Fouras wants parliament on TV

by Chris Griffith
Published 10 September 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Jim Fouras, that plucky and defiant Speaker of Queensland's parliament, appears ready to flex his muscle again by allowing TV and radio rebroadcasts of state parliament.

Mr Fouras yesterday confirmed that a Bill introduced by Premier Wayne Goss last week to abolish the Parliamentary Services Commission and allow the Speaker to administer parliament also gave him delegated authority to decide whether parliament is rebroadcast.

"I support the televising of parliament. I've asked officers of parliament to provide a report on the costings," he said yesterday.

However Mr Fouras stressed he would consult his parliamentary colleagues and seek their approval before proceeding. He said a resolution of parliament, although not necessary, might be an appropriate sentiment to formalise support.

He said money was yet to be found to implement it.

Queensland's ban on rebroadcasts is out of step with virtually all other national and international democracies.

While Queensland voters watch on TV, with bewilderment, the verbal exchanges between Paul Keating and John Howard, the backbencher speeches of dissent against British Prime Minister John Major, addresses to the US Congress, proceedings of the New Zealand parliament, other Australian state parliaments, and even the Russian parliament, they cannot view the heated exchanges between Wayne Goss and the Opposition in their local patch.

Instead, the TV networks once a year are permitted to take their cameras into parliament and film "wallpaper footage" of MPs in their seats which they subsequently re-use for the next 12 months as shots in their stories about parliament. No discernible sound can be used.

It means the pictures used on TV news of state MPs sitting or speaking in parliament bear no relation to the story being told, a situation the president of Queensland's Parliamentary Press Gallery and Channel Seven political reporter Mike D'Arcy yesterday said was "pretty dishonest".

"There may be a wild and woolly debate in there, but what we're using to portray that is footage that may have been shot 6,9,12 months ago, and that's basically dishonest."

On Tuesday, some TV networks and radio stations fed up with the current arrangements committed what Mr D'Arcy described as "disorganised, spontaneous civil disobedience" by flouting the regulations and rebroadcasting pictures and sound of the debate surrounding the installation of Mr Fouras as Speaker.

Radio stations too rebroadcast the sneers of derision from the Opposition when Premier Goss jumped to his feet and nominated Mr Fouras for the job.

"That's the first time in parliament's history that the public has seen the sort of debate that goes on," Mr D'Arcy said.

Mr D'Arcy said the networks had not received any backlash from parliament over the breach. The House had been under the control of the Opposition's Tony Elliott during the debate on electing the Speaker, he said.

Broad support for rebroadcasts now appears likely, given the Opposition's long-term support and given Premier Goss is again warming to the idea, as evident from comments it is understood he made to Caucus on the issue on Wednesday.

The Independent, Liz Cunningham, yesterday said she too would support televising of parliament.

"I don't have a problem with that at all. It is a public forum and the rights to film should be quite open and available."

Mrs Cunningham, who last week described the Queensland parliament as "a rabble", said rebroadcasts could sharpen the performances of MPs in the House, but it could also see them indulge in theatrics for the benefit of the cameras.

"If they think it's theatre, it won't make any difference [to their behaviour]," she said.

Mr D'Arcy said the major stumbling block had been Premier Goss's insistence that the networks provide a major cash infusion for setting up TV and sound facilities in parliament, and the government's belief based on an outside consultant's report that it may cost around $1,000,000.

"Our chief engineer said you could put sound jacks on every desk in the gallery and deliver the sound to the television studios for around $8,000."

Unlike federal parliament, the Queensland networks would not need the "Rolls Royce" scenario of a full internal broadcasting service televising uninterrupted whole segments of parliamentary debate, he said.

"We're merely interested in covering major debates and question time, to bring out the essence of parliament into peoples' homes through radio and television."