Establishment of Inquiry
1.1 On 13 February 1997, the Senate unanimously referred the matter
of the role and future of Radio Australia (RA) and Australia Television
(ATV) to the Committee for inquiry and report by 15 May 1997. The Committee
agreed that it should present its report by 5 May 1997.
Conduct of the Inquiry
1.2 The Committee advertised the inquiry in the national press on 19
February 1997 calling for written submissions to be lodged with the
Committee by 10 March 1997. The Committee's advertisement was also broadcast
on RA and ATV so that interested listeners and viewers could provide
their views on the two services to the Committee. The Committee is grateful
to RA, ATV and the ABC central office for their co-operation in making
these broadcasts. The advertisement was also placed on the Committee's
Internet web site and that of the ABC.
1.3 The Committee received 2,211 written submissions, which all except
three support the retention of RA and ATV in their current forms. A
list of submissions is contained in Appendix 1. The Committee is appreciative
of RA's assistance in translating a number of submissions written in
languages other than English.
1.4 The Committee conducted public hearings in Canberra, Melbourne
and Sydney at which 62 people, appearing on their own behalf or representing
organisations, gave evidence. A list of the people who appeared at the
public hearings is contained in Appendix 2. In addition, the Committee
visited the offices/studios of Radio Australia in Melbourne on 12 March
1997 and of Australia Television in Sydney on 13 March 1997. Although
the Committee was unable to visit the Australia Television office/studio
in Darwin, staff representatives from the Darwin office of ATV gave
evidence to the Committee in Canberra.
Lack of Departmental Co-operation
1.5 The Committee wishes to draw attention to the lack of co-operation
by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs
and Trade in this inquiry. In accordance with usual procedures, the
Chairman of the Committee wrote to Mr Downer on 24 February 1997 seeking
a written submission from his Department and the appearance of departmental
officers at a public hearing. The Committee received neither an acknowledgement
nor a substantive reply from Mr Downer.
1.6 The Department did not make a written submission to the Committee.
Officers of the Department did, however, appear at a public hearing
on 2 April 1997. At the hearing, when asked by the Committee why a submission
had not been made, Mr Bill Fisher, First Assistant Secretary, Public
Affairs and Consular Division, replied:
The question of whether a minister directs the department, or
what the minister directs his department to do, is within the prerogative
of the minister, rather than of the department, so I am afraid I do
not think I can get down that track very far. 
1.7 At the hearing, the two officers of the Department refused to answer
most questions put to them about RA and ATV. At the beginning of the
hearing, Mr Fisher explained:
I should say to you that the question of the future of Radio
Australia and of Australia Television is one that is currently being
considered by government and therefore I will be unable to go into any
details on the questions before the inquiry, as concerns matters of
1.8 When asked shortly afterwards about RA, Mr Fisher responded:
I suppose the same considerations really have to apply. The question
of the usefulness of Radio Australia in those circumstances, of course,
is really part and parcel of the current policy considerations before
government and so I am afraid I simply have to say the same thing in
answer to you, that this is not a matter on which the department can
express an opinion at the moment. 
1.9 The fact that a matter is being considered by the Government is
not, and never has been, a reason for a departmental officer to refuse
to answer questions relating to that matter. Parliamentary committees
often inquire into matters which are subject to Government consideration
during the course of those inquiries.
1.10 It was obvious that the DFAT officers were acting on instructions,
presumably from the Minister, not to assist the Committee.
1.11 The approach taken by the DFAT officers was contrary to both the
practice of our parliamentary system of government and to the Guidelines
for Official Witnesses before Parliamentary Committees and Related Matters.
Under the heading of accountability in the introduction to the Guidelines,
it is stated:
In the Australian system of parliamentary government, and consistent
with the traditional understanding of ministerial responsibility,
the public and parliamentary advocacy and defence of government policies
and administration has traditionally been, and should remain, the
preserve of Ministers, not officials. The duty of the public servant
is to assist ministers to fulfil their accountability obligations
by providing full and accurate information to the Parliament about
the factual and technical background to policies and their administration.
The guidelines are therefore aimed at encouraging the freest possible
flow of such information between the public service, the Parliament
and the public.
1.12 The Committee is well aware of the restrictions in the guidelines
on what public servants can discuss when appearing before the Committee.
The Chairman issued the normal warning regarding policy matters in his
comments at the beginning of the hearing. The witnesses were not asked
to comment on policy or on the advice which they might have given in
the formulation of policy, or even identify the considerations which
the Government has been taking into account in deliberations at that
1.13 Neither the Minister nor the Department has made any claim that
the information was withheld on public interest immunity grounds. The
Committee therefore believes that the Minister's action in gagging the
Department was a blatant attempt by him to prevent the free flow of
information to the Committee and through it to the Australian public.
In so doing, he was showing contempt for the normal processes of parliamentary
1.14 In a submission dated October 1996 to the Mansfield inquiry into
the ABC, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade strongly supported
both RA and ATV. In a letter dated February 1997 from the Minister for
Foreign Affairs to the Minister for Communications and the Arts , which
was leaked to the media, the Minister for Foreign Affairs argued strongly
for retention of the two international broadcasting services.
1.15 In the light of Mr Downer's putative support for RA and ATV, it
is almost incomprehensible that he would not allow his department to
co-operate with the Committee in this inquiry. The Committee is also
disappointed that DFAT did not provide any information or views on RA
and ATV given that Mr Mansfield had not considered these issues and
further believed that the Government did not have enough information
to evaluate their performance. When interviewed on ABC Radio National
Breakfast on 26 February 1997, Mr Mansfield said that 'If you look at
my terms of reference, I only had to look at the ABC. I didn't have
the task and wasn't asked to look at Australia's foreign policy'.
1.16 The Committee was also dissatisfied with the level of assistance
afforded the Committee by the Department of Communications and the Arts.
Its submission was not received until 10 April 1997, a week after officers
of the Department appeared before the Committee. Given the bland nature
of its submission, there is no reason why it should have been so late.
Furthermore, it was apparent to the Committee that the Department's
choice of witnesses was not in accord with the Guidelines, which provide
It is essential that the official(s) selected should have sufficient
responsibility or be sufficiently close to the particular work area
to be able to satisfy the committee's requirements.
1.17 The Committee noted that officers with direct responsibility and
expertise in the areas covered in the hearing were not nominated by
the Department to give evidence to the Committee. The officers giving
evidence to the Committee were not able to satisfy the Committee's requirements
because of their obvious lack of detail of the matters under discussion.
1.18 The Committee did, however, receive submissions and took evidence
from other expert witnesses.
Timing of the Inquiry
1.19 The Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Alston,
has made it clear that the Government will consider the future of Australia's
international broadcasting services in the Budget context without waiting
for the release of the Committee's report.
1.20 Mr Mansfield's report was released on 24 January 1997. Parliament
did not resume sittings following the summer recess until 4 February
1997. The Committee considered the proposed reference on 6 February
and on 13 February the Senate referred the matter of the role and future
of RA and ATV to the Committee. In other words, the Senate acted very
quickly to establish this inquiry. This refutes any suggestion made
by Senator Alston to the contrary.
1.21 When Senator Alston appeared on the Network Ten program Meet the
Press on 16 March 1997, in reply to a question from Mr Paul Bongiorno
about the relevance of the Committee's inquiry, he said:
As you rightly point out, it's going to be far too late in
the day to come up with recommendations a week beforehand [the Budget]
and expect that they'll be given serious attention. Now, they will
still have the opportunity to call evidence and generally have views
expressed in the lead-up to those negotiations, but if they're expecting
that we're going to suddenly turn around and have a whole new rethink
about Radio Australia on the basis of that report, then I think they've
left their run too late.
1.22 Senator Alston did not table the Mansfield Report in the Parliament
so that it could be given proper parliamentary scrutiny. He did not
encourage public debate on Mr Mansfield's far-reaching ramifications.
His disregard for the Committee's inquiry and the precipitate way he
has been pursuing the demise of RA and ATV, despite the fact that Mr
Mansfield did not consider the matter in any detail, demonstrates that
he has been treating the whole matter as a fait accompli without giving
any consideration to the ramifications of what he has been trying to
1.23 It should be emphasised here that both Houses of the Parliament
have the right to inquire into any matter relevant to the Parliament
on behalf of the people of Australia, even if the Government is proceeding
with its decision-making processes in relation to the matter. The Budget
may be prepared by the Government but it is still subject to parliamentary
scrutiny and parliamentary approval. Obviously, the Senate will consider
the Committee's findings and recommendations during the process of budgetary
1.24 This inquiry has, at least, given thousands of people in Australia
and viewers and listeners around the world an opportunity to comment
on the changes to Australia's international broadcasting services as
proposed by Mr Mansfield and Senator Alston. Their opinion, expressed
through written submissions and oral evidence given to the Committee,
virtually unanimously, is that Radio Australia and Australia Television
should not be closed or reduced in size or commercialised.
1.25 If the Government makes decisions about the future of RA and ATV
contrary to the recommendations of the Committee, it has to wear the
opprobrium of millions of listeners and viewers within Australia, the
Asia Pacific region and beyond, many of whom depend on RA and ATV for
news and current affairs, their English language training and entertainment.
Moreover, it will do lasting damage to Australia's reputation and interests.
1.26 The Committee notes that contrary to the Federal Government's
position, there is strong support for the retention of RA and ATV from
other Coalition Governments and representatives throughout Australia.
For instance, all State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers, seven
out of eight of whom represent Coalition Governments, support the retention
of the two organisations in their present form. So too do the Victorian
State Liberal Council, two branches of Coalition Parties (which made
submissions to the Committee) and former Liberal Prime Minister, Mr
Malcolm Fraser. Former Liberal Member of Parliament, Mr Bill Yates,
strongly supported RA in written and oral evidence.
 Committee Hansard, p. 55.
 Committee Hansard, p. 52.
 Committee Hansard, p. 53.