The proceedings of all but one of Australia’s state and federal parliaments are now webcast ‘live’ online directly from parliamentary websites. Since 2004, the niche pay television provider Sky News Australia has also carried the proceedings of the House of Representatives and Senate on its dedicated Parliamentary Channel, as has the A-PAC channel since 2009. The introduction of pay television and then internet—particularly broadband—removed a barrier to parliamentary broadcasting. Prior to this, only the national broadcaster was available, and radio carried the bulk of parliamentary coverage.
The Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946 obliged Australia’s public service broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), to broadcast the proceedings of the national parliament. The Commonwealth has constitutional jurisdiction over radio, and state parliaments had no similar option to mandate the broadcast of their proceedings. By the 1980s, the ABC—reconstituted as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 1983—was chafing at the requirement to interrupt its normal schedule to broadcast parliament. In response to its lobbying, a purpose-specific Parliamentary and News Network was established in 1988. In 1994, this became NewsRadio. Operated by the ABC and transmitting across Australia, when parliament is sitting, NewsRadio broadcasts proceedings from the Senate and the House of Representatives on alternate days.
The live broadcast of parliament in Australia can be traced to 1925, when 2KY microphones captured the opening of the NSW parliament. But it was the New Zealand parliament in 1936 that first provided for the routine radio broadcast of proceedings. After research across the Tasman in 1943–45, involving Australia’s chief parliamentary reporter, George Romans, and C.G. Scrimgeour, a former controller of the NZ National Commercial Broadcasting Service, Australia’s Standing Committee on Broadcasting was charged with investigating the desirability of parliamentary broadcasting. Both antipodean parliaments permitted broadcasting of their proceedings well before Westminster, which did so only in 1978.
In 1990, shortly after moving into a new Parliament House equipped with closed-circuit television, and well after the arrival of television in 1956, parliament acceded to televising its proceedings. The ABC agreed to squeeze into the schedule of its then solitary analogue network, broadcasts of Question Time from the Senate and the House of Representatives (as well as occasional landmarks such as the Treasurer’s Budget speech and the opposition leader’s reply). The shift to digital television and multiplication of ABC (and other) free-to-air channels after 2009 did not encourage a more extended televising of parliament, which remains available only on pay television.
Free-to-air commercial television networks are chiefly interested in snippets from Question Time for broadcast in news bulletins. Their access to parliament is decided by the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, which under the 1946 Act also determines how and when NewsRadio will broadcast parliament. Initially, television networks were permitted only to record footage at the beginning of a parliamentary session for subsequent illustrative purposes. The rules, last revised in 1994, now allow networks to use excerpts from parliament’s own closed-circuit coverage of its proceedings, subject to some provisos—such as a restriction on showing events in the public gallery and the preservation of ‘balance’.
REF: I. Ward, ‘Parliament on “the Wireless” in Australia’, Australian Jnl of Politics and History, 60(2) (2014).