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Thursday, 26 September 1974
Page: 1450

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill will establish the Australian Film Commission, which will administer the principal forms of assistance provided by the Australian Government for the development of the film and television program production industries in this country. The broad functions of the Commission will be as follows:

(a)   To encourage, whether by the provision of financial assistance or otherwise, the making, promotion, distribution and exhibition of Australian films and television programs.

(b)   To make, promote, distribute and exhibit any films and television programs or commission these activities on its behalf.

(c)   Through Film Australia, the Australian Government's film production arm, to make or commission the making of films serving the purposes of a Department of State or authority of Australia; films dealing with matters of national interest to Australia, and films designed to illustrate or interpret aspects of Australia or of the life and activities of the Australian people.

(d)   To assist a State or State authority to purchase Australian films of an educational nature and of national interest or importance; and

(e)   To encourage the proper keeping of films in archives in Australia, providing financial assistance, if necessary, for this purpose.

The Bill provides for the repeal of the Australian Film Development Corporation Act 1970 and the Australian Film Development Corporation Act (No. 2) 1970. Upon repeal of those Acts the Australian Film Commission will assume as part of its functions, but in broadened and strengthened form, the role and responsibilities of the Australian Film Development Corporation which, within its restricted franchise, has assisted considerably the development of local film and televison production in recent times.

The Bill also provides for Film Australia, at present a branch of my Department, to transfer to the Australian Film Commission where it will continue to produce films for the Australian Government's purposes. Under the Bill, however, Film Australia will be given a fresh and expanded opportunity to develop and apply its creative potential. Film Australia will also benefit from the Commission having the freedom and flexibility under this Bill to organise and manage its operations in accordance with acceptable industry practices. At present Film Australia must conform to procedures under the Audit Act and Treasury Regulations that often are inappropriate to film production requirements. Basically this Bill is an expression of the Australian Government's determination to establish a local and successful film and television program industry. As I stated at a gathering of motion picture industry executives on 2 February 1973, the Labor Government has undertaken as part of our nation building, to encourage an increasing participation by Australian artists, producers, writers and technicians in developing a local feature film industry and in the production of Australian programs for television'.

As I also stated on that occasion it is tragic that film, one of the greatest forms of mass communication in history, was not fostered and protected by government during Australia's promising early film beginnings. Twice the Australian film industry had the ground cut away from under it. The world's first feature film was made in Australia in 1900, when Joseph H. Perry made The Soldiers of the Cross' for the Salvation Army. After a flourishing start, with more than 200 'photo-plays' filmed in the first quarter of this century, the Australian film industry flagged. Following a federal royal commission in 1927 and a number of State government inquiries and conferences, the New South Wales Government introduced in 1935 a quota system for Australian and Empire films. Initially this system helped the Australian film industry but opposition to it by overseas interests was not countered by government and the system was allowed to become ineffective. Compounding this, the development of talking pictures resulted in bigger budgets and increased technical complexity. Nevertheless the Australian film industry started to flourish for a time during the 1930s. Cinesound, with Mr Ken Hall as Director, produced 17 feature films, beginning in 1932 with Bert Bailey in the classic comedy 'On Our Selection' and continuing, until World War II forced suspension of Cinesound feature production in 1940. 1 am told that all but one of those 17 films made a profit- and even that exception broke even. Frank Thring Senior and Charles Chauvel were other notable forces of that time. In this second active period, some 70 films were wholly financed and made by Australians.

It was no coincidence that, at this time, foreign capital entered Australian theatre ownership. A major factor in the decline of Cinesound as a producer of Australian feature films was the takeover of its parent company by British interests. Once again inadequate protection led to the undermining of what had been a flourishing industry. In 1963 the Senate Select Committee Report on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television- known as the Vincent Committee, of which I was a memberpointed out that, in the case of an industry with a strong cultural element, there is a great responsibility to protect it. That report also recommended a loan scheme of subsidy and this was implemented to a degree with the introduction by the Gorton Government in 1970 of the Australian Film Development Corporation Act. However, that Act did not go far enough in setting out the functions of the Corporation. Following consideration of the Tariff Board's 1973 Report on Motion Picture Films and Television Programs, the Government adopted most of the recommendations made by the Board. The Government also approved of the establishment of an Interim Board to advise me on policy matters associated with the formation of the Commission and to carry out some preliminary planning tasks. The Interim Board has been functioning efficiently since February of this year. It is representative of the industry and the public and has been examining a wide range of important matters.

This Bill, therefore, stems from a painstakingly thorough examination of the history, development, problems and potential of the Australian film and television program production industry and of the social, cultural and economic aspects of its operation. This process has involved extensive consultation with all sectors of the industry and the people who work in it, and with other individuals and groups who are concerned about the industry and its present and potential role in our society. This process of consultation is continuing at the present time through the work of the Interim Board of the Australian Film Commission and through such activities as the symposium arranged by my Department on 21 July to discuss, with a widely representative group, the question of overseas participation in film and television program production in Australia.

During the period since this Government came to office in December 1972 we have done much to encourage the industry and to stimulate fresh ideas and new initiatives. As a consequence there has been a new surge of hope throughout the industry. Feature film production has risen to levels not known for many years. Television programs of a distinctively Australian character have reached new heights of public acceptance and popularity. In all, there has been a heartening upswing in creative and technical opportunities and in the influence on the industry of Australian producers, artists, writers, actors and technicians. The enactment of this Bill to establish the Australian Film Commission is a vital and historic step in the process of establishing a solid foundation for a viable Australian film and television program production industry.

The Bill provides for the Australian Film Commission to have the power to do all things necessary for the performance of its functions. It will be subject only to general Ministerial direction except that the Minister may give directions on particular projects in relation to films produced by Film Australia. These productions will be financed from moneys appropriated by Parliament for the Government's own film production purposes. Ministerial involvement could be necessary at times. All such directions, whether general or specific, will have to be given in writing and be set out in the Commission's annual report. The Bill also provides for the Australian Film Commission to have power to direct exhibitors that a specified proportion of the screening time given to short films must be devoted to films certified by the Commission to be Australian short films. In formulating the provisions of these quotas, the Commission will be required to have regard to the provisions of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Code on the Liberalisation of Current Invisible Operations, to which Australia acceded on 7 June 1971. The provisions of the OECD Code are also relevant to another area of operation by the Film Commission.

The effect of this will be that, when the Commission is considering the provision of financial or other assistance to film projects, it must give the same consideration to films produced under international co-production arrangements as it gives to totally Australian films. The Commission will have power also to require the provision of statistical and other information relating to the making, promoting, distributing and exhibiting of films but the confidentiality of information obtained in this way is protected under the Bill.

It is proposed that the Commission will consist of a full-time Chairman and at least 5 other members, with at least 2 members in addition to the Chairman being full-time members. Members will be appointed by the GovernorGeneral for periods of up to 5 years. Subject to an upper age limit of 65 years, members will be eligible for re-appointment. Provision is made for the appointment of acting members by the Minister to cover vacancies, pending further appointments by the Governor-General, or during temporary absences of members. The Bill allows the appointment under certain circumstances of people having a pecuniary interest in the making, promotion, distribution or exhibition of films. As a safeguard, however, it also provides for declaration of such interests and for exclusion of members from meetings where discussion relates to matters involved with those interests. The staff of the Commission will be employed under the Public Service Act 1922-1973. The Officers' Rights' Declaration Act 1928-1973 and Superannuation Act 1922-1973 will apply to them where appropriate.

At the particular request of the Public Service Board, following discussions I understand they have had with the unions involved, I have agreed that arrangements should be made by the Board to allow the staff of the Australian Film Development Corporation to have a right to elect to join the staff of the Australian Film Commission. The financial affairs of the Commission will be conducted under 2 broad categories. As a trading corporation in respect to all of its general activities, other than the special film-making functions of Film Australia, the Commission will apply the accounting principles generally followed in commercial practice. Film production at Film Australia, on the other hand, will be financed from moneys specifically appropriated for this purpose by the Parliament and will therefore be treated as a non-trading type of activity. Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier, the Audit Act and Treasury Regulations will not apply to the operations of the Commission and it will be able to devise financial systems appropriate to its special needs. The Bill does provide, however, for strict accountability in the management of the Commission's affairs. The Auditor-General is given full powers of inspection of accounting records and is required to audit the Commission's accounts and to report the results to the Minister annually.

The Bill makes proper provision for the transfer to the Australian Film Commission of the assets, rights, etc., of the Australian Film Development Corporation and also from Film Australia. It deals with procedural matters involved in employment by the Commission of people now on the staff of the Australian Film Development Corporation and in the winding down and final reporting upon the operations of that Corporation.The Commission is required under the Bill to report annually to the Minister. As indicated before, financial statements accompanying the annual report will be reported upon by the Auditor-General before the report and financial statements are placed before each House of the Parliament. The Commission will be required to furnish such reports as the Minister requires and it may furnish such other reports as it thinks fit.

Finally, the Bill provides for the GovernorGeneral to make regulations under the Act. Thus the Bill before the Senate will establish a Commission having the full statutory powers, resources and organisation of related activities needed to implement the Government's policies in respect to this vital industry. Those policies are aimed at developing and maintaining a strong, increasingly self-reliant, responsible and distinctively Australian film and television program production industry. The Australian Film Commission Bill 1974 is the cornerstone for the construction of such an industry and I therefore commend the Bill to honourable senators.

Debate (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) adjourned.

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