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Thursday, 1 July 1926

Senator REID (Queensland) .- There has been a good deal of discussion both inside and outside this chamber concerning the picture business, and I cannot understand why some honorable senators have become so agitated. When the tariff was before Parliament in 1921, I made exhaustive inquiries concerning the influence of American films upon the people of Australia. I found that Australian showmen believe, as we do, that the pictures shown in Australia should be of a high standard. Some Australian showmen have gone out of their way to encourage the projection of Australian productions, although it meant losing money. Thousands of pound.s have been lost in endeavouring to successfully produce Australian pictures, owing largely to the fact that, as our population is small, the demand is limited. America has a population of over 100,000,000, and if the producers in that country did not export one film a year; they would still be able to show a profit. Mr. Stoll, the head of the British picture industry, has lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in endeavouring to compete with American producers, who obtained control of the business during the war period. After 'the termination of hostilities, a determined, but unsuccessful attempt was made to develop the British motion-picture industry; but some of the pictures produced in Great Britain had to be more severely censored than those which came from America. Some were of such an unsatisfactory character that the censor refused to allow them to be exhibited. Mr. Stoll said that it was impossible for British producers to compete against the American combine, because it has unlimited funds at its disposal, and consequently is able to obtain the best talent available.

Senator Ogden - It is only a question of money.

Senator REID - Not altogether. The population of America is so large that pictures produced in that country can be profitably shown for a long time. That cannot be done in Australia. If the Australian industry is to be a success, we must produce pictures which will be acceptable in other countries. The Sentimental Bloke, for instance, paid handsomely because it appealed to human instincts ; but other Australian productions have failed, largely because they were of little interest to picture patrons in other countries. I have often been boiling with indignation at the manner in which British history is ridiculedby American producers.

Senator McLachlan - Why should not pictures of historical interest to Britishers be produced in Great Britain ?

Senator REID - The British manufacturers have said that they cannot successfully compete with the American producers. At present, Great Britain imports fully 90 per cent. of the pictures shown in that country. The exercise of some control over the Australian representatives of the American combine has been considered by the Federal* Commissioner of Taxation, and also by the Customs Department, but the investigations disclosed that those handling the business in Australia were losing money. Although hundreds of thousands of pounds are going out of Australia yearly, Vhe Government is powerless to act.

Senator Mclachlan - How can that be prevented ?

Senator REID - Pictures should be valued at the price at which they are supplied in America, plus the cost of transit to Australia.

Senator Payne - Does the honorable senator suggest that subsidiary companies under the control of the combine say that they are not making any profit?

Senator REID - Yes.

Senator Payne - The pictures supplied . to their agencies in Australia are overvalued.

Senator REID - Yes; but not to the showmen. Pictures have been of great advantage to the Australian people, particularly those in the country who before their introduction found life somewhat dull. That is one thing that the pictures have altered. In every little bushtown now, even in the backblocks of Queensland, the people have an opportunity to attend a picture show once a week or once a fortnight. In this way many world events are brought within their knowledge. The attack that has been made on the picture industry is quite unjustified. At the present time the leading morning newspapers in Melbourne are severely criticizing a certain entertainment, but up to the present there has been no interference with it. I have not seen it, but although it has been strongly condemned, no one has suggested that the theatre in which the. entertainment is given ought to be closed. Senator Grant stated that it is difficult to get Australian pictures put. on the screen. I deny that any picture show proprietor has ever refused to screen Australian pictures.

Senator Grant - Is it not a factthat managers of picture theatres must contract for twelve months' supplies of pic- . tures from American firms?

Senator REID - They have to make their arrangement for a twelve months' supply of films, but they are not obliged to show American pictures exclusively. There are many distributors in the business, and the picture show proprietors have a fairly wide choice. There is always room in their programmes for the screening of pictures other than those supplied by the American firms. I need only instance the readiness with which the picture show proprietors screen the series of pictures of Australian scenery produced by the Commonwealth Government. I have seen many of them. They are a credit to the producers, and they are very welcome to Australian audiences. Picture show men are always ready to screen British or Australian pictures. Many of them are exceedingly patriotic, and if it were possible, they would get rid entirely of the American films. Wo must remember, however, that they have to consider their public, and as the American producers have practically captured the market, there is very little that can be done to improve the present position.

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