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Tuesday, 20 June 2006
Page: 91

Mr SLIPPER (7:16 PM) —Australia prides itself on having a unique culture that is not only special to us but also recognised as being unique and special by people from other nations around the globe. The scenes during the World Cup currently under way in Germany are a testament to that. I must say that it was encouraging to see supporters of both Brazil and Australia celebrating together after the match between the two countries on Monday. Brazil, like other nations, clearly admires the easygoing and friendly nature of Australians, our respect for others and our determination. Right around the globe these are some of the good things that, as a nation, we are known and respected for.

It is really important that these and other cultural attributes are encouraged and supported in many areas of the wider society, including in the dramas that are broadcast on television. The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Subscription Television Drama and Community Broadcasting Licences) Bill 2006 helps to encourage new Australian drama on subscription television by removing some of the rigid requirements relating to spending on new drama.

The television production industry is characterised by some unique attributes—and these attributes are not dissimilar to those also faced by the film industry. There are times in these industries when a great deal of money, time and effort can be invested in a project, only for those behind the project to witness the eventual collapse of the project for a number of possible reasons. As a result, all those things invested seem to have no resulting financial payoff. It is one of the recognised and accepted risks inherent in an industry that relies on high levels of creativity and dedication and that a very high number of pitfalls and hurdles must be negotiated before the seed of an idea finally makes its way onto the screens in our lounge rooms.

Up to now, the legislation has not adequately taken into account some of those intangibles. This has a significant impact on the requirement, as set out in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, that at least 10 per cent of the program expenditure of subscription television broadcasting licensees go towards new Australian drama. This is a legislative requirement that is obviously designed to ensure that Australian dramas maintain a safeguarded presence on our televisions. However, it is important to note that pre-production of a TV project can involve story and script development, including research, that can, in some cases, take a number of years. Yet the funds spent in this area cannot be credited towards the 10 per cent new drama spending until the said drama is actually at the stage of principal photography. This bill recognises this predicament. It will bring about a change that accepts the spending on script development as part of the 10 per cent spending requirement on new drama more immediately.

It is obvious to see that the intent of this change is to encourage greater development of drama projects. As most in the industry will tell you: ‘You can make a bad film out of a good script, but you can’t make a good film out of a bad script.’ This argument applies equally to TV drama. The change proposed in the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Subscription Television Drama and Community Broadcasting Licences) Bill 2006 can expect to boost script development activity while also ensuring projects that do reach the photography stage are of the highest possible standard.

In addition, the bill before the House will allow production companies which spend more than the required 10 per cent on new drama to carry that over to the following financial year. I think most people in the House would accept that that is an important, substantial and essential change which will improve the industry to a very great extent. It is encouraging to think that some production houses are spending greater than 10 per cent of their annual program budget on new Australian drama. Frankly, it would be a good thing to see spending on Australian drama continue to increase. As an aside, Madam Deputy Speaker Bishop, over the years you have taken a very great interest in the arts, in Australian television, the Australian film industry and Australian drama. I suspect, without wanting to impact adversely on the neutrality of the chair, that you also support the bill currently before the chamber. I think all of us would like to see spending on Australian drama continue to increase.

While the changes suggested in the bill will give producers somewhat of a financial safety net, it is important that it does not become an excuse to take on risky projects simply because the safeguards are in place. It is also vital, in my view, that producers do not rely entirely on script and story development to meet their new drama-spending responsibilities.

The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Subscription Television Drama and Community Broadcasting Licences) Bill 2006 also includes other changes, including allowing the transfer of community broadcasting licences. I have to admit that this has been a difficult situation, because there has been no allowance for such transfers, even in the case of changes to a licensee’s corporate identity or where a licensee ceases to exist. The bill gives power to the Australian Communications and Media Authority to approve the transfer of licences in certain cases. The bill is another important initiative on the part of this government. It will substantially improve the industry, and I commend the bill in its entirety to the House.