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Thursday, 1 July 1926

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - Although I have not had the privilege of listening to the debate on this subject in this chamber, I heard a good deal of the discussion in another place regarding it. I do not think that any one can accuse me of not wanting to assist local industries. I have given evidence of my desire that Australian industries shall flourish, and, next to them, British industries. When I had the honour and privilege to introduce a previous tariff I advocated increased preference to Great Britain in connexion with films, in order to encourage that country to send more films here. We must all admit that picture shows have a wonderful influence on the psychology of our people. The ramifications of the picture film industry are so widespread that, even out in the solitude and silence of the bush, in places where there are no public halls, pictures are presented to the people in the open.

SenatorMcLachlan. - To a great extent, pictures have supplanted literature.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so. One cannot but be struck with the fact that, whereas in some respects the picture industry has improved, in other respects it has not done so. The influence of many pictures shown to-day is decidedly harmful. It was largely due to the deterioration . in the general moral tone of the pictures presented to Australian audiences that the Commonwealth Government instituted the system of censorship of films. That that action was necessary has been made increasingly evident during recent years. We are confronted with the question whether, by placing a tax on the films as they enter this country, we shall obtain the result we. desire. Will such a tax cause to be presented to our people pictures which are more in accordance with our national sentiment, and present a better side of life and of human nature than many of the pictures now shown? Having given this subject a great deal of thought, I have come definitely to the conclusion that taxation at the borders of our country will have very little effect upon the film industry in Australia. Pictures are not like general merchandise; theyare more like works of art. The pictures of one artist may attract great crowds, whereas those of another artist may fail to do so. A good picture, no matter by whom painted, will command a good price so long as it appeals to the public taste. In the making of films more than mechanical skill is required. We, in Australia, could make numbers of pictures, but only those which appealed to the public taste would be successful. The cost of making picture films is enormous, many running into thousands of pounds. Such pictures require a large circulation if their production is to pay.

Senator Ogden - Are not royalties paid on films?

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes ; but the amount is regulated by the number of performances or the number of films sold. The making of films in Australia is a costly undertaking. I admit that simple scenes, such as the harvesting of our wheat, are not. costly to produce. Many pictures cost a vast amount of money.

SenatorReid. - An ordinary picture costs £60,000 or £70,000.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Some pictures cost very much more than that. It is absolutely certain that, if Australia could produce good pictures, the world would take them, but our great trouble is the fact that the American companies specialize in picture production, and so far have led the worldin that respect.For some extraordinary reason they have been able to produce better pictures than have producers in other parts of the worldThat is the whole secret of this matter. After all is said and done, if the American picture people are making what th. public wants, the showmen must buy from them, because he must give the public what it wants. It is the only way in which he can get his box-office returns. That is the position in a nutshell, and the only way in which Australia, with its wonderful climatic conditions for making pictures, can produce pictures which will gain a clientele throughout the world is to set to work to make pictures which the public wants. As I have said, previously, we must make a world-wide demand for our pictures. Senator Reid referred to the picture which was built around the story of The Sentimental Bloke. That picture made an appeal to the whole world, and, consequently, the world-wide circulation it got brought a tremendous return to the people who produced it. They saw the opportunity that story afforded to make a picture which would appeal to the world, _ and when it was produced the world paid to see it. ' All that our picture producers have to do is to make a few mora " Sentimental Blokes," and they will get a ready sale for them. There is no magic about the business- There is no manufacturing process about it such as there is in making hoots or cloth. We could protect an industry for the manufacture of the sensitized film on which the pictures are produced, and could compel Australian producers to use that class of film, but it is quite a different matter to utilize a protective duty to build up an industry which, after all is said and done, is based on art. Art is cosmopolitan. By protective duties we cannot create something artistic; artists are noi; made by the imposition of duties at the Customs House. If we impose this extra duty, who will pay it?

Senator Millen - The people who attend the picture shows.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - No one else will pay it.

Senator McLachlan - Would it not increase the preference to the British films ?

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The imposition of a duty of ls. a foot against American films would, not help the British film producer very much. British producers must do exactly as was done by the pro ducers of The Sentimental Bloke picture. They must make up pictures which the world will pay to see. I am inclined to compel the proprietors of films to pay something to the revenue of the Commonwealth.

Senator McLachlan - The honorable senator would not remove the duty altogether?


Senator McLachlan - Because it was the honorable senator's Government that first imposed the duty.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When the duty was first imposed, I recognized that it was a revenue duty only. When I was told to frame the 1921 tariff, the Government gave me a fairly free hand in regard to its protective incidence, but I had very definite instructions from the Treasurer that I was also to show him that he would get some revenue out of it. The duty on films was frankly one of the revenue duties in that tariff, but we arranged it so that we could give Great Britain some preference. It was a preference of 33 per cent., one of the best in the tariff, but if my information is correct fewer British films are being imported to-day than were being imported before that preference was given. The reason is that the British producers have not been making the class of picture the public wants.

Senator Ogden - We should not pander to all tastes. We ought to try to build up an appreciation for good pictures.

Senator GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I agree that this Parliament has some responsibility in the direction indicated by the honorable senator, but the general experience is that anything attempted to be done by legislation to raise the moral tone of a community proves a failure. 1 can remember many efforts made by various Parliaments to do something along the lines suggested by Senator Ogden, but they have almost invariably failed. I am afraid, therefore, that we cannot do very much by statute, but, at any rate, we can prevent films with a certain definite salacious trend from reaching the public. When I had authority as Minister for Trade and Customs I tried to tighten up the censorship, and I think we laid the foundation of a very good censorship, which has done most excellent work. By levying a duty, we shall not impose a single 6d. additional burden on the people who are drawing a heavy tribute from Australia. They will simply say to those who buy their films, " Your Parliament has imposed an extra duty. Our price before the duty was imposed was so much; today it is so much higher."

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).The honorable senator's time has expired.

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