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Tuesday, 13 September 2005
Page: 56

Mr CIOBO (6:00 PM) —I am pleased to rise this evening to speak on the Copyright Amendment (Film Directors’ Rights) Bill 2005, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to follow the member for Kingsford Smith. I put on the record at the outset that the member for Kingsford Smith would know significantly more than most in this chamber about issues of copyright and the economic rights of authors who seek to protect copyright material. However, I was quite disappointed to hear the member’s rather lacklustre contribution. You had to cut through the platitude about the government needing to do more—that it should have acted more promptly and done something for Australian film. I would have liked to have heard about the Labor Party’s policy on this issue.

I agree with many of the tenets of the opposition member. I agree that the Australian film industry is running through a particularly dry patch and that it is high time that we provided directors with the opportunity to reap some economic benefit from their artistic talent and the artistic merit that lies behind the construction and creation of film. As a number of speakers before me stated, this bill does that in a limited capacity. However, in my humble opinion, the greatest debate in the arts community today is about the best way forward. There is no point being shrill and saying: ‘We’ve got problems that should be fixed. The government should have done something.’ What is required is for people to make clear their thoughts and their recommendations to improve the situation. Quite frankly, I was disappointed that the member for Kingsford Smith, despite having 20 minutes at his disposal, took zero opportunity to engage in deliberations on the Labor Party’s position about the best way forward.

I noted some weeks ago that the Australian Labor Party supported a bill—as they support this bill—that extended the film tax offset to television series. I was surprised to hear in that debate that the federal Australian Labor Party did not support product bundling yet the Queensland Australian Labor Party—the state level—support bundling in extending the film tax offset threshold to television. I am not sure why there is this inconsistency between the federal Australian Labor Party and the Queensland Australian Labor Party. I think the time has come to reach beyond the populist rhetoric about needing to do something for Australian film and television and to start developing some plans. In this vein, I could not disagree more with the member for Kingsford Smith about the best way forward. It is not about building an industry based on Australian stories told by Australian voices. In my view, the very reason that the Australian film industry is suffering considerably is that a cultural elitism has been perpetuated by members opposite such that the best thing the Australian film industry can do, and the greatest aspiration that the Australian film industry could ever have, is to go forward and to tell Australian stories with Australian voices.

In my view, the net result of this policy thrust—which we saw when the Australian Labor Party was in government for some 13 years and it still comes from some agencies and some bodies within the cultural sector of this economy—was that we got 30 people into a cinema who feel really good about themselves, but that is all. It is time that we recognised that art is a business and business is an art. When it comes to film, nothing could be more true. Quite frankly, it is time that we started to recognise that Australia has great potential in film and television creation, in maximising the talents of our actors and our directors and in maximising the returns that can flow to government agencies and to the private sector by selling Australian film and television to the world.

That does not mean that it has to be an Australian story with an Australian voice. It means that we need to sell that which is desired by the consumer in the marketplace. If it is a case of developing scripts that will sell into North America, the United Kingdom and the Australian market, then let us spend time exerting effort to create scripts that meet the latent demand of consumers. We have not done that. The sooner we do that, the sooner we will see a significant revival in the Australian film and television industry.

The member for Kingsford Smith talked about how he saw some parallel between human rights and copyright. I thought that was really pushing it. I am not sure there is a link there. Copyright is probably more to do with our seeing some recognition of the economic value that flows from investment into the services side of the economy. As someone who holds themselves out, as I do, as an advocate of intellectual property creation, I believe that the new economy will hold our country well into the future. I like the extension and the creation of economic rights—albeit in limited circumstances, but it is a start—and providing Australian directors an opportunity to harness the economic potential from investing in the copyright that flows directly from their creation of Australian film.

The member for Kingsford Smith also commented that the box office share of Australian films has dropped from nine per cent to 1.6 per cent. Again, there are very mixed messages within the marketplace about what is driving this. As I said, in my view it comes from the fact that we have not been focused on consumers but, rather, have been more concerned with satisfying cultural elites. When we get refocused on consumers, we will see a resurgence in Australian films. We will see films like Moulin Rouge, Crackerjack and The Castle go from strength to strength.

As wonderful an example of Australian culture as The Castle was—an Australian story told with an Australian voice that did very well in Australia—it barely moved any units internationally. I am not being critical of it; I am simply taking this opportunity to highlight the difference between a film that has export potential and one that does not. Not many Americans or Brits understand The Castle. We are competing with films and intellectual property generated in the heartland of films—Hollywood—and have to recognise that we need to make what sells.

I have been very buoyed in recent years to see that Brian Rosen, the CEO of the FFC, is directing that agency in a way that should be applauded. He is directing it—no pun intended on the word ‘directing’—down a path that is about recognising the need to make a stronger business case and taking that forward.

The member for Kingsford Smith also said that there should be two key points to the creation of public policy when it comes to film. One is to provide substantial direct investment into the film industry, which this government does, carrying on a proud tradition of a number of previous governments of both persuasions. We also need to encourage leveraging from the private sector in the investment in Australian film. With regard to that, the Macquarie Bank, for example, recently offered high net worth investors the opportunity to invest in a number of Australian films. They unfortunately did not return a dollar for every dollar that was invested. The return was significantly less than the initial investment that was put forward.

These kinds of problems are what must be overcome. Despite all the good policy in the world, if we cannot even provide a dollar-for-dollar return to the private sector, then how can we ever truly expect to get the private sector to invest? It might be politically opportunistic for members opposite to say that the problem is policy, but the problem is not policy. We saw the creation of an investment fund from the private sector putting millions of dollars into the Australian film industry, and the problem was the product. There will be many members of the Australian cultural community who will take issue with my comments, but I believe that those who are most honest with themselves will recognise that it is an issue that needs to be addressed, tackled headfirst and improved.

If we do not do that, if we do not have the intellectual rigour to undertake that process, we might as well go down the path of having an industry that we simply put $100 million a year into—or whatever the figure is—and then we can all be proud that we have this little industry sucking on the government teat, an industry which is not producing great films but which the 30 or 40 people who do happen to go and see the films can feel really great about. That is not the path that I believe we should go down. I do not believe that that satisfies the public interest or the expectations of the truly aspirational film-makers within Australia. It might satisfy the cultural elites, but that is it. I certainly believe that, in the long term, we have to continue to make some hard decisions and appoint key people into positions that focus on ensuring that the creation of Australian film and television series is firmly focused on meeting consumer demand.

When it comes to this particular bill, I am very pleased that there has been widespread industry consultation about some of the measures it takes. The public consultation with various stakeholders in the industry has been about the principle of providing directors’ rights in films. There has been additional stakeholder consultation on the draft bill. Flowing from all of that has been widespread support for the changes that this bill incorporates. The Australian Screen Directors Association said:

ASDA commends the Government for introducing this legislation ... It is a Bill that has been introduced because the Government has identified a need to redress an injustice that has occurred because of a simple, historical oversight.

…     …         …

ASDA sees this Bill as important symbolic recognition for film directors and a sign of the regard that they are held in by this Government.

The Australian Film Commission said:

The AFC notes the proposed Bill is consistent with the Government’s election commitment that it would amend the Copyright Act to give, for the first time, film directors rights to copyright in the films they direct.

…     …         …

The AFC also notes that the proposed Bill is consistent with the Government’s stance on moral rights.

I welcome the feedback from this part of the industry insofar as it pertains to the creation of copyright, albeit in the limited capacity that is in this particular bill.

It is important that we provide for economic rights to flow to directors. They are of course the miracle workers that make a film either work or not work. When we have seen so many films not work, it is important to reflect that those who do make it work have a very special gift indeed. Most certainly, I applaud providing the flow of some economic rights back to the director who has that magic touch. In time, I would like to see an extension of this. I would like to see an extension of economic rights to embrace a variety of different platforms and circumstances in which copyright revenue would flow. It is important that directors have an economic interest in their films, beyond those that their contract provides for.

On the Gold Coast we have a nascent film industry. We have a number of very large offshore productions that come in and utilise Warner Bros studios. We have the infamous Big Brother studio at Dreamworld—

Mr Sercombe interjecting

Mr CIOBO —I will ignore that interjection, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am aware that the member for Maribyrnong has a particular interest in certain aspects of the Gold Coast film industry, and I applaud him for getting behind the Gold Coast film industry and encourage him to purchase as much product as possible. But, beyond that, our collective interest as a government in ensuring that even nascent industries like the film industry on the Gold Coast prosper and go forward is one that we can attempt to facilitate through good policy.

This bill is good policy. It builds on other good policy that we have that provides opportunities to those who seek to make film and who seek to grow the Australian film industry. But let us all ensure as much as possible that, in taking Australian film and television to the world, we do so with a common goal in mind: to ensure that, as much as possible, we provide quality product, that it is inventive, that it is original and that, more importantly, it is something for which people will be willing to take their wallets out of their pockets and go to their local cinemas to watch. If we do that, and if we focus on that, I believe the film industry in this country will go from its weak point at this stage to a great position of strength.

I commend this bill to the House, and I would like to hear any alternatives that may be put forward from the opposition as to whether they believe there is a better course forward that we can adopt. I would certainly welcome their contribution in that regard, and I welcome the fact that they support this bill.