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Thursday, 13 March 2008
Page: 774


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) (9:39 AM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

SCREEN AUSTRALIA BILL 2008

This Government places a very strong value on a creative and viable Australian film and television industry. Our film and television industry has world class facilities and punches well above its weight with its award winning and highly regarded productions, cast and crew. We can all be proud of the industry’s international reputation for excellence, hard work and dedication. Beyond its contribution to our cultural life, the sector’s input to the Australian economy is also significant, contributing some $1.5 billion annually to GDP and employing more than 50 000 people.

In a global entertainment environment, the challenges facing the industry have been well documented. In particular, the industry has lacked sufficient private investment to provide a strong capital base. Production levels and box office returns continue to fluctuate and filmmakers are unable to build strong creative businesses. The Government recognises its responsibilities to support the industry in meeting these challenges. Without strong Government support, Australian voices on our screens would be considerably muted. The Government is committed to providing a framework within which the industry can grow and prosper and establishing Screen Australia is part of that framework.

This Bill establishes a merged film agency, Screen Australia, as the key direct funding body for the Australian screen production industry. The Bill facilitates the merger of the majority of the functions of the Australian Film Commission, the Film Finance Corporation Australia and Film Australia Limited into a single statutory agency.

Whilst in opposition and as shadow minister for the arts, I called early for consideration to be given to creating, through merging, a single screen authority - a body such as this. The Government committed to establishing Screen Australia in its 2007 Election policy, New Directions for the Arts. And as further evidence of its commitment to the Australian film and television industry, the government has identified the development of a globally innovative and competitive film industry for consideration at the Australia 2020 Summit to be held in Parliament House on 19 and 20 April.

The new agency will have a strong focus on cultural objectives while also pursuing the growth of a more competitive screen production industry. The synergies created by combining the resources of the three agencies will enhance coordination, facilitate strong national leadership for the screen production industry, and enable a fast response to changing national and international opportunities and challenges, such as technological innovations and changing audience preferences. It will free up resources which can be directed towards new industry priorities.

The Bill outlines the proposed functions and powers of the new body, together with the proposed governance and accountability arrangements. The functions largely reflect the combined functions of the existing agencies, with the principal exception being due to the establishment of the National Film and Sound Archive as a separate statutory authority, the legislation for which is also being introduced today.

The new agency will have a strong emphasis on cultural objectives and artistic merit. Its functions also emphasise the importance of improved commercial sustainability for the industry which will continue to face significant challenges due to its small size, relative isolation and difficulties in competing with imported product, notably of course from the United States. Screen Australia is to be an agency with a strong cultural mandate and one which also understands the importance of filmmakers relating to their audiences and developing their businesses.

The Bill provides Screen Australia with the following functions:

  • Support and promote the development of a highly creative, innovative and commercially sustainable Australia screen production industry; and
  • Support or engage in the development, production, promotion and distribution of Australian programs and the provision of access to Australian programs and other programs; and
  • Support and promote the development of screen culture in Australia.

In performing its functions, Screen Australia will have a continuing responsibility for the development of areas of particular public interest and cultural merit, such as documentaries and children’s programs. The Government’s expectation is that the agency will continue to emphasise programs of real national significance in all fields. In particular it is expected that the National Interest Program undertaken by Film Australia will continue, and even be broadened beyond documentaries where appropriate. I expect that the agency will have an important role in promoting the work of emerging filmmakers. As well, our indigenous filmmakers have carved out a special place in Australia’s cultural life and it is critical that indigenous voices, and indigenous stories, are seen and heard on Australian screens, and brought to Australian audiences.

The Government is keen for the screen production industry to move beyond a cottage industry and for it to provide ongoing work for the many highly talented Australians who currently either have to work overseas for long periods or have to find employment in other industries to supplement their incomes. It should also seek to provide opportunities for world renowned Australians, eager to come home to work, to be able to do so.

To this end, Screen Australia will be expected to realise its cultural objectives while also being acutely conscious of the need to promote the development of commercially focussed screen businesses. While funding will be available for single projects and individuals, significant funding will also need to be directed to sector capacity building and supporting industry professionals willing to build businesses rather than move from one project to the next. The continuing trend of rapid technological, cultural, social and political change means the Australian industry in coming years is likely to be a different industry to the one we have now.

The recently introduced Producer Offset will provide a significant avenue for funding for many films and television projects and will enable producers to retain equity in their projects while, at the same time, attracting higher levels of private investment. This provides opportunities and challenges for Screen Australia.

Because the Producer Offset can be the primary vehicle of Government support for many productions, Screen Australia will be able to invest more funding in activities not directly associated with production. These include individual and project development activities, and those activities which provide the wider Australian community, including regional Australians, with access to Australian audiovisual product. Many have advocated the need for more Government support during the development phases of projects to ensure that those films which go into production have the best chances of success. The extent to which Screen Australia should support marketing and distribution is also an important issue. I expect the debate on how Screen Australia will evolve from its predecessors will pay a great deal of attention to identifying new priorities.

The degree to which Screen Australia should provide investment funding to projects which also receive the Producer Offset also needs close attention. It is important that the agency respond to this new incentive in a way which ensures better cultural outcomes and does not result in the agency simply replacing funding which should be provided by the marketplace.

With the introduction of the legislation, I call for an active debate to start now, from all interested in this sector, on how Screen Australia should best be positioned to meet these challenges, to ensure that the new organisation has clarity of purpose, a genuine sense of integration, and the ability to respond quickly to industry priorities.

These new directions for the screen production industry have been warmly welcomed by the industry. The establishment of Screen Australia is a key plank in the strategy to revitalise the industry, restore investor confidence and deliver exciting productions to Australian audiences and beyond.


NATIONAL FILM AND SOUND ARCHIVE BILL 2008

In 1935 the Government established a National Historical Film and Speaking Record Library. This was the first recognition of the importance of maintaining a collection of our film and sound heritage. The National Film and Sound Archive was established as a separate collecting institution in 1984 and until 2003 it was administratively part of the relevant Government department responsible for the arts. In 2003, it became part of the Australian Film Commission.

The national collection now contains over 1.4 million items. Recently, the Archive restored what is possibly the world’s first feature-length film, The Story of the Kelly Gang from 1906. This film is now in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register which identifies cultural heritage of international significance. The Archive has launched a Centre for Scholarly and Archival Research which attracts outstanding researchers and practitioners to study and interpret the collection. It has also compiled a superb National Registry of Audiovisual Collections to document many private and public holdings of moving image and recorded sound materials.

In its arts election policy, the Government recognised the significance of the Archive and its work and that for it to operate effectively it deserved full autonomy as a national collecting institution. Accordingly, the Government undertook to establish the National Film and Sound Archive as a separate statutory authority. This Bill delivers on that commitment. For the first time, the NFSA will have independent statutory status in the same way as the other national collecting institutions, with its own governing Board and management. It will have ownership of the national collection of audiovisual and related material, and full responsibility for selection, acquisition, preservation and disposal of items in the collections.

The NFSA’s functions include the development, preservation, maintenance, and promotion of a national collection. The principal duty of a collecting institution such as this is to manage the national collection in its care and ensure that posterity is able to experience and enjoy all the treasures which it holds. The NFSA will also be able to engage with other collections in Australia, for instance through the benefits of its world class technical expertise, and will be able to provide access to the finest programs from around the world.

The NFSA will not simply be an organisation focussed on preservation and maintenance. Instead, the Government will be looking to the new agency to develop a high public profile. It will be expected to develop strong access and outreach programs so that as many Australians as possible can enjoy films and recordings in the national collection, and can develop a greater appreciation and awareness of our finest films, television programs, music and spoken voice recordings.

The NFSA will be expected to emphasise the historical and cultural significance of the material which it holds, and to make the best use it can of the collection in the national interest. It is expected that the NFSA will have a strong research focus in relation to the collection, and to collaborate with institutions in Australia and overseas. A key provision in the Bill is the need for the Archive to, as far as practical, apply the highest curatorial standards to its activities, and thereby assume a national leadership role in relation to best professional practice.

This Bill gives the NFSA a strong statutory mandate, a clear and coherent philosophy reflecting its cultural role and importance in the archiving profession, autonomy in its own affairs consistent with other national collecting institutions, and greater accountability and transparency.


SCREEN AUSTRALIA AND THE NATIONAL FILM AND SOUND ARCHIVE (CONSEQUENTIAL AND TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS) BILL 2008

This Bill is a companion Bill to the Screen Australia Bill 2008 and the National Film and Sound Archive Bill 2008 which are also being introduced today. The Bill deals with consequential and transitional matters related to the establishment of both bodies. The key elements of the Bill relate to repeal and consequential amendment of other legislation, transfer of assets and liabilities, termination of office holders and transfer of staff and their entitlements.

Once Screen Australia is established, the Australian Film Commission Act 1975 will be repealed and the companies, Film Finance Corporation Australia Limited and Film Australia Limited will be wound up. The assets and liabilities of the three agencies will be transferred to Screen Australia with the exception of those that go to the National Film and Sound Archive or the Australian Film, Television and Radio School.

This Bill also contains provisions dealing with transfer of employees of the existing agencies as appropriate. These transitional provisions are necessary because currently staff are employed under a number of different arrangements including as APS employees, under certified agreements or Australian Workplace Agreements, or under common law contracts. While clearly all mergers encompass a degree of change, the provisions of this Bill ensure that staff will not be disadvantaged as a result of this legislation.

The Bill also contains provisions relating to the appointment of the first CEOs of Screen Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive. While future appointments will be made by the Boards of the respective agencies, the initial appointments will be Ministerial ones in order to ensure they can be made quickly ahead of the commencement of operations of the agencies on 1 July 2008.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ludwig) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.