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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7554

Senator RIDGEWAY (3:28 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (Senator Alston) to a question without notice asked by Senator Ridgeway today relating to the film industry.

Yesterday, I asked similar questions in relation to the Commonwealth government's support for our national cultural institutions. Indeed, the minister confirmed that the government is undertaking a review of all of the major national cultural institutions across the country. I am concerned about the message that this sends to those institutions as well as to the groups that use them, particularly school groups, family groups and low-income earners, but more particularly the professional practising artists out there who have all contributed in one way or another to issues concerning national cultural identity. Today, the minister's answer to questions about ongoing funding to the Australian film industry was a very simple one. He has, however, come out from behind the bush and given some more answers about which institutions we are talking about, and he was also including the Film Finance Corporation, the Australian Film Commission and the Australia Council as part of that review.

It appears to me that the government is focused solely on the budget bottom line and somehow the bean counters have got together and realised that the arts sector is easy pickings in terms of financing the so-called war on terrorism and related border control measures. I think what the minister and the government fail to understand is that the Myer inquiry and the Guldberg report stated that for every $1 of public money invested in these institutions there is a $3 dollar return. The Myer inquiry talked about 20,000 people employed in the arts sector, an industry that is contributing $160 million annually as a return. It is a serious investment and there is a good argument about providing support for these industries.

I turn to the minister's comments today in relation to the film industry itself. Although he keeps talking about figures that somehow say that the industry is in good shape—and overall we are talking about an eight per cent increase—we know that the Australian feature production level was boosted this year by two high-budget foreign feature film productions, TheCrocodile Hunter and Swimming Upstream. The problem, of course, is that when you have foreign feature productions being done this financial year and in the previous financial year—films like Moulin Rouge—they often distort what is happening in the Australian film production industry, and this is what needs to be spoken about. As Kim Dalton, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Film Commission, recently said:

Although foreign production activity in Australia is increasing, it's important to recognise that local production remains the foundation of the industry. It is Australian productions which bring Australian stories to our cinema and our television screens and which over the years have promoted Australia so successfully overseas. It is also Australian productions which discover and promote our local talent and which are so often the training ground for our world class crews.

We need to keep in mind that, since 30 June this year, the government has withheld some $16 million from the Film Licensed Investment Company scheme, commonly known as FLICS. FLICS contributed $16 million of investment over the financial year 2001-02 but, with the pilot scheme set to completely wind up in June next year and with no new investments having been considered since July this year, that is $16 million that the government will not be injecting into the Australian film production industry in this country. What that says is that the outlook for Australian film production and feature films being produced here and globally looks very grim, and the possibility of raising finance for Australian feature films overseas, which is something that has been a crucial element in the investment structure for our films, is becoming tougher.

When we consider that in another context, TV drama has fallen from $240 million to $212 million. That is a decline of 12 per cent in terms of our own TV producers producing shows for Australian consumption. Whilst there has been some increase in relation to in-house production, we need to keep in mind that for the first time in 20 years no adult miniseries have been produced in this country. We are relying upon the big box office hits that foreign feature films often produce as a result of foreign investment. That is distorting the figures. The film production industry in this country is seriously distorted and seriously in crisis, and it needs assistance.

Question agreed to.