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Wednesday, 23 October 1974
Page: 1879

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) -I am pleased to enter this debate on the establishment of the Australian Film Commission. I acknowledge that it is a Labor Government which has decided that such a Commission should be established. Generally, in my view the Bill establishes an authority under government control which in fact will have a socialising influence, if I may put it that way, on the Australian film industry. I acknowledge that there is within the Bill scope for financial assistance to be given to private industry in respect of the establishment of companies involved in the production of short and full length films. The proposal is that the Australian Film Commission be a corporate body. One would take it from that that it would generally be removed from the day to day interference of government. I endorse the comments of Senator Guilfoyle on the many instances throughout the Bill of an authoritarian attitude. The Minister has powers of direction in so many areas. For one to enunciate all of them would take quite some time, but I instance one. Clause 8(1) states:

The Minister may, by writing under his hand, give directions to the Commission with respect to the exercise of its powers or the performance of its functions but, except as provided by sub-section (2), shall not give such a direction with respect to a particular project.

I see that clause as giving the Minister complete power over this authority to direct it wheresoever the Minister believes it should be directed. I envisage that under that power a more entrenched socialist government than we have at present could pursue to a greater extent the elimination of private enterprise which I, for one, feel should be given encouragement in this field. The basis of my comment is the principle that this community would be best developed and directed under a private enterprise system. I feel that the Australian Film Commission, if it develops in the way set out in this Bill, could be inhibited to some extent. I certainly hope that the amendments suggested by Senator Guilfoyle on behalf of the Opposition will have brought a different attitude to this Bill by the time the Senate has passed it. I will listen with interest to those amendments which Senator Hall intends to move.

The Labor Government has taken a great interest in the media during its term of office and it is of particular importance that it sought the establishment of a Department of the Media, a department which has been headed particularly well and actively by a very competent Minister. I give credit to Senator Douglas McClelland as the Minister for the Media. Undoubtedly it is his own enthusiasm, demonstrated over the many years I have been in this Senate, which has led to the consolidation we see in the Australian Film Commission Bill. This authority will be the government sponsor in a tide of industry which has ebbed and flowed in its quality and its successes purely upon a private enterprise base.

The Minister's second reading speech is monumental in some of the information it contains. It shows that this great country of Australia was a leader in the field of film production in the early part of this century. No other country had its expertise or competence in film production. America did not have the standards, quality or competence that the Australian film industry had. The Minister instances early films which some of us recall very well. I do not recall the ones running back to the early 1900s but I recall those in the 1930s which were of great credit. There were none in the world to compare with them. Undoubtedly as this industry developed, overseas expertise and the ability of overseas companies to obtain finance probably eroded the base of the Australian film industry. One hopes that if there is to be government finance or if the Australian public is to make money available- on a subsidy basis, as I would see it- the industry will further develop. Perhaps on the question of subsidies I would argue with the Government because in other areas of industry it shows that it wishes to reduce subsidies. It will be a matter of necessity that subsidies and financial encouragement be made available to individuals who see themselves as entrepeneurs in the film industry.

It appears to me that this is a particularly important time for consideration to be given to a renewal of interest in the film industry. The feature film industry has had some lift in the past few years as a result of several films being very popular in Australia and apparently having popular acceptance overseas. What does the success of a film mean these days? I imagine that it means financial success. One can only assume that if a film of Australian origin runs on the Australian film circuit for a long time this gives the basis of success to the director of the film and the managers involved in its production and will give financial stability to the organisation which can then pursue the possibility of film making in the future. Feature film making has been a most difficult field in this country. I see that situation continuing for some time although apparently the acceptance and success of films, if one is to read the advertisements in daily newspapers, depends now upon an emphasis on sex. I hope that because an emphasis on sex apparently wins box office acclaim and financial success for some directors the Commission will not find that it is giving the greatest encouragement to the production of films in this area.

Mention was made of the type of personnel who would head an organisation such as this. Having been involved in substantial loss through various theatrical organisations and film making institutions which attempted the production of feature films and full length films, I say that film production, as I see it, for ultimate financial success needs strong financial management and competence. In the last 10 years apparently the most financially successful man in Australia and the man who has headed the most successful run of films has been Hector Crawford. I would agree with Senator Milliner that Crawford has been successful throughout Australia. Something that is not known generally is that in the early history of Crawford Productions it earned more from the export of films to America and to Asian countries than its income from the Australian circuit. Here is a man who is competent financially and obviously very experienced in the production of films and in the handling of problems that go with success and failure in the various fields of the industry. That type of man along with the artists and writers make up the attraction for the public generally.

There are 2 areas in which Government assistance is absolutely necessary. Something that has not got off the ground in Australia in the last 10 years is the production of educational films. I believe that the time will come when we will see education being delivered to school children not on the expensive basis on which it is delivered today. In my State of Victoria over 40 per cent of the total Budget is spent on education, in line with the demands of the people. It appears to me that with Government financial assistance we will be able to put the best of our educators on film to produce the background story to the subject being taught. This will be put on cassette. In a classroom which will need the minimum of supervision the minimum class size can be expanded. The students will receive a top line delivery from the best educational service and advice that can be given. There is a need for the Australian Government, through this Commission, to enter into that field and I think that it would be widely accepted. One's imagination is fired by the thought that the various classifications of education can be delivered to the outback schools and to schools in country towns, not purely to the large schools in the cities where the expert instructors are encouraged to live and work. We will be able to deliver to the outback schools the top educational instruction.

Senator Milliner - This is done today.

Senator WEBSTER - I referred to cassettes. Is that being done today?

Senator Milliner - It is, with respect.

Senator WEBSTER -On a great basis?

Senator Milliner - Yes, with respect.

Senator WEBSTER - It is being done on a very wide basis, is it?

Senator Milliner - Yes.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson)- Order! The honourable senator will address his remarks through the Chair.

Senator WEBSTER - I doubt that the honourable senator is correct. The idea has been promoted. I spoke about it in this House five or six years ago. I attended a university seminar when it was stated that the subject would be promoted in the future. I have mentioned it because I do not think that it is being covered sufficiently at this time. If, with the availability of finance, educational films can be produced in cassette form on the advice of the educational authorities throughout the country, we can make a universal type of education available on specialised subjects. The honourable senator said that this was being done. I know that it is available but I do not think that every school has a television set into the back of which one can plug a cassette.

Senator Milliner - That is the fault of your crowd. In 22 years you did not do it.

Senator WEBSTER -Here we go. We have the same old comment from a senator from Queensland. At one stage he said that it is done. That would indicate to any sensible person that it had been done and that satisfaction was being achieved.

Senator Milliner - It is done.

Senator WEBSTER - It is not done properly today and it is something which this Film Commission may well take up. At the present time in this country we are about to enter into the field of colour television. I do not claim to know a great deal about the production of films but I imagine that the requirements for the production of films in colour must be vastly different from the requirements for the production of black and white films. We can learn something here from the technology of other countries. With the growing demand for colour television will come a regeneration. The old films that may have existed for some years will not be shown. They are to be put aside in archives. I note that one of the requirements of this Commission is to set up secure and safe archives for films that have been produced. I think that that is a very attractive proposition. This country has a great future. Certain efficient entrepreneurs have demonstrated that a great business can be made from the production of both short and long films in this country. I can see it happening with the Australian Film Commission.

The Bill before us requires amendment in a number of ways. When those amendments are proposed during the Committee stage by Senator Guilfoyle and Senator Steele Hall I hope that the Government will take notice of them and will embrace the benefit that can be gained from the advice of honourable senators on this side. I have pleasure in supporting the general principles of the Australian Film Commission Bill 1974.

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