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Wednesday, 30 June 1926

Senator GRANT (New South Wales) . - When the duties on imported films were considered by the Senate in 1921 a flat rate of 3d. per lineal foot under the general tariff was considered reasonable; but another place reduced the rate to 1½d. per foot. Instead of insisting upon the higher rate the Senate agreed to a reduction, with the result that since 1921 the duty has been at the nominal rate of lid. per foot. It is almost impossible to ascertain how the moving picture business is being conducted in Australia; but it is evident from the information obtained from various sources that the combination handling American films is a very powerful and wealthy one. In some instances it takes very - drastic measures against picture show proprietors who do not comply with the conditions imposed. A case was brought under my notice some time ago where a gentleman who invested thousands of pounds in a picture theatre wished to conduct the establishment in his own way, but he was plainly told by a representative of the combination supplying American films that if he continued in that way his supply of films would be stopped. He was, therefore, compelled either to close his theatre or accept the conditions imposed. I have been informed that the American combination has treated more than one theatre proprietor or lessee in that way. That being the case Parliament should seriously consider the question of having a searching inquiry made by a royal commission, or some equally effective body, in order to ascertain if the imposition of higher duties would encourage the production of Australian pictures. Motion pictures provide the most popular form of amusement, not only in Australia, but in almost every other country, and although it has been estimated that in Australia 100,000,000 people attend the exhibition of moving pictures every year. I believe a close examination of the figures would show that the number is much larger. This afternoon the Minister (Senator Crawford), informed us that certain duties, which were subsequently agreed to were, for the time being, purely revenue duties. The duty on imported films is in the same category, but I disagree with the Minister's inference that the imposition of a 33J per cent, duty on films imported into Great Britain was responsible for the decline of the industry in that country. Production in Great Britain diminished because of the unsuitable climatic conditions. The Australian climate is in many respects similar to, and is as suitable for the production of films as is the climate of California. The American combination has shown considerable opposition to the exhibition of films of Australian production. Even when they are shown, the picture theatre proprietors have to pay the combination for the time occupied in screening them. The local producers are, therefore, not receiving a fair deal. The scenic beauties of Australia are worthy of greater publicity. What opportunity has a man receiving the basic wage of visiting the different parts of the Commonwealth? Such a person would be lucky if he visited Tasmania once in his lifetime, and would be particularly fortunate if he could make a trip to Western Australia or Queensland.

Senator Thompson - Is the honorable senator not aware that the Commonwealth is publishing a series of " See Your Own Country " films ?

Senator GRANT - The Commonwealth in producing about 500,000 feet of such films is undertaking the business in a satisfactory manner; but that quantity of Australian films produced is infinitesimal when we know that about 21,000,000 feet of films are exhibited in Australia every year. The production of Australian films should be encouraged by the payment of a bounty, or in some other way. It is easy to suggest that small companies can undertake picture production, when, as a matter of fact, it requires a large and powerful company to successfully compete with the American combination. In making an attempt to combat this organization, a company would, at the commencement, have to compete with a country with a population of 120,000,000. In view of what has been done to protect other industries, even before in some cases they are properly established, an industry of this importance should receive the earnest consideration of Parliament. The discussion here and in another place, as well as the publicity given in the press to the subject, has brought it prominently before the people of Australia, who, till then, had little knowledge of the operations of the American combine. Even now there is some uncertainty. Senator Thompson told us this afternoon that the production of one picture alone cost the American producers £5,000,000. I think the honorable senator was stretching the statement to the extent of a few millions of pounds, and that probably Senator Guthrie's estimate of £70,000 was much neared the mark. When we consider the wonderful climate of Australia and the great variety of its scenery, and when we consider also its sparse population - we have an average of about only two people to the square mile - it is our bounden duty to take advantage of every opportunity to develop new industries here. The production of moving pictures in Australia should provide employment for a large number of people. Only recently, because of the belief that a certain company was reaping an enormous harvest from the Australian people, Parliament agreed to the imposition of heavy import duties to protect Australian industries. Whether we can ensure the establishment of the moving picture industry by the imposition of duties, or whether we shall have to adopt some other means, is not clear to me ; but I doubt if an additional1d. a foot duty on foreign films will achieve this purpose.

Senator Crawford - It will merely be one of those revenue duties which the honorable senator is so fond of.

Senator GRANT - I have never been in favour of revenue duties. I regard all Customs duties as an unjustifiable tax on the workers. I have been informed on very good authority that a Sydney company produced seven films last year. That is a beginning, and in view of the possible employment of a large number of people and the scope for the development of latent talent, we should take the necessary measures to ensure the establishment of the industry in Australia.

Progress reported.

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