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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
24/05/2018
Estimates
COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS PORTFOLIO
Screen Australia

Screen Australia

[15:29]

CHAIR: Welcome, Mr Mason and Ms Cameron. Thank you for joining us. Apologies for the delay. I'm assuming there's no opening statement today?

Mr G Mason : There's not.

CHAIR: Excellent. We'll go straight to questions.

Senator BILYK: Before we start, I want to ask people to talk directly into their microphone. I actually have a hearing disability, and at every estimates there're some tones on voices that are hard to hear. Every estimates I have to keep asking people to repeat answers. Thanks.

Senator Fifield: And the audio is particularly bad in this room.

Senator BILYK: It is, yes. I thank people for doing that. Screen Australia's revenue from the government is going to stay at around $82 million a year over the forward estimates. Is that correct?

Mr G Mason : That is correct.

Senator BILYK: So how are you going to deal with having your funding frozen for the next four years? Have you got any ideas how you're going to handle that?

Mr G Mason : We continue to work as well as we can with what we're given, obviously. We continue to work well with industry to leverage it up. We have some moneys that obviously we recoup from things that we invest in. Of course, we're looking at other public-private partnerships.

Senator BILYK: Are any staff going to have to lose their jobs?

Mr G Mason : At this moment, Senator, no. We are maintaining the FTEs as per the forward estimates.

Senator BILYK: No restructuring on the cards at the moment?

Mr G Mason : At this point, no.

Senator BILYK: What about with regard to grant funding? Will that need to be reduced?

Mr G Mason : No. At this time, we quarantined funding that we put into particularly screen projects from any other cuts we had. We took it out of overhead and staff. At the moment, we continue to invest the same amount.

Senator BILYK: You took it out of overhead and staff?

Mr G Mason : To date. All the cuts we previously had, we have taken out of—

Senator BILYK: In the past—

Mr G Mason : our overhead.

Senator BILYK: six years or so?

Mr G Mason : Yes. So at this point, we are maintaining our investment into onscreen projects.

Senator BILYK: Have you got any idea how much money—I don't have it in front of me—you've taken from overheads and staffing and used for grants over time? Have you got a quantum on that at all?

Mr G Mason : I think $52 million over the previous few years comes to mind.

Senator BILYK: You have made quite a bit of progress, I know, with regard to diversity in the screen sector. Can you give me a quick update, because we are running very late, on the work you're doing on cultural and gender diversity?

Mr G Mason : Yes. Obviously, we're incredibly proud of the work we've done in both areas. We have a program called Gender Matters, which we invested money into to try to increase the representation of women in front of and behind the camera. That has had real success. Obviously, at the moment we are thrilled that one of the very first projects from that is a film called Ride Like a Girl, which is filming at the moment in Melbourne. The actress, Rachel Griffiths, is directing her first feature. It's based on the story of Michelle Payne, the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup.

Senator BILYK: That's the racing cup one?

Mr G Mason : The racing one, yes. So that's underway. I would like to note that it's Ms Cameron's last estimates for Screen Australia after 10 years.

Senator BILYK: Ms Cameron, we'll miss you.

Mr G Mason : Gender Matters was one of her pet projects. 'Pet' is a terribly wrong word. It's an incredibly exciting thing that we're very proud of. Again, Ms Cameron is the one who drove that through. We have also done real work on diversity to try to ensure that Australians of all shapes, sizes, colours and dimensions are represented on and off screen. We're doing that because we believe in that culturally; we believe in that creatively; and we also believe in it commercially in the environment in which we now work. If you can't see yourself on screen, you'll find it somewhere else. We have great buy-in from the networks and everyone else. We are doing projects, including Developing the Developer. We're getting people from diverse backgrounds to be involved as script editors and mentors. We believe, with both gender and diversity initiatives, in making changes upstream. You change the things that are getting written rather than try to meet quotas or do something at the tail end.

Senator BILYK: Because having those people as scriptwriters actually changes the whole content?

Mr G Mason : Correct.

Senator BILYK: Because that's their experience. I presume that's what you're saying?

Mr G Mason : Correct.

Senator BILYK: You say it's being made now?

Mr G Mason : Ride Like a Girl? Yes. It's in production as we speak.

Senator BILYK: What is the timeline for that?

Mr G Mason : I think we are aiming for the film to be out in 2019. The film is a very long process. Yes, it will be coming to your screens in 2019.

Senator BILYK: Are you able to tell me the parts of Australia where that's being made?

Mr G Mason : It's shooting in Victoria.

Senator BILYK: All Victoria?

Mr G Mason : Yes. My understanding is the Payne family is from rural Victoria, so it's very reflective of that.

Senator BILYK: That's good. Ms Cameron, I bear in mind it's your last time with us. I don't know what you're doing, but good luck.

Senator Fifield: In this encounter. I might take the opportunity, since we're on the subject of Ms Cameron, to acknowledge her outstanding service as the chief operating officer of Screen Australia. She has made a remarkable contribution. The great news is that she is not lost to the communications and arts portfolio as she has been appointed a commissioner of the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Senator BILYK: I missed that last bit. The commissioner of?

Senator Fifield: Of the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Senator BILYK: Oh, great. Lovely. That's great.

CHAIR: Congratulations, Ms Cameron.

Senator BILYK: I will take this opportunity, on behalf of the opposition and I'm sure the government, to thank you for your efforts over the years with regard to estimates. It's not always a cheery spot to sit around. Trust me; I know. Thanks for that. Congratulations on your new appointment as well. Do you want to add anything about the Ride Like a Girl movie?

Ms Cameron : It's a lovely ending for me, really, because it was the first feature film to be funded through the Gender Matters program only about 18 months ago. As Graeme said, that's an extraordinarily quick turnaround to get something from development into production. I don't go to a lot of set visits, but I was on set last week just 50 minutes outside the airport. It was the Cathy Payne wedding scene at a horse stud. That is an extraordinary scene with hundreds of people. I was talking to the co-producer on set, Naomi Cleaver, who reminded me that the set was predominated by women—meritorious and extremely strong and extremely great women. That includes two out of three of the producers, obviously the director, obviously the protagonist, the cowriter, the line producer, the financial controller, the production manager, the costume department head, the art department head, the hair and make-up department head, the casting director and the extras casting director. I'm running out of space on this piece of paper.

Senator BILYK: You've run out of breath.

Ms Cameron : Eight camera operators. She was saying thank you to me. She was saying to me, 'These women are extraordinary at what they are doing and meritorious at what they do. All they need is more opportunities. By breaking down your barriers and allowing women to have that equal opportunity, it's created this environment that we're working in now.' It's really good to see. I basically think that Rachel Griffiths, given that field of candidates, like Michelle Payne, can bring this home.

Senator BILYK: What is the cost of filming that movie, do you know?

Mr G Mason : The film is about $14 million or $15 million.

Ms Cameron : It's quite a big Australian film.

Senator BILYK: And it's a long movie, you said, too?

Mr G Mason : Yes. It's a feature film for release, yes.

Ms Cameron : They are four weeks into an eight-week shoot. They are going to racetracks, horse studs and stables all over regional Victoria. It's quite a complicated shoot, as you can imagine.

Mr G Mason : I was talking to the international sales agent who is representing the rights to foreign buyers. He said there is an incredible interest in this film from global audiences and global markets. So that's all for the good.

Senator BILYK: Excuse my ignorance on this. If we sell it internationally, do we get rights or royalties? Does that come back to you guys? How does that work?

Mr G Mason : We do. We assist the producer and the production company to do deals. We give them advice and support. What they would do is as it's licensed out into other territories, that money goes back into a pot out of which everyone's costs are recouped. Two things can happen in success. Both Screen Australia can recoup some of its investment on behalf of the people and put that back into future content. Similarly, it goes back into the producers and director to invest in their businesses. So those small businesses can also participate and grow from that as well.

Senator BILYK: So it just doesn't end up in consolidated revenue or anything?

Mr G Mason : No.

Senator BILYK: So it ends up in that arts sphere. That's great. Can you tell me also about what you do to try to maintain and increase Australian content for children? What sort of issues do you come across with regard to Australian made children's content?

Mr G Mason : As you are probably aware, we operate in all types of screen content. We have a particular focus and regard for children. At this point, we do have several children's or family feature films filming. We have expended a significant sum in children's television drama this year.

Senator BILYK: Can you tell me how much that is?

Mr G Mason : I could take that on notice. I would suggest this year we have committed $9 million. Obviously those projects are eligible for the offsets, which we also administer on behalf of the government or the people of Australia. In direct investment, I believe we've allocated some $9 million, but I can confirm the exact amount for you.

Senator BILYK: Did you say that that was into television?

Mr G Mason : Television and children's drama and children's content. We also, as I say, have family or children's feature films filming as well.

Senator BILYK: Do you know how many?

Mr G Mason : I could check that for you, and we can confirm the exact numbers.

Senator BILYK: If you could take that on notice, that would be good. Have you undertaken any efforts to increase the content on TV with regard to pay services such as Netflix and, indeed, the public broadcaster?

Mr G Mason : For children's or generally?

Senator BILYK: Do children's first and then we'll do generally.

Mr G Mason : For children we work a lot. We work with everyone. At the moment, a lot of our content is obviously with the ABC. We and the ABC and ACTF, which all sit under the minister, obviously are the foundation for children's. We also have done things with Netflix, though. We had a very successful project with Netflix and ABC Television. We did the reinvigoration of Monkey. That was very successfully received. So we already do work with Netflix. We are also looking at other things that we could be doing with them more generally. We are agnostic more to the platform. We believe in making sure that there is the content available for Australians to see. So we work with all providers. In general terms, with on-screen drama, we have things on every network and streaming service. In terms of scripted drama, I think in the round coming in for this June we have literally everyone—Seven, Nine, Ten, ABC, SBS, Foxtel, Stan and Netflix—on board for dramas that we will be looking to support.

Senator BILYK: You mentioned, when we were talking about the funding being frozen, money in investments. Are you able to tell me how much you have in that investment area? How much money do have you there?

Mr G Mason : How much we invest into actual onscreen content itself?

Senator BILYK: When I was asking about the freezing of the funding, you were saying that you have money from investment and things to help ride over. What does it look like with regard to whether you can keep doing what you are doing and making sure you don't have to shed staff and that sort of stuff?

Mr G Mason : I think what you're asking is what we ourselves are also making sometimes in recoupment?

Senator BILYK: Yes.

Mr G Mason : A lot of the moneys we give out are grants, particularly documentaries. Last year, I think we did some 98 hours of documentaries. To my knowledge, all of them were grants. But for those that we do take a recoupment position in, we are averaging about $5 million or $6 million a year coming back in that we can then reinvest out. Again, we try to normally take a softer position to ensure that the business—because everyone is a business—tries to recoup some of their money first. That ensures that they are self-sustainable to a greater degree so the call on us is less. So the whole sum we give out isn't investments. What we are looking at is about $5 million self-generated every year.

Senator BILYK: I want to go back to staffing. What are the numbers?

Mr G Mason : It is 97 FTE as the average over a 12-month period, yes. We were about 220, I think.

Senator BILYK: How is that split up, though? If it's FTEs, is it based on all the staff being part-timers making up full-time positions?

Mr G Mason : I actually don't have it split. I think most people are full time.

Senator BILYK: Could you take that on notice for me?

Mr G Mason : We can indeed.

Ms Cameron : It's just under 103. The full-time equivalent is at the moment 98. It's 97 over the 12-month period.

Senator BILYK: Okay. Sorry. I just missed the first part of your comment.

Ms Cameron : The head count as at 30 April 2018 is 103, taking into account part-time positions. The full-time equivalent as at 30 April is 98.

Senator BILYK: That's all for that area, Chair.

CHAIR: So you are concluded with Screen Australia?

Senator BILYK: I'm very happy for Screen Australia to go and catch their planes.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator. Thank you for coming, Mr Mason, and good luck, Ms Cameron.