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Wednesday, 2 March 1927

Senator FOLL (Queensland) . - If the Government decides to accept the suggestions made by some honorable senators in regard to the proposed royal commission, 1 fail to see why its inquiry should be restricted to the film industry. We have been told that many of the imported films shown in Australia are not fit to be screened. Senator Reid and other honorable senators said that, generally speaking, many of them relate to sex problems, and are what the Ministei described as " spicy." 1. do not, however, think that that is so. I am not a regular picture-show patron, but I know that some of the most successful films screened in Australia have had nothing whatever to do with the sex question. I recall, for instance, such pictures as " The Ten Commandments" and '"Over the Hill." If the commission is to be empowered to inquire into the class of picture shown in Australia, its scope should be extended so that it may inquire into the type of plays produced here. Some of them are in every way worse than any of the moving pictures shown.

Senator Millen - The pictures are not as bad as some of the plays.

Senator Andrew - Plays such as " White Cargo" have received a wonderful boost.

Senator FOLL - Yes, the play " White Cargo " depicts the worst phases of tropical life. There is nothing elevating in it. The principal characters are a depraved individual who has spent some time in the tropics, a drink-soddened doctor, and a half-caste harlot. If the time has arrived when a royal commission should be appointed to inquire into the class of pictures screened in Australia, then the commission should also inquire into the moral effect on the public mind of the " sex " plays which are finding their way on to the Australian stage. Most of them, by the way, are coming from America. I read in the press to-day that Mr.

Matheson Lang, an actor manager of great prominence in London, said, on returning from New York, that most of the plays being produced on Broadway were nothing but filth. Only a few days ago a prominent actress came to this country from America, bringing with her a play that was remarkably well acted, but which, in common with many others produced nowadays, dealt largely with the sex problem. The dialogue in some plays is far more demoralizing than actions depicted on the picture screen. A hostile attack seems to have been made by a section of the community upon picture shows, and picture shows only. The reason, I suppose is that it is the only form of entertainment available to the poorer sections of the community. If it is Senator Grant's intention - and that of others who I understand are supporting him - that it shall be the duty of the commission to inquire into the type of films being screened here, investigation should also be made into the plays which are being produced on the Australian stage. I do not think that the people of Australia are particularly desirous of seeing that class of picture, but, unfortunately, many such films are presented to Austraiian audiences. Yet other films of an entirely different type have been well supported by the public. In a speech recently Mr. Stewart Doyle stated that two of the most successful films shown in the "United States of America were produced in Great Britain. He added that American showmen were most anxious to obtain British films, so long as they were of the type that the people desired. Producers, distributors, and showmen, are anxious to place upon the screen the type of picture which the public desires to see. Senator Reid referred to a picture showman who failed to make a success of his enterprise, but I am of the opinion that his lack of success was due to the class of picture which he xhibited.

Senator Reid - He exhibited the best he could obtain, but the public would not go to see them.

Senator FOLL - Evidently, he made a bad selection. While attacks are continually being made on those engaged in the motion picture industry, it must be remembered that they are doing much to provide a cheap form of entertainment for the people. Many persons in the community who are unable to afford the high prices charged for admission to the ordinary theatres, are able to pay the smaller fee necessary to obtain entrance to a picture theatre. Senator Grant's statement that many of the pictures arriving in Australia are not fit for exhibition, is a reflection on the censors. While some claim that the censorship is too harsh, Others criticize the censors for permitting certain pictures to be shown. Unfortunately, the censorship is sometimes applied in the wrong direction. Some time ago, I had the privilege of seeing in Parliament House, Sydney, a picture entitled, " Fit to Win." This picture, which was exhibited at the request of Dr. Arthur, who has been engaged in combating venereal and other diseases in New South Wales, was not produced as a means of entertainment, but to demonstrate the terrible ravages caused by the red plague. Yet, permission to show that picture was refused by the censor. I desire to emphasize that the censorship of picture films is within the control of Parliament. Should it be deemed desirable to appoint a royal commission to inquire into the class of picture exhibited, its scope should be extended to enable inquiries to be made also into the character of the plays acted upon the Australian stage.

Senator Duncan - Indirectly, it will have that effect, because the one could not be improved without an influence being exerted on the other.

Senator FOLL - To say that a royal commission should be appointed to deal with this question only is to reflect on the work of the Police Departments of the various States. It may be contended that the appointment of a royal commission would assist in the development of the picture film industry in Australia, but I point out that in the Tariff Board we have a body which deals with the establishment and encouragement of Australian industries. This matter could well be left to the Tariff Board.

Senator Pearce - More than tariff questions are involved in this subject.

Senator FOLL - I am desirous that the moving picture industry should be de veloped in the British Empire, and particularly in Australia, and therefore have noted with pleasurethat recently the British Government introduced legislation making it compulsory for picture showmen in Great Britain to screen a certain percentage of films produced within the Empire.

Senator Millen - The arguments which apply to Great Britain are not applicable to Australia.

Senator FOLL - If is a question of Empire production. If the British Government gives us a lead in this matter, the inevitable result will be that the film industry in Great Britain will be revived and that its influence will be felt in Australia.

Senator Duncan - Under our tariff, preference is given to British films. We are assisting the British film industry as much as we can.

Senator FOLL - The Government is to be commended for having granted that preference to the British film industry.

Senator Duncan - But British producers have not taken advantage of it.

Senator FOLL - We must remember that they were severely handicapped by the Great War. While they were engaged in making munitions, the great American film making corporations availed themselves of the opportunity to capture the market. The same is true of the film producers of France. I understand that Pathe Freres were the pioneers of the film industry, but the war intervened, with the result that they have practically gone out of business. It is only now, nine years after the termination of the war, that Great Britain is beginning to make any headway towards recovering her lost trade. If the appointment of a royal commission will assist her to do so it should be appointed. Any criticism in which I have indulged has been with the desire that the commission, when appointed, may be able to do something useful. One of the first matters dealt with by the Queensland branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League of Australia when it was formed was that of picture films. Repeated requests were made that showmen should be compelled to present to their audiences a proportion of pictures produced within the Empire. At that time it was impossible to accede to their request, for the reason that the British film industry was then scarcely in existence. It was pointed out at the time that the influence of the American pictures shown in Australia was so great that the average Australian child was more familiar with White House at "Washington than with the seat of the Australian Legislature.

Senator Duncan - Even at the present time only 8 per cent, of the films exhibited in Great Britain are produced within the Empire.

Senator FOLL - Had it not been for the severe blow this and other British industries received during the war, to the great advantage of America, the percentage of .British films exhibited in Great Britain might have been 80 per cent, instead of the low percentage mentioned by Senator Duncan. I am grateful to honorable senators for having given me the opportunity to speak on this matter, because, after seeing some of the plays to which I have referred, and hearing language to which honorable senators are quite unaccustomed, I am fully of opinion that the scope of the proposed royal commission and the censorship should be extended to include such productions.

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