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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26409

Senator RIDGEWAY (9:06 PM) —I am not surprised by the minister's response. Whilst he might regard the views being expressed by the Australian Democrats and certainly by the Australian Greens as pessimistic, I would suggest that they are realistic. I understand that copyright term extension in the free trade agreement was included at the eleventh hour. It was not part of the negotiations to begin with. You may want to address that particular issue—why all of a sudden at the eleventh hour copyright extension was thrown onto the table.

The main advocate was the Motion Picture Association of America. That includes the United States copyright owner group which represents firms such as Walt Disney, Sony Pictures Entertainment, MGM, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. Given the size of this industry and its influence in the United States—which might classically be called `Hollywood'—I think there are legitimate concerns in Australia about the effect of a 20-year extension, but, most of all, when you consider the ramifications of the IP chapter in the free trade agreement, quite frankly I think it is leaving our own industry open to being swamped by Hollywood. I do not see the government going out of its way to provide the right sort of support to industry. It may talk about our film industry not producing the right sorts of films but at the same time you cannot deny that we produce world-class actors and technicians. There are many well-known Australians producing what are usually foreign films made on domestic soil.

Concerning the main advocate for copyright term extension, when you consider the group that have been named, I would say that the Democrat amendment is realistic, not pessimistic. It highlights the point that the way in which the government have gone about introducing what is the most extensive chapter in the free trade agreement—with very little input, with very little public consultation and certainly very little debate more broadly with consumers in this country—means that we do have a right to be concerned. Essentially, we are opening ourselves to prey to larger groups and that ought to be a concern to the minister and certainly to the government.

One of the things that it is important to point out on this occasion is that besides the raft of cases that have and are occurring in relation to copyright issues in the United States, the reality is that effectively not only have we agreed to extend by a further 20 years but also we are wearing the cost of that. We also need to keep in mind that we are a net importer of copyright material. If we are importing, there is a cost involved in that as well. When you consider that we are talking about educational and learning institutions, quite frankly is that a cost we are prepared to pass on to schools, libraries, universities and so on? It is appalling that the government have not had a proper debate but, most of all, that they seem to think that this is a pessimistic response. I would say it is very realistic and I think the government are being quite fanciful when they think that everything will be right—that sort of attitude. The reality is that that is not the case.

I daresay your officials would agree that the intellectual copyright laws are so complex that to turn around and try to produce such an extensive chapter in the way we have, without a proper review in this country, is a dereliction of duty on the part of the government. There is a need to reform copyright law in this country. That is the view of all stakeholders out there, but that is not what the government is doing. It is pre-empting in many respects what those changes might be. It has not had a proper debate. We have gone through the select committee processes and the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties inquiries, the other inquires and so on. We still do not have a report from DCITA who looked at the question of a 20-year extension. If it has been done, I certainly have not seen it out in the public domain so that everyone can access it to see what it says. Quite frankly, we are putting in place a range of precedents, changing our laws to accommodate the United States for their intellectual property regime. We have not looked at our own needs. We have not done an assessment, a review or an analysis of what is in our best interests. Quite frankly, it is a dereliction of duty, which is why this schedule is being dealt with in this way.

Most of all, the free trade agreement is flawed on many accounts. The opposition, talking about 42 reasons why it is that they think there is a problem with the free trade agreement, come up with two. One of those 42 deals with establishing a Senate select committee to look at this particular question. We are going to be looking at it after the fact, not beforehand. It has not been looked at properly through the various committee processes and there has not been proper debate out in the broader community.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Watson)—The question is that schedule 9 stand as printed.