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Wednesday, 23 October 1974
Page: 1907

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - What I am about to say I do not say unkindly or uncharitably, but I say with great respect to Senator Guilfoyle that either she does not understand the industry, she does not understand the Bill or she does not understand both the industry and the Bill, because if she had read the Tariff Board report she would have realised that the small film production unit is the whole crux of the development of this industry. Clause 5 of the Bill says that the functions of the Commission are 'to encourage, whether by the provision of financial assistance or otherwise, the making, promotion, distribution and exhibition of Australian films'. Those films can be either short films or what are commonly referred to as feature films. Short films are not made by the Film Commission itself but are made by way of investment by the Film Commission in a small film production unit in order to bolster the small production unit.

The Opposition, by desiring to delete this clause of the Bill, is virtually denying the right of distribution or exhibition to those short films that are made by the small time film producer after the Film Commission has invested in the production. By their Opposition to this clause honourable senators opposite are not penalising the Film Commission's Australian productions because they will find their way on the international markets in any event, as they do now. Admittedly they do not get the benefit of the certification of 'short film'. But what honourable senators opposite are doing by their opposition to this clause is saying to the distributor and to the exhibitor: 'So far as we are concerned, whilst they can make the film there is not a statutory requirement upon you in any way to distribute or exhibit it.' If anyone believed that the LiberalCountry Party Opposition had any sympathy or genuine desire to help the small film makers who are struggling to make their way in the industry, certainly so far as I am concerned that belief has been shattered here tonight.

If there were one area in which the whole film industry could build its future it would be the young Australian film maker with limited financial backing who can afford in the first instance to make a short film only but who under the provisions of this legislation would be eligible for assistance by way of investment by the Film Commission in the production of that short film. To date he has had very little opportunity to have the sort of film which he makes and from which he wants to earn his bread and butter, shown in the cinemas throughout Australia. Because the Opposition has determined that because it did not get its way on other matters it is going to have its way on this matter, it is preventing the small time film producer from earning his living in the industry. Anyone who wants any further proof of that should turn to page 38 of the Tariff Board report under the heading 'Shorts suitable for commercial release '. It says:

Evidence suggests there is a need for special consideration of the local producer of short films suitable for general commercial release. The producer of films in this category has generally advanced beyond the experimental or innovative stage but often lacks the experience and /or financial backing to enter the field of feature productions. Also the short suitable for commercial cinema and made on a low budget, can provide an excellent medium for acquiring experience and recognition. However, at present the remuneration obtainable is so limited that there is little commercial incentive to produce this type of film.

At present the majority of locally made shorts exhibited in cinemas are produced under the sponsorship of companies, government departments, or organisations with a message to present to the public.

This report was made principally as a result of evidence received during the term of office of the previous Government. The report continues:

In these cases the producer usually supplies the exhibition prints to the distributor virtually free of cost and the distributor in turn places the shorts with cinemas as part of a program package. Hoyts -

That is one of the largest distributors in Australia, if not in the world- claimed that there was a great shortage of good theatrical shorts, and said that patrons preferred story-type short films.

As the exhibitor usually obtains shorts from the distributor in a program package, it is the distributor who determines the allocation- of the film hire receipts between the components of the program. The feature film is the main attraction, and very little of the film hire is usually allocated to supporting programs. A supply of imported shorts is also available to the distributor from his overseas affiliates and will be used whenever the supply of low-cost sponsored local material is inadequate. Therefore, while some exhibitors are continually looking for good non-sponsored Australian shorts, distributors generally have little incentive to handle them and as the shorts seldom attract an audience into the cinema, the producer of non-sponsored shorts is in a weak commercial bargaining position.

What the Tariff Board was saying there was that the short film in the film production industry is the life-blood of the whole industry; it is the crux of the development of the industry in Australia. But, because in the past there has been very little or no incentive for exhibitors to take from distributors the short films which have been made in Australia, it has not been worth their while showing them. Therefore, there has been no outlet for the short film producer. In this area the Government has set out to ensure that the short film producer has a market for his product by way of a quota or, to use Senator Hall's expression, a points system. But apparently for reasons unknown to me, for reasons which I just cannot fathom- the Opposition said that it believed in the development of a film industry- it has decided to oppose this very worthwhile and practical solution to the problem of the development of the whole film industry. I could go out and stump the country or stump this industry and I assure honourable senators opposite that it is my belief that they would not get one vote from any person who produces, directs or is employed in the film industry, especially in the short feature industry.

As far as Senator Hall's amendment is concerned, I appreciate that the Bill as framed might have some problems from a parliamentary point of view. But, as an earnest and to get this legislation on the statute book in order to help Australian film producers, if this type of certification and quota has to be made within the framework of a parliamentary regulation the Government will accept that regulation. For that reason we of the Government are prepared to accept the amendment moved by Senator Hall. But, knowing what the Opposition is doing by its proposal to reject this clause in the Bill and knowing that it is impeding if not preventing the worthwhile development of the film industry, I plead with the Opposition to think again and to realise the consequences of its action.

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