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Tuesday, 28 August 1973
Page: 414


Mr MATHEWS (Casey) - The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) introduced the Film and Television School Bill on 31 May and on 22 June he appointed a permanent Council for that school under the chairmanship of Mr Barry Jones. Not even the very greatly increased appropriations for the arts announced in last Tuesday's Budget speak more clearly of the seriousness with which Australia's new Government is taking its responsibilities in the field of the arts. I think that it was duplicity - that word is not too strong - delay and procrastination on this matter of the film and television training school more than any other single matter which cost Australia's former Government its credibility among people in whose eyes the arts are a major determinant in the quality of life. Honourable members will recall that the need for an Australian film and television training school was raised originally by the Australian Council for the Arts, that the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) undertook in his 1969 election policy speech as Leader of the Liberal Party to establish an interim council to investigate and report upon the project and that at the time when the right honourable member removed himself from office the report was in hand and a start was to be made. When, a few minutes ago, the right honourable gentleman said that a complete lack of vision had been displayed over this project he took the trouble to point out to the House that he was not referring to the current Government.

Honourable members will recall how the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) as Prime Minister and my predecessor in Casey, as Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts endeavoured, in the parlance of the day, to de-Gortonise this project along with many other projects in a manner that was highly disruptive to the unity of the Liberal Party and damaging to its electoral prospects. It may turn out that the name of the film and television school is engraved on the heart of the right honourable member for Lowe in much the same way as the word 'Calais' was engraved on the heart of an earlier national leader. On 8 September 1971 the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts said in answer to a question without notice from the honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley):

Whilst the Council's enthusiasm for this project is fully apparent, the continuing economic stringencies and the substantial cost of its proposals - estimated to be over $7m during the next 5 years - have led to consideration of the proposals being deferred for 12 months.

On 10 September 1971 he told the then Leader of the Opposition that the cost of land for the school would be $2.4m and to spend $7m to provide 12 graduates a year is rather expensive at the moment.' On 16 September 1971 he told the right honourable member for Higgins and the honourable member for Diamond Valley: we can get just as much aid for the film industry over the years at a very much less cost than by setting up an expensive school from which, at the moment, we cannot be certain that we will need all the graduates.

He continued:

.   . I believe that in the long run I will be able to put to the House a very much better series of proposals than the original proposal for encouraging this great industry.

It was true that the Minister had been instructed in a telephone call from the then Prime Minister to abort once and for all the film and television training school which had been so great a source of satisfaction to his predecessor, but it was not true either that the cost of establishing the school would be $7m or that its output would be limited to a dozen graduates. The right honourable member for Higgins rightly was not prepared to let the matter rest. He protested with such effect that on 7 October 1971 the Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Lowe, told the former member for Shortland: it has not been abandoned but merely deferred . . . within recent weeks I have had discussions with my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, and I have pointed out to him that he is to proceed as quickly as possible to collect all the evidence that becomes available to him so that the proposal can be presented to the Government well before the next Budget and not necessarily therefore in a Budget context.

On 13 October the right honourable member for Higgins told the House that the cost of land for the school was not $2.4m but $320,000. He disclosed that the 12 graduates a year to which the Minister had referred represented in fact an intake of 50 students annually and an annual capacity for absorbing between 30 and 40 graduates on the part of the industry. On 25 October the Minister had an exchange of messages with the Interim Council substantiating the figures put forward by the right honourable member for Higgins, and he drew these messages to the attention of the then Prime Minister. But that right honourable gentleman preferred to ignore them in his statement of 26 October supporting the Minister. It was only after sustained questioning by the then Leader of the Opposition, the then Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Sherry) that this additional information was produced. The then Prime Minister told the House on 23 November 1971:

.   . I am not the responsible Minister and naturally I could not be expected to know about the receipt of every single letter that is received and I did not know of the receipt of this letter.

On 24 November he told the House that the letters had been received by a committee which, I think, is under the chairmanship of my colleague, the Treasurer, and also has the Attorney-General on it'. It was clear that day from the expression on the face of the Treasurer - the present Leader of the Opposition - that if the committee existed that was the first he had heard about it. On 2 December the then Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Lowe:

Did the Prime Minister, before establishing a group of Ministers chaired by the Treasurer to handle the matter of the national film and television training school, advise the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts of his intention to do so?

He was told by the Prime Minister:

I advised all Ministers at roughly the same time. In other words, the decision to establish the committee was mine, and, in accordance with normal Cabinet practice, I then advised the Ministers through the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

On 19 April 1972 the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts announced that the Government had received a third report from the Interim Council. He said that on the basis of this report it would establish a film and television training school at a capital cost of $2. 7m and a recurrent cost totalling over 5 years $ 1.61m and that during the establishment process there would be an interim film and television training scheme costing annually $150,600. On 24 August the Minister announced that Mr Storry Watson had been appointed as director of the interim training school. The matter rested at that point until the new Government introduced this Bill on 31 May.

No debate on this matter would be complete if it omitted a tribute to the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) for the vision he showed in the matter of the film and television training school and for the persistence with which he pursued that project. I believe it is safe to say that if the right honourable member for Higgins had not been Prime Minister when the Australian Council for the Arts produced its proposal for the establishment of the film and television training school that project would not have been taken up by the government of the day. I believe equally that if the right honourable member for Higgins had not displayed very great persistence and some political courage in the months immediately following his departure from the Prime Ministership to the Ministry for Defence, the project would certainly have been dropped by his successor. This country is the richer for that vision, persistence and courage. The right honourable member will find a number of places in the history books of this country, not all of which I think he will appreciate or would have chosen himself, but in this one I think he will long take pride.

One of the disappointing aspects of the debate which took place in the latter months of 1971 about the film and television training school was the very narrow focus given by the government of the day to the potential application of graduates from the school. To have heard the then Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts talk at the time one might have supposed that Australia had no film industry and that there would have been no opening for the graduates of the school other than in our limited number of television studios. In fact the Minister grossly underestimated the capacity both of the television industry and our budding film industry to absorb graduates. But the most depressing feature of his stand was that he completely omitted to give consideration either to the enormous scope which exists for graduates from such an institution in the schools of this country or to the new possibilities for such graduates in areas only now being opened up by technological innovation in the electronics industry. The prospect of the introduction of cable television in this country, operating on the basis of viewer payment at the point of delivery, and the prospect of the introduction of video cassettes open up enormous new fields for the independent Australian producer, writer, craftsman, cameraman - in a word, for every member of the production team.

Whereas since 1956 a very few television channels, facing very formidable problems in obtaining an adequate return on their heavy capital investment, have dominated the market for television material, new opportunities are now opening up for the production of film and particularly of videotape by individuals and groups who will be able to move into the field on the basis of quite slender capital investments. The film and television training school has a very large contribution to make in ensuring that maximum advantage is taken of these new technological opportunities.

I should say, too, that one of the encouraging features of education in this country is the way in which, for the first time, the visual media are being taken with a seriousness approaching that which schools have always brought to the printed word. Many of us have thought quite disproportionate in recent years the number of hours the English syllabus of schools at all levels, and for that matter at tertiary institutions, have devoted to the printed word to the exclusion of a critical consideration of the visual media, and chiefly of television, with which the ordinary Australian is much more intimately involved and over which he spends an infinitely greater proportion of his leisure hours. If we are to have the matter of the visual media tackled at a proper level within the English syllabuses of schools we will need a new sort of teacher. It is not enough to expect teachers trained in the traditional discipline of English and having perhaps an amateur's interest in the visual media to undertake the responsibility for inculcating in their pupils a proper critical awareness of the material which is put before them on their television screens. It is necessary, if such a critical appreciation is to be inculcated, for those responsible for the process to have not only an aesthetic understanding of the visual media but also a feel for the technical and technological background of those media. I believe that the film and television training school, in addition to lifting immeasurably the standards of writing, camera work and direction in the television and film industries, will make a very great contribution to the level of teaching in this new area in our schools. Its importance in that respect should not be underestimated.

All Australians concerned with the arts, with the quality of the media of information in this country and with the relevance of education in this country will salute the step which has been taken by the Government in bringing forward this Bill and establishing this school. Their appreciation will be enhanced if the Government, in addition to the proposal that is already expressed in this Bill, will go further and take up the suggestions put by the right honourable member for Higgins in associating with this school other preparatory institutions for the performing arts. All Australians concerned with the relevance of the media of information and with the relevance of education in this country will salute what has been done. They will deplore the fact that so much might so readily have been done 2 years ago. They will remember the name of the member of this Parliament to whose initiative and determination it should properly be attributed.







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