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Welcoming adddress to 17th SPAA Conference.



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Speech by Senator Rod Kemp - Minister for the Arts and Sport

Welcoming address to 17th SPAA Conference Wednesday 13 November 2002 Senator the Hon Rod Kemp Minister for the Arts and Sport

(Check against delivery)

Thank you Steve. To distinguished guests from overseas and to members of the conference. It is a great pleasure to be here this morning. In the original program, you will find the name of my colleague Senator Richard Alston as this morning's speaker.

Unfortunately Richard's parliamentary duties meant that he was unable to attend the conference, and he asked me to give his apologies.

I've looked at your conference program and its not surprising that the conference has attracted over 450 delegates.

It is a very important conference and I am looking forward to getting a report on the discussions and proposals that Geoff Brown and Stephen Smith feel they should put to the Government.

A number from my Department will be at the conference - Mark Taylor, Paul Salmond and Caroline Greenway - and they will be taking comprehensive notes, I am sure, of your deliberations.

As Stephen said in his introductory remarks, Australians do want to hear stories about Australia and I think that is very clear when you consider the success of our industry.

And I am certain no other country appreciates more fully the role film plays in ensuring that a nation's stories are told and issues of national identity are explored.

With Australians each watching more than three hours of television a day and visiting the cinema eight times a year, the screen is one of the most important ways Australians connect with their culture.

Today I would like to talk about the role the Government plays in supporting this vital cultural sector.

This financial year the Government provided over $120 million in direct funding to Commonwealth film agencies, helping the industry at every stage from script development to post-production, distribution and archiving.

Funding for the Film Finance Corporation, for example, has gone from $50 million two years ago to $60.5 million next year.

Almost $10 million has gone to Film Australia, almost $20 million to the Australian Film Commission and $15.6 million to the Australian Film Television and Radio School.

To ensure that our film-makers keep pace with the latest technological trends the Government has increased the allocation to AFTRS to allow for the lease of digital

 

equipment, and established a $2.1 million Broadband Content Fund, administered by the Australian Film Commission.

I am told that the Commission received 88 applications. Nine projects have been shortlisted for further development and three successful projects will be finalised in February.

Clearly, there is considerable depth of expertise in this area already, and a reservoir of talent to be developed.

But supporting our film and television industry cannot just be a job for government.

It is a job for all of us. Our film-makers need access to a variety of funding sources-a sentiment I know is strongly endorsed by the industry.

Historically, private investment in Australian film has been driven by Commonwealth tax concessions-particularly 10B and 10BA. The 10BA incentive alone has supported 1153 projects since its inception.

More recently, the Government established the Film Licensed Investment Company (FLIC) pilot scheme, which gave investors in specially licensed companies a 100 per cent tax deduction-and let them spread their risk across a slate of productions.

Some preliminary conclusions about FLICS can now be reached.

Under the pilot more than $20 million was raised for investment in Australian productions.

The FLIC companies have now invested all of the capital raised under the scheme and the pilot is now being reviewed by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

Productions that have already reached our screens include proven box-office success stories The Bank and Dirty Deeds, brand-new feature films Crackerjack and The Nugget, and a number of yet-to-be-released features.

I know that there has been considerable debate about the FLICS pilot scheme. I was interested to read the comments of SPAA executive director Geoff Brown in this month's Encore.

I see from your program that a session is devoted to FLICS later today. I hope you will keep me appraised of any conclusions you reach.

Potential investors come in all shapes and sizes. So must the incentives we use to attract them.

As you know, as part of its package of industry initiatives and funding last year the Government introduced the Film Tax Offset.

The offset is designed to help Australia attract movies with larger budgets and higher production values-many of them from foreign production houses.

The offset has already added to Australia's pulling power and its capacity to attract big-budget productions like P J Hogan's Peter Pan.

There has also been a significant increase in the amount of post-production work brought to Australia.

I know that there has been some debate recently about the merits or otherwise of extending the film tax offset to episodic television.

The Government has received a number of representations on this matter.

I see you have devoted a conference session to the offset, asking some tough questions:

 

what will happen when the Australian dollar strengthens and what is the real economic activity generated by the scheme?

And it is good to see that there is a growing body of research looking at precisely this area.

I am sure most of you would be aware of the Australian Film Commission's report Foreign Film and Television Drama Production in Australia, published in July.

It concluded, as Chair of the AFC Maureen Barron said in launching the report, that with careful management Australia would reap the economic benefits of overseas investment without jeopardising the cultural benefits Australians derive from domestic productions.

The Government's aim is not to attract foreign productions at the expense of home-grown movie-making. We are committed to stimulating the local industry and showcasing Australian talent abroad.

And it seems we are succeeding.

In the first half of the 1990s, nine foreign films worth $214 million were shot in Australia.

By the time the decade was over, another 16 films worth $723 million had been completed-among them such big titles as Star Wars Episode II and the Matrix films.

The AFC's National Production Survey found that foreign drama shot in Australia in 2001-2002 accounted for almost one third of the year's total spending on drama production.

There is nothing to suggest the flow of runaway productions will ebb any time soon. Far from it.

AusFilm estimates that aggregate co-production and foreign production will expand rapidly in the coming years.

To help the process along the Government has provided an extra $1 million a year to AusFilm to help boost Australia as a location for offshore production, and $600,000 to help the post-production industry obtain cutting-edge broadband services.

Of course, for foreign productions, incentives like the tax offset are important. But what brings productions to our shores is our talent. Our skilled crews, production service companies and post-production firms.

This talent must always be at the forefront of our minds.

While Australia is poised to become a more significant global player, it is important that we encourage what is most precious about the industry we have-our capacity to tell Australian stories, in Australian voices, to Australian audiences.

Last year my predecessor, Peter McGauran, gave you an assurance that cultural support mechanisms such as local content rules would not be traded away.

Let me repeat his assurance here today.

On the matter of content regulation and standards, I know that many of you will be vitally interested to hear what conclusions the Australian Broadcasting Authority has drawn in its review of the Australian Content Standard.

No less vitally interested than I am, I can assure you.

And we won't have long to wait. I understand the release of the report is imminent-and may even happen before the end of this conference.

The Government's aim for the film and television sector is quite simple.

We support a national cinema that tells Australian stories in cinemas and on television.

Our industry is a source of great pride to all Australians.

This is a psychological moment for the film industry-a moment of immense potential.

I know that SPAA, under its recently appointed President Stephen Smith, will play a vital role in ensuring that the potential is realised. v I wish Stephen and SPAA well, and thank you for the opportunity to join you today.