Vale Tony Staley, 1939-2023
Australia’s great champion for the voice of the people
The CBF is saddened to hear of the passing of Tony Staley, who died in Melbourne, aged 83.
Mr Staley was a former Liberal Party president and former MP for the Victorian seat of Chisholm. He was an Officer of the Order of Australia.
Anthony (Tony) Allan Staley was born on May 15, 1939. He was elected in 1970 and became the Minister for Post and Telecommunications in 1977, an office he held until his resignation from Parliament in 1980.
In his role as Minister, Tony Staley had a profound impact on broadcast media in Australia and was instrumental in the development and growth of the community broadcasting sector.
Tony established the first legislative framework for the sector – then known as public broadcasting. When he came to the Ministry, there were only a dozen novel, experimental licenses in existence. His reforms saw community broadcasting licenses proliferate as the sector grew to hundreds of stations having a broad, societal impact nationwide. It was a transformational moment that has led to the internationally recognised community broadcasting sector Australia is proudly home to today.
Tony was one of the strongest supporters of community media in the history of Australian Parliament and the community broadcasting sector was fortunate to have him in as the Minister responsible for broadcasting at a pivotal time in our nation’s history.
When Minister Staley took to the floor to introduce the Broadcasting Amendment Bill in 1978 for the development of public broadcasting he remarked, “Finally, it should be said that the main reason for setting up new broadcasting stations is to provide better programs. The Government sees public broadcasting as a force for diversity. Its role is to provide Australians with a range of choices which the national and commercial sectors are not able to provide.”
Former CBAA and CBF President John Martin interviewed Tony before the 2022 CBAA Awards. When asked about the impact of his legislation he passed as Minister, Tony revealed, “I did one or two naughty things, because I knew it would be controversial if I took it to cabinet. I didn’t, in fact, take the system to cabinet. I wrote to the Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and said ‘this is in accordance with party policy so I don’t need to take it to cabinet’, and he came back and gave me the tick! That was a fantastic breakthrough – that we were able to do it like that.”
And while he was renowned as one of the country’s toughest politicians, when he talked about community media his genuine and heartfelt concern for the Australian people shone through. For him, it was about giving voice to those who did not have one. He will be remembered among our sector as a rare example of an individual who rose to a position of power and used it righteously and in a manner true to his convictions – in support of others.
After his retirement, Tony continued to contribute. He was a long-term President of the Public Broadcasting Foundation , now the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF), where he served as President for five years from 1985 to 1990 and again for a further five years from late 1991 to 1996. He led the CBF through the remarkable growth of the sector during that time.
When asked in our 2022 interview, what community radio meant to him, he responded instantly, “The voice of the people”.
The highest honour a community radio station can receive is the Tony Staley Award. The award is dedicated to Tony because of his transformational impact on the growth of community broadcasting as Minister, in honour of his passion and belief in the community media sector, and in respect of his commitment and service to the sector through the CBF.
Tony was the true champion of community media. Tony regularly attend PBAA board meetings to champion action on issues and sector developments. In testament to his sincere and personal commitment, Tony attended every CBAA conference over 40 years. He was rightfully proud of what we achieved and what he, more than anyone, had helped make possible. Tony had broad cultural interests and when he had the floor would regale the attendees with stories, poetry recitations, and endearing impersonations of Gough Whitlam.
Only in recent years was he unable to attend in our conference in person. Even then, Tony continued to make the effort to send a video message, including his final announcement of the 2022 Tony Staley Award winners – Bay FM.
Our thoughts are with Tony’s family and friends – whose grief is shared among many whose lives Tony touched in the community broadcasting sector.
We owe him our deepest appreciation for making possible what we, as a sector, are able to achieve today.
On behalf of the community broadcasting sector, we pay tribute to Tony. May he rest in peace