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Wednesday, 23 October 1974
Page: 1875

Senator GUILFOYLE (Victoria) -In speaking on behalf of my colleagues in the Opposition on the Austraiian Film Commission Bill, the purpose of which is to establish the Australian Film Commission, ! stress that we are delighted that the Government is proposing the formation of the Commission. We have understood for a long time the need to develop an Australian film industry. Indeed, if history is correctly recorded it will show that in 1970 the Gorton Government gave the first impetus to the redevelopment of the Australian film industry by forming the Australian Film Development Corporation which at that time was designed to give encouragement to the commercial film maker in Australia by giving him some assistance. This was desirable for many reasons, but perhaps the overriding thought of the then Prime Minister, Mr Gorton, was that if we were to develop in the complete sense a national identity for Australia then all aspects of cultural and creative work should reflect this national spirit. It was felt that an Australian film industry would be another outlet for the expression of the newly emerging Australian national identity. The corporation was set up at that time to give this sort of encouragement.

In 1972 the Prime Minister, Mr McMahon, referred to the Tariff Board the matter of the

Australian film industry for the type of report that the Tariff Board can provide on any Australian industry. But, of course, there is an enormous difference between this industry and most of the other industries which would be referred to the Tariff Board. If we were talking in strictly economic terms, it could have been said that it was not the type of matter that could be best dealt with by a Tariff Board inquiry. The industry was very much in its infancy and there had not been a great deal of development in it. In its report the Tariff Board remarked along the lines that if we were talking strictly of the economic criteria which are usually evaluated in a Tariff Board inquiry there would be little in the way of Australian film and television production that could justify such an inquiry. However, the inquiry completed its work and presented its report which contained a great deal of valuable information about the Australian film industry and the attitudes that we could adopt to this industry in the future if we were to express our will as a government and as a people to develop our own Australian film industry. We have assisted film making in Australia in a variety of ways. The Australian Film and Television School has been doing remarkable work in training those people who will be the producers, directors and technicians of the future. Also the Australian Film Development Corporation itself has been instrumental in providing a great deal of support for this sort of development.

However, the Bill now before the House deals with the Australian Film Commission which was promised to be established by the Government. If we were to read the second reading speech of the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) we could be delighted at its formation, because in his concluding remarks the Minister says that the Bill will establish a Commission having the full statutory powers, resources, organisation and related activities needed to implement the Government's policies in respect of this vital industry. He went on to say that those policies are aimed at developing and maintaining a strong, increasingly self-reliant, responsible and distinctively Australian film and television program production industry. We support such policies. However, the style of the Bill which is before the Senate does not give any degree of autonomy to the Commission in the work which it is seeking to do. The Bill has written right through it the necessity for ministerial approval and ministerial direction and the Minister's influence in the work that would be undertaken. For this reason we will be referring to many matters during the consideration of the Bill at the Committee stage. I will not canvass at this stage those matters with which we will be dealing.

I want to refer to some of the matters contained in the Tariff Board report, and particularly that part of the report which talks about the distribution of films. This has been one of the major difficulties experienced by the Australian film industry. Whatever may be the qualities of excellence and the attributes of the product, the distribution and actual screening of films has been of particular difficulty in this country. The sections of the Tariff Board report which deal with distribution and exhibition are important. I believe that in the formation of the proposed Film Commission a great deal of work has yet to be done in these 2 directions. The Tariff Board concluded its report with the statement that the objectives of its inquiry could best be realised by reducing the present concentration of control within the film and theatre industry in this country. The Board referred to the fact that this would be possible only if the dominance of the prime exhibition outlets could be removed and the necessary measure of genuine competition created by restructuring the industry to provide a greater number of suitable alternative outlets in Australia. The Government has freely acknowledged that it will not attempt to do that in the setting up of the Australian Film Commission.

It would have to be questioned whether some of the matters referred to in the Tariff Board report could be undertaken by the Australian Government for constitutional reasons. I do not place any undue emphasis on the recommendations of the Tariff Board which have not been fulfilled in the formation of the Commission, but I simply refer to them as problems which still exist. It will be readily understood that if an Australian film is produced which establishes all of the criteria that we would want to see for an Australian film, it still has to seek an outlet in a theatre before it can be a commercially viable production for the people who have been interested in its development. That difficulty still remains, and it is one which does not have an instant solution. Its solution, I think, will need a great deal of wisdom in the development of our film industry in the future.

For this reason I think it is important that the personnel who will be appointed to the Film Commission when it is established should have the experience, wisdom and ability to recognise the problems and to do what is within the power of a statutory commission to overcome them. Because of this, we will be expressing some thoughts on the composition of the Commission during the Committee consideration of the Bill.

This is a matter which the Government considers to be important because it is restricting the type of interest in film making a person may have before he is eligible to serve as a full time member of the Commission. We will be moving an amendment in that regard in due course. We think it is important, because of the very limited degree of development of this industry, that a person from a small family company or in an owner developing type of situation should not be precluded from becoming a member of the Commission. We think that this would be unwise at this stage of the development of the film industry.

Let me now deal with some of the matters that are important to us. We feel that in establishing a statutory commission the Government should have the confidence to place the management of the operations of that commission within the hands of the people who are appointed to serve on it. We do not think that a commission which is overridden in all its powers and functions by a Minister of Government is operating in the way in which any statutory body ought to operate. That was one of our principal objections to the style of the Bill- that in relation to each power and function there is an opportunity for ministerial approval or direction to be exercised.

Another point to which the Opposition wants to refer in a general way in relation to Australian nlms is that the Government has listed some people who are necessarily to be Australians at the time we are considering whether it is an Australian film that has been created. The Opposition wants to introduce some other people into that classification. The nationalities and places of residence of the persons who take part in the film making, including authors, producers, actors and technicians have been mentioned. We believe that for the industry itself to feel that the understanding of its functions is clear, such persons as scriptwriters, editors, producers and directors also ought to be named as important when we refer to the Australian film industry. We believe that those sorts of people ought to be actually listed as an important group of people who take part in film making and are essential to the Australian characteristics of any film that is to be made. We believe also that it is important under clause 13 of the Bill not to delegate to a member of staff of the Commission some of the functions that should be the functions of members of the Commission. We feel that that particular delegation does not lend itself to the operations of a commission of this type. We feel that an amendment is appropriate in that particular instance.

Whilst talking about opportunities for film makers, I think that we ought to make mention of the fact that the Film Commission at this stage is giving its principal support to the makers of short films. Whilst we realise that the making of feature films is perhaps a very much wider field in which assistance could be given, particularly in the exhibition of feature films, we do make note of the fact that the Government has specified short films as being the ones where an opportunity will be taken to give assistance. It is important when we talk about commercial film production that we do not lose sight of the essence of a viable industry- the creation in the future of feature films and the opportunities that may be seen ahead for the exhibition of feature films made by Australians, with all the criteria that we have listed for Australian films.

I know there are problems and I do not overlook them. I also do not stress that I see a role for the Government to insist that films shall be shown. For this reason- in the area of short films- I think it is important that those films which are films produced, for instance, as Australian documentary films must lie equally with those short films which could be in the entertainment area, the education area or in any other area. It is not essential, if we are establishing an Australian film commission, to consider that priority should be given to those films which could be produced as Government documentary films and that the Commission should give priority to the production of such films. It is important to consider that if the Film Commission is to be entrusted with the assistance which the industry needs then all aspects of the industry should fall within its assistance. Priority should not be given to those things which may be important in the sense of government policies but not important in the sense that the Film Commission has been established to assist a new industry in its development.

I think these are the points that are of most importance to us in dealing with the Bill. Because the Senate is aware of the many proposed amendments which arise from the Opposition's attitude to the Bill, I seek to limit my remarks at this stage to those points which I have mentioned. I will seek an opportunity in the Committee stage of this debate to canvass the various attitudes the Opposition has to the provisions contained in the Bill.

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