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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1161

Senator PUPLICK(5.03) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The Film Censorship Board finds itself in a situation whereby its work and the work of film censorship in Australia in general is under the closest of scrutiny. It is under scrutiny by an expert committee of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives building upon work undertaken by members of the previous Parliament. I wish to indicate very briefly three things arising out of this year's annual report. First, it is quite apparent that the work load upon the Censorship Board is altogether too great for the Board to cope with. The Board, which may consist of a Chief Censor, a Deputy Chief Censor and not more than 10 members, at the moment does not have a full complement of Commonwealth censors. I believe that the backlog of work which the Board faces at the moment is such that the Government should look seriously at increasing the number of available censors. Secondly, in part 5 of the report under the heading `General' one sees the cri de coeur of the Board regarding the difficulties that have arisen for it because of the Australian Capital Territory Classification of Publications Ordinance which was supposed to serve as a national model for film and video censorship in Australia and clearly has not been able to fulfil that role.

Thirdly, I draw attention to what I think are rather disturbing indications in table 2 on page 4 of the report dealing with cinema features by country of origin. One sees that the number of cinema features released by country of origin in 1980 amounted to 35 from Australia out of a total of 1,074. In 1981 Australian features amounted to 29 out of a total of 1,081; in 1982, 74 out of a total of 1,271; in 1983, 31 out of 1,000; and in 1984, 31 out of 620. That brings home the point that the contribution made by Australian product to cinema releases in Australia has been declining over the last couple of years. The figure of 31 in 1983 and 1984 is well less than half of the figure of 74 that applied in 1982.

I regret that financial and other pressures have led to a situation in which the impetus of the Australian film industry is no longer for the production of feature film but for the production of television material, particularly mini series and certain types of documentaries. I think that is very regrettable, because I believe that the Australian film industry should be based upon releases for cinema and not the production of yet more of what I think is rather second rate television material. I very much regret the decline of the feature film. I suspect that this will be even more apparent in the years to come as further changes in the Government's taxation approach to the film industry have their impact. The impact of the proposed tax changes in the taxation package recently announced by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) will be once again to increase the amount of television material produced and to move away from the amount of feature film produced. I think that will be very detrimental in the long term to the development of the Australian film industry. I hope that that trend can be halted and, indeed, reversed in the near future, although one is not particularly sanguine about that.

I am interested to see that in line with changing trends in recent years more appeals to the Films Board of Review for cinema features, particularly appeals against classifications, have been upheld than dismissed. I think this is only indicative of the enormous pressure put upon the Film Censorship Board to make these decisions. I therefore conclude by appealing once again for a strengthening of the numbers on the Board. Four more members could be appointed to the Board under the existing legislation. I hope that the problems of the balance between the television industry and the film industry can be addressed in due course.