Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 2 March 1927

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - Honorable senators will welcome the announcement just made by Senator Pearce, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, that it is the intention of the Government, if this motion is carried, to appoint a royal commission to inquire into this very important subject. The fact that the Imperial Conference, which has so many matters of vast importance to consider, held that the cinema, as well as the general production of films within the Empire, was of sufficient importance to warrant the appointment of a subcommittee to inquire into the subject, should warrant the Commonwealth in taking action on similar lines, although, necessarily, our action must be restricted in scope to Australia and its immediate surroundings.It is natura] to suppose that the Imperial Conference and its sub-committee viewed the matter from the Imperial stand-point more than from the stand-point of those who view or produce films within the Empire. 1 feel certain that every honorable senator is anxious that more Empire films should be produced and shown in the theatres of the Empire, whether it be in Great Britain itself or in the Dominions. Senator Pearce has rightly reminded us of the very great influence these films have upon those who view them. Therefore, from a propaganda point of view, and regarding the matter from the standpoint of the Empire itself, the greater production of films within the Empire should bring about an extension of the influence of the Empire and also help to build up a closer understanding between its various parts. Indeed, in that respect, the cinema has a great future, and that, I take it, was the view of the Imperial Conference in appointing 'a sub-committee to consider the question. It was clearly one of the objects the sub-committee itself kept constantly before it in making its investigations, and it was undoubtedly the chief object it had in view when it drew up its recommendation. I feel sure that we can all concur in that recommendation. If it is at all possible for Australia to further film production within the Empire, or even within the Commonwealth, then, of course, it is a very necessary and wise thing for us to do. Already an endeavour has been made to produce films in Australia, but the same charge can be levelled against them as is levelled against most of the pictures imported from America. While interesting, they dealt more or less with the sordidness of life rather than with the higher things to which the Minister has referred. The films I have seen produced in Australia were right enough from a photographic point of view. Perhaps owing, to lack of experience they were not acted as well as films' introduced from overseas, and the settings were perhaps not so good ; but as photographic productions they were good enough for people to look at. My complaint, however, is that the subjects' of the pictures themselves were not good enough. As the VicePresident of the Executive' Council has told us, we have in Australia all the necessary facilities for the production of films that will do something towards elevating the moral tone of the community, and educating the people to higher ideals than perhaps they have to-day; but, so far, the pictures produced in Australia have fallen lamentably short in that respect. The picture industry in Australia is very large. When Senator Grant placed his motion on the noticepaper, I went to some little trouble to ascertain its extent. I found, as the Minister has shown to-day, that the figures were staggering in their immen- sity. Unless one took the trouble to inquire into the subject, one would find it almost impossible to realize just what a huge concern it is in Australia. The Minister has shown that the proportion of films of Empire production shown in Australia is not nearly as high as it ought to be. He has also shown what is perfectly true, that even in Great Britain itself the production of films produced within the Empire is not nearly what it ought to be. My latest figures show that only 8 per cent, of the total films exhibited throughout Great Britain are produced within the Empire. The rest are made in America, Germany, and other countries.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Whose fault is that ?

Senator Reid - The trouble is that Great Britain is not producing more films.

Senator DUNCAN - In other lines of commercialism Britain has not been so backward in production as she seems to be in this direction. I do not know that the British people are keener to look at films that depict American, or even German life, than they are to see pictures of British life; but it is certainly true that only 8 per cent, of the pictures shown in Great Britain are produced within the Empire. If we can only do something along the lines suggested by the Imperial Conference, or some other lines that may be indicated by the proposed royal commission, to increase the proportion of Empire-produced films shown within the Empire, we shall be doing work of a most important nature, and something really worth while. T. want to place on record the figures I have gathered relating to the extent of the picture industry in Australia. The capital invested in theatres in 1921 was £6,700,000, quite a large amount, but in 1926, only five years later, the amount had increased to £25,000,000. The number of admissions to picture theatres, of which children formed 8 per cent., was 150,000,000 in 1926, and the wages paid in that year, not for production, but simply in connexion with the exhibition of the films, was £2,500,000. The number of employees in the industry, of whom about half are women, is 25,000. In 1921 the number of picture theatres in Australia was 808. As the Minister has already told us this number had grown to 1,300 in 1926.

I propose now to quote some figures to show how the Australian people patronize the theatres. In 1922-23 the total taxable admissions to theatres were 78,641,951, of which picture theatres made up 46,371,690. The total entertainments tax collected in that year was £252,611. In the following year, 1923-24, the tax oh certain admissions having in the meantime been remitted, the total taxable admissions were 69,738,089, of which picture theatres made up 38,433,908. The total entertainments tax collected was £228,873. In 1924-25 the total taxable admissions increased from 69,738,089 to 77,994,064, of which the picture theatres accounted for 44,691,650, and the total tax collected amounted to £261,826. These figures show the enormous extent of the industry, and indicate the important part that moving pictures play in the daily lives of the people. The total admissions to theatres in Australia during 1926 numbered 150,000,000, and since the population of this country is approximately 6,000,000, this means that a number equalling the total population visit picture shows at least once a fortnight. One realizes that an enormous number of people are reached, not occasionally, but constantly, by means of films, and that a tremendous influence is thus exercised on the minds and daily lives of the people of Australia in common with those of other countries. These figures should make it clear to the Senate that it is important that the Government should have something definite to guide it, when it proposes to take action on the lines of either more effective control or ensuring that the right kind of film shall be exhibited in Australia, and a proper sentiment created by them. The willingness of the Government to appoint a royal commission, if the Senate asks for it, is most commendable, because such a tribunal, if it made its recommendations in accordance with the facts placed before it, would enable the Government, without hesitation to proceed along right lines, feeling that it had the support of the great majority of the people. The Minister has told us the number of films imported into Australia, and the number rejected. The last figures that I have are those for 1925, a year earlier than those quoted by the Minister, and I was surprised to learn that in 1926 the total number of rejects had increased. Evidently there is stronger necessity than ever for the maintenance of the censorship over films in Australia. The Censor is doing splendid work, as many honorable senators are aware. Some considerable time ago we had an opportunity of visiting his office, and of witnessing many of the cuts that had been made. The rejection of many of the films was abundantly justified in the minds of honorable senators who saw the exhibition. It would be a disgrace to the Parliament, and the people of Australia, if films such as those seen by us were publicly exhibited. The fact that the Censor has found it necessary to increase the percentage of films that have to be totally rejected because it is impossible to cut or improve them, shows a growing tendency throughout the United States of America for picture producers to make films of the character referred to by the Minister.

Senator Andrew - It shows that a greater number of undesirable pictures are being imported.

Senator DUNCAN - It shows that an attempt is being made to bring in these undesirable films, and their production in the United States of America is evidently increasing. We do not wish the people of Australia to be entertained by means rf American pictures of a questionable character, and I hope the Film Censorship will maintain the stringent oversight that it is now exercising, making it clear that the dirt and muck that American picture producers are anxious to heap upon Australia will be excluded. I hope that the Senate will agree to the appointment of a commission, because much good would result from it. The cost of completing its work would be small, in comparison with the good service that it would render to the community. The matter is of such importance that the Government realizes that it cannot shirk its responsibility with regard to it. Action must be taken, and I trust that the Senate will give a clear indication tb.3,fc it is solidly behind the proposal of the Ministry.

SenatorPAYNE (Tasmania) r4.12].I realize the importance of the subject under discussion, and I find myself almost in total agreement with many of the comments of honorable senators regarding the motion submitted by Senator Grant. Nevertheless, I cannot see that

I should be justified in supporting the appointment of a royal commission. I recognize to the full the wonderful effect that the moving picture has on the juvenile mind. Visualizing an object by means of a film always leaves a more lasting impression upon the young than does the mere reading of the incident. We heard to-day from the Minister portions of the report of the Censor regarding his work during last year, and the very fact that that information is available is sufficient to warrant the Government introducing legislation at the earliest possible opportunity to deal with the matter, lt is proposed by Senator Grant that the whole subject be referred to a royal commission. But for what purpose? We know that practically all the films coming to Australia are produced in America, and that many of the pictures are presented in such a way as to leave an impression on the young mind that should not be given. We must leave that phase of the matter in the hands of the Censor, who, I am satisfied, is doing excellent work in excluding undesirable films. If a commission were appointed, it could certainly report upon the nature of the films brought to Australia, and the percentage of British and Australian films to imported pictures, but we already have that information.

Senator Andrew - The appointment of the commission would help to create a sentiment in favour of British and Australian films.

Suggest corrections