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Minister discusses launch of Australia-Japan co-production film for Japanese TV

KEVIN HUME: Well, while the Japanese children's television series Monkey - if you recall that one - has been delighting Australians for a generation and more, Japan is now allowing us to return the favour, sort of. Here's Pru.

PRU GOWARD: Escape from Jupiter is a thirteen-part children's drama series being made in Australia as a co-production between Film Australia and the Japanese national broadcaster, NHK, with assistance from the ABC. It's a story with a moral purpose; a colony of children living on one of Jupiter's moons who must work together to survive disaster. It's the first drama co-production and, commercially, a significant step forward for Australia's arts push into Asia. Well, the co-venture is being launched in Sydney this morning by Arts Minister, Bob McMullan, who joins me now.

Well, some people get the good jobs, don't they? There you were a few weeks ago talking to Elle McPherson and Sam Neill, and of course Ma Kate(?) on Sirens, and now you're launching a terrific co-venture. I mean, we've got to find a hard question: Why has it taken you this long?

BOB MCMULLAN: Oh, I think I'm just a slow learner, but it's been a very exciting opportunity to be Arts Minister when so many of these international successes are breaking through. I mean, the victory at Cannes; the visual artists going to the Venice Biennale and now this significant commercial breakthrough into Japan. A lot of people have put a lot of work in for a long time and we're starting to reap the benefit.

PRU GOWARD: You say it's significant because, what, 95 per cent of Japanese content is locally produced or something?

BOB MCMULLAN: Yes. Well, it's a very difficult market for any outside producer to break into and, I think, Film Australia has done very well, and the Film Finance Corporation and the ABC in backing it from the Australian end have made a big contribution. It's not the only thing we're doing in the region but it is a very significant achievement.

PRU GOWARD: Why do you want an arts push into Asia?

BOB MCMULLAN: Well, there are two principle reasons cultural and economic. There's this terrible phrase, which I don't have much time for, called 'public diplomacy' but it means really building the links between countries on more than an official level and culture has a very important part to play in that and it's changing the perception of our region, of Australia as a country. We've always had a fairly brittle relationship with many countries in our region and we're trying to make it much more substantial and broaden the understanding. So it has that important cultural link, that's just to tell them who we really are and what sort of country we are and what sort of debate we have in our country through our arts but also there's a lot of money to be made. We're already making a lot of export dollars through the export of arts generally and film and audio visual material in particular. We think we can do a lot more. There's an explosion of television in Asia and there's a tremendous demand for a good quality product and we produce a lot of good stuff.

PRU GOWARD: All right. Now, what sort of Australian culture - high culture or pop culture or beer culture?

BOB MCMULLAN: Certainly it's not just what people would conventionally call high culture but we are .... the Australian Ballet has made a lot of tours into the region and continued to do so and they're very popular as they deserve to be and very successful. But there's also television and rock and roll and visual arts and literature. One of the election commitments we had, you'll remember, Pru, was about giving a big assistance to the publishing industry to get Australian literature into Asia because if we really want people to know what Australians are thinking, well, we want more and more of them reading Australian books.

PRU GOWARD: But, what sort of, what aspects of Australian culture are Asians interested in knowing about?

BOB MCMULLAN: As you would appreciate, it's very hard to generalise. Asia's very diverse but the successes have been, initially as I see it from this distance, with things like the ballet and the visual arts, but it's spreading. You can see television starting to succeed. This is a lovely example. Escape from Jupiter, which you described accurately at the beginning, is an outstanding example, but it's not the first Australian children's television production to get into the Asian region successfully and into Japan but, it's the biggest and the first co-production. But film is starting to do better there and, of course, we're producing such good films that that will undoubtedly happen more.

PRU GOWARD: But do they want our soaps, Senator McMullan?

BOB MCMULLAN: I haven't got any experience about that, Pru. I know they're succeeding well in Europe but at this stage I haven't seen any evidence that neighbours and its counterparts are making breakthroughs into Asia. I think inevitably something of that sort will start to happen but at the moment there is an explosion in demand for product but they are looking more at the - if the soap producers don't mind my using the phrase - more at the quality end of the market. So it's the films; it's the mini-series; the high quality children's programs where we are finding niches in the market but they're pretty big and pretty potentially very successful niches.

PRU GOWARD: Well really, for the ABC for example, it could affect the whole way we produce domestic series. I mean if you've got a market at home of five million people and you've got a market internationally of sixty million people, well, that's going to have an overwhelming influence on how you produce your local product, isn't it?

BOB MCMULLAN: It can do. We don't want to lose our authentic Australian film industry but it can add to it a lot and this is an example. I mean the ABC has put money into, to buy the Australian rights to Escape from Jupiter and it will be a very good Australian production, but it will just have an extra element to it because there will be some not only financial but cultural input from NHK, who of course are a top quality outfit, but it will just give us an interesting perception on our region as well. I mean, we've got, we're trying .... the principle objective of the Government's funding is to get Asians to understand us better but of course we also want to understand our region better. So, it will be good quality television, if you look at the people who are working on it, and it will be different and challenging and, I think, the ABC, the Film Finance Corporation, Film Australia, they should all be congratulated. It's a remarkable effort by all of them and quite far sighted.

PRU GOWARD: Bob McMullan, thank you very much for joining us this morning and enjoy the launch.