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Tuesday, 20 June 2006
Page: 83


Mr CADMAN (6:36 PM) —The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Subscription Television Drama and Community Broadcasting Licences) Bill 2006 deals with subscription television and it follows a review that was done some time ago. The current provisions allow for a 10 per cent expenditure by subscription broadcasters on Australian drama. However, following the review, there have been proposals for change. The Broadcasting Services Act defines a subscription television drama service as a service devoted predominantly to drama programs—that is, more than 50 per cent of the programming consists of drama programs and includes such channels as Showtime, Fox 8 and UKTV. Some of the productions included are films such as The Proposition and drama series such as The Alice, McLeod’s Daughters and Love My Way. The subscription television industry spent $15.9 million on new Australian and New Zealand drama programs in 2004-05. There are 17 available subscription television drama channels: Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, Hallmark, the Disney Channel, Fox 8, Fox Kids/Classics, Movie Extras, Movie Greats, Movie One, Movie One Take 2, Nickelodeon, Showtime, Showtime 2, Encore, TV1 and UKTV.

Let me give the House some idea of the spread of these proposals. The review found that the local documentary production sector remains well supported but that we need to give more attention to the drama provisions. That is what this legislation does: it encourages the use of Australian drama at 10 per cent of all programming. It does not sound like too much; it is only a bit over three per cent of actual airtime. The review, apart from looking at drama, looked at documentaries. One might say, ‘Why not include documentaries in this as well?’ but the review found that documentaries were well catered for. The production centre remains well supported, with 62 per cent of finance provided through direct and indirect government sources. The sector is fully supported by broadcast quotas for commercial free-to-air broadcasters. The subscription TV sector already invests significantly in Australian documentary production without a formal requirement for us to do any more. This legislation moves to change some of the provisions of drama production.

New Zealand is included in these provisions. One may ask, ‘Why do the Kiwis get a run under Australian regulations and legislation?’ Under the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Trade Agreement, the CER—the scope of which includes the production of programs for television and broadcasting of programs on television—New Zealander and services provided by New Zealanders—


Ms Hall —Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to draw your attention to the state of the House.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BK Bishop)—In accordance with standing order 55(b), the House will be counted at 8 pm if at that time the member so desires. We do not take any divisions or quorum calls between now and eight o’clock. I call the honourable member for Mitchell.


Mr CADMAN —I wanted an audience, but I am pleased with your ruling. The scope of the CER includes broadcasting programs on television. New Zealanders and services provided by New Zealanders are allowed access to the Australian market for television programs which is no less favourable than that allowed to Australians or services provided by Australians.

The bill also includes changes to scripting and production up to the point of photography. Under the current framework, licensees are unable to claim expenditure for script development. This shortcoming is picked up in this legislation. Expenditure on new eligible drama does not include script development at the moment unless the project progresses to principal photography. It is not until the cameras actually start to roll that production costs, which include scripting, are included under the current legislation. However, in the proposals we are introducing tonight, if principal photography commences in a financial year, the program is not at that time an eligible drama program and the claim for an earlier year must be reduced by the amount claimed in the earlier year if that should occur. So there is a protection if there is a rollover from one financial year to another, but the amendments do allow script development expenditure to be incurred as part of the drama production.

Licensees may not be able to claim their entire year’s expenditure quota on script development. They can claim only 10 per cent of the total expenditure on script development. The capacity to roll over is restricted, and the amount that can be spent on script development is also limited. The bill introduces new measures to allow the spending in excess of the 10 per cent requirement in any one year to be carried forward to the next year—


Mr Price —Madam Deputy Speaker, with great respect, I rise on a point of order in relation to the operation of standing order 133, which is a provision for deferred divisions on Mondays and Tuesdays. I would indicate that it is not my intention to call a quorum, but I do rise on this point of order and ask that you reflect on standing order 133 in your advice to the honourable member for Shortland.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I will rule on that point of order, Chief Opposition Whip. I ruled in accordance with standing order 55(b). I repeat my ruling, and that is the ruling that stands. I call the honourable member for Mitchell.


Mr CADMAN —The bill amends the definition of drama production to provide for consistency between the definition applying to subscription television broadcasters and the Australian content standard applying to free-to-air broadcasters. Australian drama production is a program which has a partially scripted screenplay in which the dramatic elements of character, theme and plot are introduced and developed to form a narrative structure and has actors delivering improvised dialogue that is based on a script outline or outlines developed by a writer or writers. So it is a creative process that we are looking at.

I was saying that it is possible under these new provisions to carry overexpenditure forward into following years so that the 10 per cent can be achieved across two years or, if there is an underexpenditure in any one year, that shortfall can be carried forward as well. I think this is a very commendable change and I think that the lifting of Australian content and drama is something that most Aussies would like.

I would like to see the ABC move ahead in much the same way as the BBC has moved to split production from broadcasting. I know that people do not always find this an attractive process, but I think if the ABC were to establish a separate production house they could win contracts to supply programs to a range of stations and to sell internationally. Not only subscription television but also free-to-air television would be covered by a production house, which would be an ABC government based production house, and they would have to compete on merit to sell or screen their productions either through the ABC or elsewhere.

It seems to me that the production house of the ABC needs to compete for audience and for content against all-comers, whereas an in-house production process—such as we have now—limits the capacity of the ABC to be challenged on the basis of artistic merit, content and relevance. I would like to see a change. That would mean to the ABC core business that they would become a broadcaster and they would focus on looking at the best programs of any type, basically Australian, and continue very much as they are now but be able to shop a little more widely and to take up Australian programs produced by their own production house or to rely on others—principally, to a high degree, productions from the UK, but not entirely. I think we have in that process a sensible future for the ABC that is not privatised but is challenging, exciting and which would produce some excellent results for the Australian broadcaster.

Whilst I am on Australian broadcasting, I believe that we have moved into a situation where we need some more definite guidelines in the classification of television drama, video games and the internet—all media—for parents in particular. I am not so much worried about the adults in our society. I feel they should be free to choose what they watch with some limitations, but not oppressive limitations. I think that parents are having difficulty in making assessments about the various classifications applied by Australian government regulations on the internet, video games, film and television. I would like to see a drawing together of those areas that are covered by the portfolios of the Attorney-General and the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts so that so there is a predictable approach to classification.

When Daryl Williams was Attorney-General he made some changes to the classification program. He said that it was not a loosening up. I found inconsistencies and imprecise wording in the language adopted in the classification program. A presentation given by the Attorney-General at that time has allowed, in a number of instances, some unfortunate films to be released in Australia. Some have been blocked; some have been released. The complaint about films such as Hostel and Wolf Creek is that they are dreadful films with violence, torture and mistreatment of women in a sexual context, and I oppose those sorts of things completely. Those sorts of films encourage violence and completely wrong attitudes to develop in males, particularly young males. I think we need these changes and a predictability across the various modes of communications, whether they be internet, tape, video, DVD, television, film or literature. If there is a consistent approach then I believe that, as a civilised community and as parents, we can, where necessary, make sensible judgments about screening out information that it is better children do not see and to put a limit on some of the really weird and deviant material that encourages unsatisfactory and dangerous behaviour. Drawn to my attention—and I know drawn to yours as well, Madam Deputy Speaker Bishop—have been the problems in Indigenous communities in Australia with pornography and violence on film and video. That is something that I find detestable both in the attitudes it creates in men towards women and in its impact on children, particularly young children, in those communities.

When one looks at the 18-plus restricted category, one sees under the heading ‘Violence’, for instance, that it is defined currently by Daryl Williams as:

Violence is permitted.

Sexual violence may be implied, if justified by context.

I believe that violence may be permitted but it would be sensible that it should not be excessively frequent, prolonged or detailed and sexual violence may only be implied and must be justified by context even in the implication. The depiction of sexual violence should be barred from R18-plus classifications. I do not see any value in the depiction of sexual violence, artistic or otherwise. It could be implied if the context justified it but under no other circumstances. I am not seeking in these comments to suggest that a harsh regime should be resurrected but, in fact, that there should be greater clarity in what we are actually seeking to achieve. So at the top end there is sexual violence.

There are a couple of other changes I would like to see, but one that I particularly want to mention is drug use. Drug use is permitted under the current classifications. I would suggest that drug use should not be permitted to be depicted in that R18-plus classification under the changes. I think we ought to look at the G category. Parents have come to me and said, ‘We don’t quite know how to handle the G category because there seems to be an inconsistency in television, which can vary the hours.’ That is another component of television that does not apply to film, literature or the internet. The hours of screening also need to be taken into account with television. The impact test for G category currently reads:

The impact of the classifiable elements for material classified G should be very mild only.

What is ‘very mild only’? Producers are always pushing the envelope. A better wording would be something such as, ‘The classification G is for a general audience and must not contain material which is harmful or disturbing to children.’ That is what parents would expect. When children see a G classification movie or television, parents would not expect very mild classification material, whether it be sex, violence, language or drug use. They would not expect any of that to occur even to a very mild degree. They would expect it to be perfectly safe to allow children to watch a G classification without supervision. So with respect to drug use for G classification, the current situation is:

Drug use should be implied only very discreetly—

mind you—

and be justified by context.

I cannot believe that we are allowing that sort of depiction for children. I would have thought that for drug use a better classification would be, ‘Verbal references to drug use are not permitted.’ I do not think there should be any reference to drug use and I think that violence also needs a clarification that is not there currently.

In conclusion, I support the legislation before the House. I think it is sensible to advance Australian film and Australian television for subscription television. This is good legislation. On the other hand, we have to be very careful about how we continue to classify the whole range of electronic and other types of media that can be damaging to children and, where extreme material is used, I believe we need to be more careful to ban some elements. (Time expired)