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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 807

Ms ROWLAND (6:06 PM) —I am very pleased to rise and speak in support of the Screen Australia (Transfer of Assets) Bill 2010. The purpose of this bill is to amend the name of the National Film and Sound Archive to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. The bill also transfers part of Screen Australia’s film library and associated assets and liabilities to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

Following the establishment of Screen Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive in 2008, it has become clear that the functions associated with Screen Australia’s film library and related sales and digital learning functions are best placed with the National Film and Sound Archive. Whilst this may appear to be an administrative change, I believe this will have significant benefits for Australia’s film industry. It will enable the NFSA to be internationally recognised as Australia’s premier audiovisual collecting institution. Anything that enhances the image of Australia’s film industry I believe is worth pursuing. As the immediate past chair of Screen New South Wales, formerly the New South Wales Film and Television Office, I strongly believe the Australian film industry is deserving of government support through a variety of measures and represents a valuable investment in both monetary and non-quantifiable terms.

It is useful to revisit first principles when we consider the role of government in the screen sector. A useful starting point is the statutory functions of Screen Australia. I refer to section 6 of the Screen Australia Act 2008, which includes amongst the functions of Screen Australia being to support and promote the development of a highly creative, innovative and commercially sustainable Australian screen production industry; to support or engage in the development, production, promotion and distribution of Australian programs and the provision of access to Australian programs; and to support and promote the development of screen culture in Australia. The charter and values of Screen New South Wales also neatly capture the contribution of the screen industry to both our culture and our economy. To paraphrase, the screen industry makes a significant contribution to our society socially, culturally and economically. Development and support of the screen industry is a necessary part of maintaining the vitality of our economy as a whole. Diversity in screen content, culture and creation is important. It is an important part of working towards creating opportunities for the widest possible diversity of people to participate in the making, viewing and appreciation of screen content. We live in the digital age. The world no longer sees screen as purely film or television. People now make, share and see moving images on digital formats and platforms at home, at work, at school, in the cinema and on the move in cars, planes and trains. We need to be flexible to adapt to the implications of the digital age. Our role is to stimulate compelling screen experiences and provide high-quality service to screen practitioners.

The Australian government has a comprehensive package of measures aimed at boosting support for the Australian film and television industry, of which the Australian screen production incentive is its primary mechanism. This provides tax incentives for film, television and other screen production in Australia and is available in three streams: the producer offset, to encourage the production of Australian film and television projects; the location offset, which is a 15 per cent rebate which supports the production of large-budget film and television projects shot in Australia; and the PDV offset, a 15 per cent rebate which supports work on post, digital and visual effects production, or PDV, in Australia regardless of where a project is shot.

There were two important changes to the offsets contained in the 2010-11 budget, a reduction in the minimum qualifying expenditure threshold for the PDV offset from $5 million to $500,000 and the removal of the requirement for production spending between $15 million and $50 million in Australia to spend at least 70 per cent of the total production budget in Australia in order to qualify for the location offset. Like, I am sure, those speakers who will follow in this debate, I am passionate about Australian film. I am sure we all have our favourites. They have made an important contribution to our cultural identity, from Breaker Morant to Picnic at Hanging Rock to Gallipoli, to name a few. In recent years, during my role as the former chair of Screen New South Wales, there have been some of the most beautiful and moving pieces that I have seen, such as Ivan Sen’s Beneath Clouds, Blessed by Ana Kokkinos and, from the 2010 Sydney Film Festival, Wasted on the Young—which I thought was the standout film. Then there are documentaries, television series and features and the burgeoning digital effects sector, for which Australia has rightfully earned a reputation for excellence.

A case in point is Animal Logic, the producers of the Oscar-winning Happy Feet. The 2009 DBCDE paper, Australia’s digital economy: future directions discussed Animal Logic as a case study of success, tracking its beginnings in advertising to attracting the best human capital, the necessary creativity and the right people of talent. It also discussed the issue of broadband. In the future directions paper’s interview with Greg Smith of Animal Smith, he said the following under the heading ‘how broadband changes the game’:

The continued growth of broadband infrastructure complements and supports Animal Logic’s business growth. In its ongoing advertising work, broadband capability allows commercials at a higher resolution and quality, which facilitates greater creativity and production values. When online advertising was primarily banner advertisements there was less scope, but with broadband, advertising can be the same or close to broadcast quality, which increases the creative potential.

This is important. He goes on to say:

With the rollout of high-speed broadband as part of the National Broadband Network, the ability to improve content production quality will only increase. Bandwidth requirements always grow to fill the available capacity. It can also give the company greater flexibility in how it manages its production facilities.

With high-speed broadband, Animal Logic’s work could, for example, be carried out seamlessly by pods working in different locations. It makes sense for Animal Logic to maintain its base in Fox Studios because it is convenient for the director and others shooting a movie nearby to quickly drop by and see how the visual effects are developing. However, allowing people to work in other locations around Sydney can increase the talent pool because it gives people greater choices in terms of cost of living, and travel time. Locating teams away from the inner-city of Sydney can also reduce business costs.

I regularly engage with practitioners in film industry circles who are excited about what the NBN will do to envigorate the sector. The case study of Animal Logic encapsulates some of the very real benefits that will be derived from the NBN for the arts sector.

As someone who remains passionate about the Australian film industry, it would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to acknowledge the present challenges being faced by the sector, particularly in the current climate of parity or near parity of the Australian dollar with the American dollar and the impact of that on the industry’s global competiveness. It is an unfortunate downside of the combination of our high dollar and our competitors matching or exceeding Australia’s production incentives. According to AusFilm, which commissioned an economic impact study of the Australian Screen Production Incentive program, $2.2 billion of inward investment has been generated in Australia under the scheme. Unfortunately however, today it is becoming, and in some cases it has become, financially unattractive for high-end international feature production in Australia. The result is a downsizing of the domestic industry, with wide-ranging negative impacts on everything from the skilled crew base to caterers to local impacts, particularly when you consider the boost that can be generated to local economies—particularly regional towns—by onsite filming.

I look forward to what I understand will be a comprehensive review of the offset scheme to address these very real concerns. Indeed, I note the announcement by Minister Simon Crean of 17 February at which he released his review of the independent screen production sector. It found significant improvement in the Australian screen and television industry and a major lift in government investment—in fact, government support has trebled from $136.7 million to $412.1 million in three years since the introduction of the Australian Screen Production Incentive.

However, the review also identifies several challenges and highlights that there are opportunities to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the screen tax offset in some areas. I also look forward to this review gathering as many submissions as possible from the sector and also from people like me who are passionate about film. Comments are invited until Friday, 11 March.

One thing is also clear, and I get this a lot from industry: international production crews love coming to Australia. I want to stress that because it is unfortunate that when it comes down to it money is the bottom line, not the quality of our crews and not the quality of our industry in Australia.

The second element of this legislation provides for the transfer of Screen Australia’s extensive archive of documentary films to the NFSA. Currently, Screen Australia’s film library includes over 5,000 films produced by its various predecessor agencies. The transfer of these assets is important because the NFSA has the professional archiving experience and facilities to preserve, curate and exhibit these films.

It is useful to remind ourselves of what we are dealing with when we consider the NFSA. It has more than 1.6 million items—over 330,000 audio recordings, over 440,000 moving images and over 870,000 associated documents. Some of these are of priceless national and cultural significance, such as the earliest surviving footage of the Melbourne Cup from 1897 and The Story of the Kelly Gang from 1906, which was indeed the first acknowledged feature film in the world. There is also the Indigenous collection. One of the very important functions of the NFSA is to collect, preserve and effectively manage the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures depicted through film and sound.

I want to tell a particularly pertinent story about film archiving. It is the story of the classic 1971 film Wake in Fright, directed by Ted Kotcheff, and how it was rediscovered. This film is the story of schoolteacher John Grant, who has an alcohol fuelled descent into hell one weekend in an isolated outback town. By the late 1990s the original negatives were thought to be lost. In 1996 the editor, Anthony Buckley, started searching for them. He located them in a bonded warehouse in London. But when he arrived to collect them he found that unfortunately the week before the canisters had been shipped to the US. He kept searching and eventually found the canisters of the original film in a set of dump bins, and 263 cans of film finally arrived at the NFSA from the US in two separate shipments in September 2004. A significant amount of work needed to be done on them to reconstruct and preserve the film. The NFSA did a fantastic job in undertaking this preservation work and in fact it was at the Sydney Film Festival in 2009, I believe, that it had a redigitised screening to a rapturous response. I was very fortunate to be there for that momentous occasion.

A large proportion of the NFSA material is stored as online education resources, which are a very effective tool for use in classrooms across the country. One of the most exciting parts of being a member of parliament is the opportunity to visit schools across one’s electorate. I have been fortunate to experience the benefits of an interactive classroom. The use of audiovisual material is becoming an increasingly important feature of education in the 21st century and, for this reason, it is essential that the NFSA is given the resources it needs to archive and preserve audiovisual material. It is essential that appropriate recognition is afforded to the authority so that it can continue to preserve an audiovisual record of our past, be it in films, television, news stories or documentaries. This is why this is an important piece of legislation, and I commend it to the House.