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Monday, 24 November 2003
Page: 17502

Senator LUNDY (2:45 PM) —My question is addressed to Senator Kemp, the Minister for the Arts and Sport, and follows on from an earlier question. Can the minister confirm that Australian feature film and TV drama production declined in 2002-03, as measured by total expenditure, number of feature films made and value of Australian production? Given this significant downturn in the production of Australian feature films, why is the Howard government willing to trade away any ability to support and regulate for local film, television and new media now and in the future in the free trade agreement negotiations with the US?

Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) —Senator Lundy, the second part of your question does not follow from the first part of the question. I do not know who prepared the question for you. As you would be aware—and as the first part of the question mentioned—it is true that there was a decline in the number of local films produced in the current year. We are aware—as, indeed, the industry is fully aware—that there was a decline.

Senator Lundy —Why do you have to kick them when they are down?

Senator KEMP —Senator Lundy, you have asked me a question. Do you think I may have a chance to answer it? I am just saying that we are aware of the decline in local production. There has been a very extensive comment made on that in the media, which you should be aware of. You should equally be aware that support for the film industry by this government has risen from the levels that existed under your government. This government has provided very extensive support to the industry, of which we are proud, and we are pleased to do so. That is the first point.

As to the second point, I think a better question was asked by Senator Ridgeway. I am rather inclined to refer you to the answer I gave to Senator Ridgeway. What you have to understand is that we are in the process of negotiating a free trade agreement with America. This government signs treaties which are in the national interest of Australia. Certainly, a treaty along the lines of that being discussed has the potential—and now we will see what the outcome is—to greatly increase the ability of Australia to trade with the US and could have a major beneficial effect on the Australian economy to the tune, possibly, of billions of dollars.

We have made it very clear that we continue to strongly support the industry. We have made it very clear that the outcomes of the Australia-US free trade agreement will not undermine the government's ability to regulate for cultural and social objectives. We have made that point. As I said, we are not a government that trades away Australia's interests. Above all, we are a government that is very conscious of the interests of this country. Let me make it clear to you that we are very conscious of the interests of the film sector. The film sector is a very important sector in this economy. We are very well aware of the need of that sector for particular government support, which we are pleased and proud to provide.

Senator LUNDY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, is it not the absolute right of all Australians to see our stories and hear our voices on television and cinema screens? Does the minister agree with Geoffrey Rush who said, `Young actors seeking work on Australian programs and movies yet to be dreamt up, delivered to audiences in yet to be conceived ways, will find that these opportunities just will not be there'? Or does the minister agree with Toni Collette—who won her fourth AFI on Friday—who said that it was a `sad state of affairs' when the government was prepared to give up the local control quota system for television? She said, `You're talking about changing the way we think and the way we express ourselves. The government is in crisis, not the industry.' I ask again: will the minister now act to have film, television and new media made subject to an exclusion clause in the US free trade agreement negotiations?

Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) —Senator, do not take my word for it; why don't you take Mark Vaile's word for it? This is what the Minister for Trade, the person who is carrying out the negotiations, said:

We will ensure that our capacity to support Australian culture and national identity, including in audio-visual media, is not watered down in the negotiations.

That is the comment that was made by the Minister for Trade, Mr Mark Vaile. I think those comments should give great comfort to the sector. Senator, it is no good you showing me that rather turgid press statement that you prepared. It is another one of your boring efforts. The truth is: why don't you get a real policy?