requirement shall comply with it. There is a penalty of $200 for a contravention of that sub-clause. It is not a heavy penalty. One would think that if there were real purpose in that provision a much heavier penalty would be involved. The fact that this is a small penalty rather suggests that this is an irritant of no significance. Nevertheless it is a power which can be used and a power which, if used, a commission will expect to be complied with. We take the view that these 2 sub-clauses should be excised from the Bill.

If the Commission wants its statistics let it go about its collection of statistics in the way in which one would expect a commission of this character to go about it. Let it ask the people concerned if there is this genuine desire to develop the industry. We know that there is a tremendous desire of that character amongst a lot of persons. It will be self-interest in the industry's future which will prompt people to give the information which is required. But to require persons to submit to this type of notice requiring any information in their possession be given is the type of provision which we ought to retreat from and not extend. Why on earth should it be in the Australian Film Commission Bill?

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