Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Environment and Communications References Committee
Australian Broadcasting Corporation's commitment to reflecting and representing regional diversity

KELLEHER, Mr Mark, Secretary, Department of Economic Development, Tourism and the Arts, Tasmanian Government

SLANINKA, Ms Karena, Director, Screen Tasmania

CHAIR: I welcome representatives from the Tasmanian Department of Economic Development, Tourism and the Arts and from Screen Tasmania. Thank you both for joining us today. As government officers you will not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy, though this does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policy or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

The committee has received submissions from the department and Screen Tasmania—namely, submissions Nos 23 and 30 respectively. Do you wish to make any alterations or amendments to either submission?

Mr Kelleher : No.

CHAIR: I invite one or both of you to give a brief opening statement. Mr Kelleher?

Mr Kelleher : Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee. Karena is here as head of Screen Tasmania within my department and that is clearly a key perspective on the issue at hand. Also, from the overall department's point of view, with responsibilities for economic development, tourism and the broader arts, we saw it is very important to get across some broader perspectives on the matter and to represent the Tasmanian government's view on that. Overall, we believe that the stated intention to change the business model leading to closures in internal television production units in regions, centralising production in Sydney and Melbourne and outsourcing the majority of its production requirements to the independent sector undercuts its role and obligations as the national broadcaster and its ability to deliver its charter, and that it will have a negative impact both on locally generated production and the representation of a diverse Australia on the national broadcaster.

It is our view that such a decision is inconsistent with, as I have mentioned, the overall charter and with the public service role of the national broadcaster. And it is not in accord with the spirit of the legislation which underpins the charter; that is, to reflect the needs and interest of Australia's federation. We contend that a commitment to regional diversity is not only about including stories from the regions but is also about production activity which occurs in the regions.

We believe that unless a bold step is taken, regional production will falter in Tasmania. By way of example, over the past 10 years ABC Tasmania's internal television production unit produced 241 hours of television, an average of 24 hours per year, with shows such as Gardening Australia, Collectors, Second Opinion and Auction Room. In contrast, over the past 12 years the ABC commissioned, with Screen Tasmania investment, only 30 hours of independently produced television, averaging 2.5 hours per year. Of that independently produced content, almost one-third was made by production companies based in Sydney and Melbourne. No drama or comedy has been commissioned by the ABC from Tasmania in the past 12 years.

Analysis of Screen Australia's production figures for 2011-12 reveal that all of the drama and scripted comedy produced by the ABC was sourced from Sydney and Melbourne. And whilst documentary and factual programming has more regional content, they are often produced by Sydney and Melbourne based production companies. Documentary series such as Bushwhacked! And Devil's Island are examples where production occurs in the regions but the production company is Sydney or Melbourne based.

To change this status quo will take a genuine commitment and will on the part of the ABC to ensure that regional Australia is better represented and that the economic benefits of production are distributed across the nation. We do understand and accept the efficiency and effectiveness pressures that are driving the ABC to reconsider its operating model. However, if the result of that consideration is to adopt a strategy that undermines its core charter and purpose of representing the whole nation, not just Sydney and Melbourne, then we think there is a need to think differently.

The ABC is a public institution and as such the Australian community expects a different offering, and indeed a different business model, to that of the commercial networks. We would argue as well that the future cohesion of Australian society depends upon all Australians being able to appreciate and to understand the different cultures, environment, history and issues which affect people living outside the major population centres of Sydney and Melbourne. Equally, we contend that these areas potentially offer a more distinctive and unique, and therefore potentially marketable, representation of Australia to the rest of the world, with opportunities to showcase our diverse landscape, people and stories.

The reality is that if the national broadcaster is truly to commit to regional diversity of content then it must stimulate proactively demand and incentivise regional production activity, rather than adopting a strategy of centralisation. It has been very instructive, I think, that after years of centralisation recently the BBC has changed direction and committed to 50 per cent of network spend to regional production by 2016. This is a genuine demonstration and proactive commitment on behalf of the BBC to regional UK, representing a philosophical shift away from centralisation and a commitment to public service values.

The BBC describes this as a healthy balance across internal, regional and independently generated production. Also, importantly, radio and online services are not counted towards these quotas. We believe the ABC should also strive for a healthy mix of regional, internal and independently produced content that represents and reflects an important part of Australia's regional diversity. We believe that the most effective way of ensuring this is through the adoption of regional content quotas and production targets. In order to counter and compensate for the loss of ABC internal production in the short term, we suggest a Tasmanian production quota whereby the ABC guarantees the commissioning of a minimum number of hours of documentary, factual content, drama or scripted comedy series, with a higher than usual licence fee of 50 per cent of the production budget in order to incentivise production to occur in Tasmania.

You would also be aware that Tasmania will be the first state in the country to achieve 100 per cent NBN roll-out. This offers a great opportunity to demonstrate how this technology can effectively cut through the issues of distance and isolation. As a comparatively small market and community, Tasmania is in a unique position to test new means of exploiting this technology for the benefit of all Australians, and particularly for those living outside of Sydney and Melbourne.

In the mid-term we propose the relocation of the ABC on-line unit to Tasmania to take advantage of this early movement, and of the opportunities afforded by the advance roll-out of the NBN infrastructure in Tasmania. This would build industry capacity, generate employment in the new media sector, grow and harness existing skills and businesses and ensure Tasmania's presence on the national broadcaster continues via future technology.

Thank you for the opportunity to present that overview. We welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you have.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Kelleher on behalf of the department.

Ms Slaninka : I will pick up a couple of points that Mark mentioned. I would like to contextualise the fact that we will be focusing the majority of our discussion—this is where our interest lies—in the television and on-line sectors of the industry rather than radio. We recognise that the ABC does fulfil a very important role in providing social cohesion as a broadcaster across all platforms—radio being one of them—but it is not the area that is in question for us today, at the moment. That is all that I would like to add.

CHAIR: Thank you for that addition. We will proceed to questions.

Senator BILYK: Mr Kelleher, thank you for your submission—and thank you, Screen Tasmania. In your submission you mention that the ABC has proposed to jointly fund, with the Tassie government, externally commissioned production projects. The question, I think, on everybody's lips around this table is: is the state government going to put in the $1.5 million the ABC has asked for?

Mr Kelleher : I think that would fall within the items that the chair identified earlier. That is a policy question that I am not in a position to comment on at this stage, other than to note the difficult budget situation that Tasmania finds itself in at the moment.

Senator CAMERON: On that issue, are you saying that there has been no public decision? We are entitled to ask you if there is a public decision out there. I do not follow the Tasmanian budget in great detail so I assume there has been no decision made on that. Is that what you are saying?

Mr Kelleher : Correct.

Senator BILYK: In that case, has the ABC previously asked the department for money to keep production of ABC shows in Tasmania?

Mr Kelleher : I am not aware of that.

Ms Slaninka : No. We have not had any formal discussions with the ABC with regard to that.

Senator BILYK: Previously, I am talking about—not just recently.

Mr Kelleher : Not within my knowledge of it.

Ms Slaninka : There has been—

Senator BILYK: Can you take that on notice, Mr Kelleher, and check for me.

Ms Slaninka : The way in which financing happens with all content that is commissioned independently by the ABC is that an independent production company will come to Screen Tasmania seeking some investment from Screen Tasmania in order to augment their production budget. That is the way film financing works in the independent sector in Australia. So I guess we are always augmenting production budgets for independently commissioned ABC content. But for particular projects, no.

Senator BILYK: As I said, Mr Kelleher, if you could take that on notice and get back to us. I refer to the hours for which there have been some input in regard to independent producer content. Did you say 30 hours? I think your submission said 30 hours.

Ms Slaninka : Yes.

Senator BILYK: Do you think that in any way matches the output of the ABC internal production unit? I think you stated the hours but, sorry, I was distracted and I am not sure.

Mr Kelleher : It was an average of 24 hours a year in the ABC production commissioned with Screen Tasmania. It is averaging about a tenth of that, 2.5.

Senator BILYK: Are you able to expand on the fact that the production output of the ABC unit cannot possibly be equalled by the independent sector, as you noted in your submission? We have heard other evidence to that effect today, so I would just like to hear your perspective on that as well.

Ms Slaninka : It is one of the concerns that we have around the closure of the ABC in-house production unit here in Tasmania because they have actually had a very high output, relative to the independent sector, of internally produced productions. Historically, independent production in Tasmania has not been able to compete with that. That is because of in-house production and the way in which it is costed and funded and supported, which is by in-house infrastructure that is provided by the ABC, by internal staff, by internal facilities. They have their own very unique methods of costing facilities internally. So I am not privy to that methodology of their numbers but in-house production internally produced by the ABC will cost far less than an independently produced production. A good example is Devil Island, which is a six-part documentary series which is being independently produced in Tasmania right now. It is six by half-hours. Its entire production budget is $2.1 million. The ABC is putting up a licence fee of $75,000 per episode for that production and the rest of the money for that production is coming from other sources like National Geographic Television, France Television, Film Victoria, Screen Tasmania, Screen Australia and the producer offset. It is a very complex thing to raise finance independently to make a television series. It is a much more straightforward proposition to do that internally with the ABC and the ABC is able to fully finance their own productions internally. Because the cost of independent production is so high and there is a great deal of complexity around financing independent production, the output of independent production is far less, which is what has happened in Tasmania. Then there is a reliance on the Tasmanian government's underpinning support of independently produced production. If the ABC in-house production unit is closed down we are losing what was 24 hours on average of production every year. The independent community with the Tasmanian government cannot actually achieve those levels and that scale of production in Tasmania.

Senator BILYK: And that is very similar to other evidence we have heard today. What do you think the impact on the representation of Tasmania and on the ability to tell that uniquely Tasmanian story will be if the production unit is completely closed?

Mr Kelleher : I will try the first answer at that. The sentiment of my overview comments was actually that even now we believe that there is not sufficient representation of that and the sense of the philosophy that the BBC has enunciated is, we believe, the right approach. So, even now, with the examples of the shows that have been produced, that has been quite narrow. It has been very helpful from a production point of view, if you like, to support the industry, but it has not been broadly reflecting the stories—whether they be fictional stories or stories reflecting the lives of people in Tasmania and, as a more general point, regional areas. It is a question not of moving further away—which we believe would dramatically reduce even what is being done now—but of the need to rebalance and go the other way.

Senator BILYK: I am also concerned about the effect on the community of the initial job losses—the flow-on effect. I am not sure if you are able to answer this, Mr Kelleher, but, bearing in mind that you are from the department of economic development, you might be able to—what is the flow-on effect of losing one job in Tasmania, let alone 16?

Mr Kelleher : As the committee would know, Tasmania is currently travelling in the second lane of things in Australia anyway, so the ability for a lost job to be picked up elsewhere is much diminished in Tasmania relative to other places. That is the first part of it. More broadly than that, the unique aspects of Tasmania are where its economic future lies. Those unique aspects, within the economic development field, lie partly in our water, food and agricultural sectors—but we have also seen emerging signs of another great competitive advantage in Tasmania in the area of the arts and culture. That has been brought to greater light by MONA particularly, but by no means only by MONA. It has really shone a light on a much broader potential. Rather than being an opportunity to extend and build on that—with the National Broadband Network, opportunities can be placed anywhere, so why not here?—it would be a significant adverse step.

Senator BILYK: Can you expand on the importance of the NBN for Tasmania, including its impact on employment prospects? This is an issue for the Tasmanian senators around the table?

Mr Kelleher : Karena can outline it in more detail. The National Broadband Network will create the infrastructure both to allow the issue of distance to be obviated and to provide the capacity for one of the fastest growing sectors in this broader area—in the digital media area. Perhaps, Karena, you can expand on that?

Ms Slaninka : Digital and online production we believe represents a real opportunity for Tasmania. With physical production, there has often been a disadvantage because of our geographical distance and our physical isolation from the rest of the country. With the implementation of the NBN, we are no longer suffering from that kind of geographical disadvantage—assuming it goes ahead.

Mr Kelleher : Yes, assuming it goes ahead—there is always that question. But the commitments in relation to Tasmania and the contractual arrangements give us, I think, a great amount of confidence that the NBN is fairly certain to proceed in that part of Australia.

Ms Slaninka : We see that there is potential in Tasmania and we are looking at areas where the Tasmanian economy has strengths. The rollout of the NBN does, for the industry and for the broader economy, represent potential and an opportunity for Tasmania—if we can harness it and if we can take advantage of that opportunity now. I know that the ABC was allocated $20 million by the government in the last 18-month or two-year period to develop Splash and their online education delivery service. Within the online area, we believe there could be some synergies between Tasmania and ABC online. We know that when the ABC was proposing to close down greater production capacity in South Australia and in Adelaide it recognised that it needed content for the Australia Network, which broadcasts across Asia. It decided to base a lot of that content creation and production in Adelaide in order to provide that kind of certainty for jobs and for production in that state. It focused and concentrated specialist activity in Adelaide, and I think that has been a great boon for South Australia. We are looking at where there might be some strategic alliances moving forward between Tasmania—given the strengths that we have with the NBN—and the strategic direction of the ABC in wanting to position itself in the future with regard to future technologies.

Senator SINGH: Screen Tasmania—or the state government—has done quite a lot of work in its submission with the number of hours that have been produced out of Tasmania over the last 10 and 12 years showing a fair contrast between the internal ABC Tasmania production unit at 241 hours over 10 years on average and 30 hours over 12 years with Screen Tasmania investment. We heard from Wide Angle that there were two hours of independent production commissioned in Tasmania last year. We have had some acknowledgement this morning that this potential investment fund—co-funded or however it may end up—would be a lot less of a budget than the current ABC Tasmania production unit's budget. How do you see that going anywhere near meeting what you have put in here as around 25 hours of national content coming out of Tasmania annually?

Ms Slaninka : Truly, $1.5 million over three years is really a drop in the ocean compared to what we would like to see happen in Tasmania in the future in terms of building a critical mass of production activity, building a genuine regional voice in Tasmania and making a real contribution to Australia's national identity on the national broadcaster. Even if the state government were not to match the $1.5 million, an hour of factual production costs around $500,000 to make, so you are only talking about three hours of production over the next three years if that were to be fully funded by the ABC. That is hardly a substantial contribution to a public broadcasting programming schedule from Tasmania. So that is of concern to us. We believe that there are two areas of concern. One is production and wanting to build production capacity in Tasmania, and the other is wanting to contribute to the national voice and the national dialogue and to have Tasmania represented. If I can paint a picture for you, the UK has wonderful programs like Hamish Macbeth that comes out of Scotland, Doc Martin that comes out of Cornwall and Northern Exposure which came out of Alaska. These are wonderful stories and wonderful dramas that came out of the regions in which they were made. The places in which they were made became characters and we all remember the places. Those places, then, have become something that we are fascinated by and they have the potential to increase visits. Lord of the Rings has been amazing for New Zealand in terms of stimulating an interest and everybody wanting to visit 'Middle Earth' in New Zealand.

I think that brings me to another issue around that $1.5 million. Factual content is $500,000 per hour maybe. Drama is a whole different ball game. The dramas that I just talked to you about, such as Hamish Macbeth and Northern Exposure, are going to cost a lot more to do—and wouldn't it be amazing to have a 'Southern Exposure' here in Tasmania? So $1.5 million on the table is not enough to make a drama happen in Tasmania. Drama is the holy grail. Drama is really where we can get international exposure with something like a Hamish Macbeth or a Doc Martin. That is what we would love to see happen in Tasmania.

Senator SINGH: Does the state government see this offer by the ABC of this investment fund as cost-shifting? You have been asked to put in the other half that was not there before. I acknowledge that Screen Tasmania does have its own budget.

Mr Kelleher : I think that clearly an element of it is inevitably cost-shifting, if we are seeing some sharing in that. But it is more than that though, because it will only produce a fraction of the current levels. To pick up on Karena's point, you are going to be talking about critical mass here, and it is not only critical mass in the production side but also critical mass in nurturing creative talent underneath all of that as well.

Senator SINGH: So based on that BBC model you talk about of decentralising, which they have done through their guarantee that by 2016 of going out into the regions outside London, if there is some new investment fund for Tasmania should that only be available for Tasmanian production companies, or should the larger Melbourne and Sydney production companies, and a number of the programs are made independently, also be able to access that fund to shoot in Tasmania? Would it help the Tasmanian screen industry to have that fund quarantined for them to get off the ground before the larger interstate production companies can come in and dig into that as well?

Ms Slaninka : I think there is a very complex answer to that and I will try to keep it simple. We have a great deal of production capacity here and we have some experience. If we are talking about a drama series in Tasmania, we would love to have that happen here. McLeod's Daughters was fantastic. There were eight seasons of McLeod's Daughters in South Australia and they brought well in excess of $100 million into that state—and it was not a South Australian production company that created McLeod's Daughters. At the beginning of that production, 50 per cent of the crew were from South Australia and by the end of the series all of the crew were from South Australia. In this day and age I think that it is very challenging to say that we would have to quarantine that money purely for Tasmanian production companies.

At Screen Tasmania, in order to help build skills and to foster collaboration and co-productions, we expect that where there is a non-Tasmanian production company that they will have a genuine creative or financial partnership with a Tasmanian company and in that way there will be a kind of lifting up of skills and knowledge and ability. Not all Tasmanian production companies here in Tasmania have the kind of track record that can give confidence to a broadcaster that they can deliver 13 hours of blue-chip, high-quality drama for the national programming schedule. So we completely take that on board, but there is a way in which to build up those skills and facilitate that kind of production activity and facilitate Tasmanian businesses. It is just a matter of how we put that mechanism in place.

Mr Kelleher : It is really going back to what is the long-term strategic objective of all this. If it is about a la the BBC model, it reflects genuinely the opportunity for the stories to happen, which—to pick up Karena's point—is hugely important for a sense of place for people who live here but also fantastic and one of the most effective forms for marketing for tourism and, ultimately through the tourism lens, for attracting people to come and live and work and a population here. Beyond that, it is having that critical mass built up, so a genuine intent in the arrangement to nurture for a long-term sustainable critical mass in both the production side and in the creative talent for the stories.

Senator MILNE: I want to follow up on this issue of what the solution is because that is what we are here to sort out. Virtually all the submissions to us have supported the retention of the production facility at the ABC in Hobart and people are now working through the proposition we would want to put. You will be pleased to know that earlier today we had some evidence which has changed the mind of the only submission that supported the ABC apart from their own. That was in relation to the viability of independent production companies in the event that this goes through. The evidence was that they may not be strong enough to survive because of the Goodwood Studio and infrastructure. I just want to go to that for a moment. When the government through Screen Tasmania built the Goodwood Studio, what was the arrangement with the ABC at the time? Can you detail that for us?

Ms Slaninka : It is before my time and Mark's time. I did take it on notice earlier and I have tried to get the original contracts sourced but they are archives. I can take it on notice and get back to you with more detail. I can tell you that the arrangement was that Goodwood Studio was a facility owned by the Tasmanian government and leased to the ABC. There was not any obligation, I believe, on the part of the ABC in an ongoing way to use the studio or hire the studio. They paid a certain fee every year and it was for the production of the Collectors as a dedicated production. That was all, as far as I am aware. I would have to go back and dig down.

Senator MILNE: Maybe you can take that on notice. The committee would appreciate it if we could source the original contract document. That would be very useful. In the event that this proceeds, what will happen to that purpose-built studio and what does that mean for independent production companies—the little ones in Tasmania who really rely on that kind of infrastructure?

Ms Slaninka : The Goodwood Studio is gone. With the cancellation of the Collectors series, the Goodwood Studio was pretty much dormant and so it was not economically viable to continue with operating it. So the Tasmanian Department of Economic Development had an offer. You are probably more privy to the offer than I am. Now it has been stripped. It has been dismantled entirely. The automated lighting grid has been taken out and it is now being leased out to another company for other purposes.

Senator MILNE: So the very point that people have been making today is actually demonstrated by this story and that is, you take away the ABC collaboration with the capacity of independent film production here in Tasmania and it collapses. That is rather a sad story. You suggested a minute ago that there might be some way to require a mainland production company to maybe partner with a Tasmanian production company. I am struggling with how you would actually make that happen, unless you tied the ABC funding through this next funding round to not only a percentage of local content but also a percentage of local content technically produced in Tasmania. Is that a proposition that Screen Tasmania and the state government would support?

Mr Kelleher : Yes. We mentioned at the opening the ABC guarantee of the commissioning of a minimum number of hours of documentary, factual drama and scripted content with a certain percentage of the production budget to be localised to incentivise production in Tasmania. We talked about in the order of 20 hours of activity being enough to maintain the critical mass.

Senator MILNE: The only other question I had was in relation to the digital hub. I missed your opening remarks, so I do not know if you referred to that then. If you did, it does not matter. If you did not, what is your view of the idea of making Tasmania a digital hub for the ABC on the back of the NBN and the first-mover advantage, giving us a secure potential for training and jobs growth and supporting the direction of where we want to take things in the state?

Mr Kelleher : They were pretty much the comments that we made. Having a first-mover advantage and 100 per cent coverage, it represents the opportunity to demonstrate what this new technology can mean for the regionalisation of this activity, not only because it removes the issues of distance but because it creates the benefits of regionalisation through that, as well as all the new things that the technology will allow to happen in terms of online production technology.

Ms Slaninka : There is huge growth in that sector. It is a whole new sector that did not exist previously. Tasmania did receive funding through the sale of Telstra 3, I think, a number of years ago for intelligent island money to support the development of the IT sector in Tasmania. As a result, a number of companies were established around that time that have a really very strong international track record both in software development and in the area of interactive content creation. One of those companies is Roar Films. They are a supplier and have been for the last 10 years of one-third of the educational content to the London e-learning grid, which hooks up 11,000 schools across the UK. They are a little company from Tasmania and they have been doing that for a long time. The market has dried up a lot now, so things have changed, but it just goes to show that there are skills and expertise—it is not like it is a greenfield; there is talent and knowledge and expertise here.

Senator RUSTON: The reality of this proposal that has been put forward by the ABC is one of budget, and we have to accept the fact that the ABC is obviously trying to reduce its expenditure. In that context, not in the perfect world of unlimited resources that we would all like to find ourselves in—and which we have probably had a little too much discussion about today—what would your prioritisation of the allocation of limited resources be? We are making the assumption that we do have to reduce the amount of resources being applied across the board. Are you saying that production capacity is a priority? If so, what is your position on what would be a lesser priority if you were faced with a situation where you had to cut something out of the budget?

Ms Slaninka : Out of the ABC's budget?

Senator RUSTON: Yes, as it affects your two organisations.

Mr Kelleher : Firstly, I would say that the premise that we are talking about here is around understanding the need for efficiency and overall cost management, but that has to be within the context of the charter. The charter, that spirit of it, is about a national representation. There is no point in balancing the budget and having it all done most cost effectively out of Melbourne and Sydney if it has not met the overall charter. That is at the core of things. I know I have given the answer to a different question, but that is more our premise, I suppose. I do not know whether Karena would want to comment within the context of the question.

Senator CAMERON: I just find it an interesting proposition that one government department would be determining the allocation and budget of another government department.

Ms Slaninka : We love that idea really!

Senator RUSTON: I think that is the answer: it is the argument about having to look at it as a global budget for the whole of Australia. We are actually seeking to decentralise the allocation of that budget. I come from a rural community in South Australia. I do not have any argument with that. I would like see more money out in the regions. You raised one point earlier. You were saying that it is a lot cheaper to produce a drama or a production within the ABC operation than it is to do it externally. Is that merely because you do not take into account the cost of the infrastructure of the ABC, because it is already there, or is there some other reason it would be cheaper?

Ms Slaninka : That is exactly why: they already have infrastructure and resources that you do not cost out in real terms. So in real terms you would probably be looking at comparable costs, because there are real costs. Just to elaborate on that, the way in which financing is structured is a great case in point around the difficulty for the ABC, which I think your question goes to—not wanting to put words into Mark's mouth or give him any ideas! The BBC has a lot of money. They are able to provide to independent producers a 95 per cent licence fee to cover the cost of a production's budget. In Australia the ABC licence fee is around 25 per cent of the production budget. Therefore, independent producers have to find the rest of that money elsewhere. That becomes a challenge for them. There is a demonstration of the difference in the finance available to the ABC and the finance available to the BBC. The BBC is able to finance production to that level, to 95 per cent, whereas the ABC cannot.

Senator RUSTON: But in terms of the actual cost itself, in terms of efficiency. Thank you.

Senator THORP: Going back to an issue raised earlier about the sense of place that comes from Tasmanian based productions—you made reference to Hamish Macbeth et cetera—I am curious to know about the production of The Hunter. Did that have any implications for Tasmania in the context of the conversation we are having? It was filmed here.

Mr Kelleher : It has had fantastic impacts in its overseas showings, in terms of interest and things that have come out of that for our tourism networks and things like that. Karena, what was the example in China of the film done that was seen by 100 million people?

Ms Slaninka : Bait?

Mr Kelleher : Yes. It is one of the most effective ways to get across what a place is like for people who are potentially interested in coming. That was The Hunter. That is for people getting a sense of what a place might be like from a visitation point of view, but there is also the own sense of place for people who live here when they see those stories represented. I think you had a couple of examples of what could be done in this arena—a potential drama.

Ms Slaninka : A drama series in Tasmania? Yes. Screen Tasmania has been developing with the independent production sector for quite some time a number of projects that are drama series and that are ready to go and very close. One of them is a children's drama series that has been developed with ABC3 called Cradle Mountain Mysteries. It has some Tasmanian writers on board. It comes from a Melbourne based production company but it is all set in Tasmania. It is like one of Enid Blyton's The Famous Five adventures or a Boys' Own Adventure story. It is fabulous. The scripts are wonderful. The ABC has already committed development funds to that project, which is for 13 half-hours. Its production budget is $500,000 per half hour. In order for that to be made in Tasmania it would require a substantial financial commitment on the part of not just the ABC but the other financing partners to make it happen.

One of the challenges, however, for production to occur in Tasmania is that there are some additional costs for producing something in Tasmania that you would not otherwise have. It is the geographical distance, some of the equipment and facilities need to be freighted across to here, you have to locate crew in regions and you have to bring in some cast, who might be 'name' star cast. There are some additional challenges to filming in Tasmania that do cost more. We have found at Screen Tasmania that we have had to provide some additional money on top of normal investment funds to incentivise production to occur in Tasmania in order for us to be competitive with the other states of Australia.

Senator THORP: Those impediments you mention are clearly insurmountable.

Ms Slaninka : No, absolutely not.

Senator THORP: What impact on that level of impediment would there be if we go along the path of closing the production unit in Tasmania?

Ms Slaninka : We have already talked about, for example, the closure of the Goodwood studio as having an impact by reducing infrastructure, equipment and facilities here. I think with the closure of the production unit we are going to see the diminishing of the facilities, resources and skills that are available here in Tasmania and of the critical mass of industry that exists here and the skills we can draw on.

Senator THORP: If I understand you correctly, the decision of the ABC—which they have not made yet, clearly—to close down the production unit here would have a set of reasons for the ABC doing that, to pick up the point that Senator Ruston made, but there would be other implications more broadly for the potential of using Tasmania in the way that New Zealand has used its beautiful landscapes into the long term. So the drop in the pond is a lot broader than the 16 jobs at the production unit?

Ms Slaninka : Potentially.

Mr Kelleher : It is going to the heart of that critical mass of, given the hours comparison we have seen.

Senator THORP: That leads me to my second question. I note in your submission you referred to ABC commissioners being more proactively coming to places, like Tasmania, outside of Melbourne and Sydney. I wonder if you would elaborate on that.

Ms Slaninka : One of the reasons there is so much production centred in Sydney and Melbourne is that that is where the majority of production companies are based and that is also where the commissioners of content are based. This is a very relationship based industry. It is very much about getting access to the commissioners to be able to talk to them in order to pitch your project, inspire them and get them excited about your idea. It is the same not just in a Tasmanian context but across all regional areas of Australia. One of the challenges that the regions have is dealing with the centralisation of decision makers and getting access to those commissioners who have the power to green-light your project and say, 'Yes, we're going to go with you.' Broadcasters, like all commercial operators, are risk averse, so if they do not know you and they do not feel that you have a track record then they are far less prepared to take a risk on somebody who is unfamiliar to them. Also, when they cannot oversee production in the same way that they can in Sydney and Melbourne, there is an added risk or uncertainty for them.

Senator THORP: How frequently do you see ABC commissioners here?

Ms Slaninka : It is not that frequent.

Senator THORP: When was the last time?

Ms Slaninka : I think I might have invited the last ones down in March last year.

Senator THORP: On invitation?

Ms Slaninka : Yes.

Senator SINGH: I have one question in relation to thinking of young people and what their future career opportunities are in Tasmania—those that want to take up a career in screen production. I know that the ABC has been a long training ground for many in the independent sector and the like. What does the future look like for those kinds of career opportunities in the screen production industry in Tasmania with the closure of the ABC unit?

Ms Slaninka : Tasmania does not have a film school. Tasmania does not have the same kinds of training opportunities as other states, because really production is a training ground. Production is where you learn your skills, often. With limited production opportunities, there are fewer opportunities for training and professional development. With the proposed closure of the internal production unit, we are by virtue of that seeing a reduction in production occurring in Tasmania. What we will see then is an absolute reliance on the Tasmanian government to stimulate, facilitate and underpin production activity in Tasmania, and that is a big burden for us to bear. So therefore you are going to see a diminution of training, skills and professional development opportunities. However, that being said, we recognise and ABC argue that it is not their role to be a training institution and an educator of skills. Conversely, our interest is in developing an industry down here, and part of that is about building production capacity and building skills in order to build sustainable business in Tasmania. I think that where the ABC and the state government align is in the development and the building of production capacity and production that then contributes to the national programming schedule. That is where we can both meet and have the goals of both of us met. We can build industry capacity and build sustainable business, because ongoing production creates jobs and skills and leverages investment into the state. It does all sorts of things for Tasmania and also then for the ABC: they have content on the network. So what we are after, I think, is the same thing: it is the model. In question is the model and how we are going to pay for it, basically.

Mr Kelleher : But I guess our suggestion about the establishment of the online unit is a win-win.

Ms Slaninka : Yes.

Mr Kelleher : It is a new emerging area. We are going to have some competitive advantages in that arena because of the NBN. That would be a good example, I think.

Ms Slaninka : But did I answer your question?

Senator SINGH: I am thinking of someone coming out of, say, Rosny College or Hobart College in year 12 who wants to have a career in editing, producing or the like. Where do they go if we do not have a production unit here? We have a very small independent sector. I presume they go to the mainland.

Ms Slaninka : Yes.

Senator SINGH: I presume that is the answer to the question. Maybe they already are, but at the moment they probably have some options in terms of the external support that is provided to the ABC production unit and also the independent sector as it is.

CHAIR: If you would like to quickly respond if you have anything further to add.

Ms Slaninka : That is right. If they do not, then they go to the mainland.

Senator CAMERON: I have a question on notice. It is about something that we have not discussed much, but it is in your submission on page 5. You say 'It may also be timely for a review of the ABC charter to strengthen its cultural and economic commitment to the regions.' Could you give us some further arguments as to why that should happen. Could you also consider whether the issue of convergence also puts pressure on the ABC charter as it stands.

Ms Slaninka : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you. I had an indication from Senator Carol Brown, who had to leave, unfortunately, that she will have some questions on notice for Screen Tasmania. Thank you both very much for your evidence and for your time today.