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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7536

Senator RIDGEWAY (2:19 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Alston. Minister, on 14 November this year in this chamber Senator Kemp said that the government has `got the policy mix right to ensure a robust film production industry in this country'. Minister, do you stand by that comment when a closer examination of the production figures actually shows quite the opposite—namely, that the only real growth occurring in the Australian film industry is expenditure on foreign features which are being made in Australia? Isn't it true that if you take out the foreign-financed features there has been very little change in the level of Australian feature film and television drama production over the last year?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I am grateful to Senator Ridgeway for asking two questions on the arts in successive days. I hope Senator Kemp understands that it is never safe to leave the country for long when the parliament is sitting. I think he would have killed to have had two questions in two days. Unfortunately, as Senator Kemp would have been only too keen to point out, Senator Ridgeway does not quite appreciate that theFilm Finance Commission annual report shows that 2001-02 was an exceptionally strong year for Australian feature films. Three FFC features, including Lantana, The Man Who Sued God and Rabbit Proof Fence, passed the critical $5 million at the box office and made it into the top 25 Australian films of all time. The Australian Film Commission's production survey showed that the number of locally produced features increased to 30 in 2001-02 from 26 the previous year.

I think it has to be appreciated that it has been a pretty difficult year for film around the world. For example, we have seen a substantial reduction in local production in Canada, despite the fact that they have had a very generous film offset scheme which is designed to attract a lot of the runaway production from Hollywood, and California more broadly. I think our industry has stood up remarkably well. The other point that is worth making is that one should not simply regard Australian films—films about Australia by Australians—as the sole determinant of the success or prosperity of the Australian film industry. The whole reason that state governments have supported the Warner Bros facility on the Gold Coast or the Fox Studios in New South Wales, and why Mr Bracks has been playing lip-service to the need to provide funding for a third film production facility in the Docklands, is that an industry in this country that is not solely dependent upon Australian producers and Australian directors but that can accommodate the world's best is a much healthier industry because it provides a lot more opportunities for employment for up-and-coming artists, producers, film crews and all of those who very much appreciate the benefits of a wider, export focused industry.

What we have seen in this country in recent years is that we have been able to improve on both fronts. Certainly we are very popular by world standards, and places like Ireland have done their best to try to undercut us. But our film offset announcement of September 2001, together with the $93 million that we provided for the film industry, very much addressed the needs of all the local film bodies and received an overwhelmingly positive reception because it did hit all the right buttons. So the government is entitled to be proud of what it is doing to support the industry. But ultimately, of course, it depends very much upon the creativity and the skills of those in a sector which is notoriously cyclical. So you cannot expect to be world's best every year but I think we are doing pretty well.

Senator RIDGEWAY —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer. Minister, let us take into account that for 2001-02 the figures show that the level of Australian feature film production was boosted by two high-budget fully foreign financed feature films, TheCrocodileHunter and SwimmingUpstream. These two films alone boosted the growth figure by 60 per cent from $82 million to $131 million. Minister, if the government is supportive of the film industry, why is the government still trying to rethink how it can reallocate the $16 million that was dedicated to the Film Licensed Investment Company Scheme, or FLICS? Isn't it also true that in July of this year the investment period under the FLICS scheme expired and no new films have been able to qualify to apply for licences under this scheme? When will the government restore the $16 million to the film industry?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —There are a number of vehicles that are now available, including FLICS, to try and accommodate the increased level of interest and demand. As you know, there have been a couple of FLICS projects that have attracted a fairly significant degree of interest, but it is a very narrow focus to simply say that, unless these are Australian films in every respect, we are not really interested or we do not support the industry. The industry is a very substantial one, not just in respect of the production sector but also in terms of the postproduction sector. We are world's best practice: a lot of Hollywood studios use our postproduction sector here, and we are trying to find ways of providing more opportunities for them to aggregate demand and get some of that broadband traffic across the Pacific so that we can provide even more services. The last thing we want to do is to regard the industry as simply a question of, `How many Australians can we employ tomorrow in wholly Australian made films?' That is not what it is all about. Australians will benefit greatly— (Time expired)