Parliamentary Report on Recommendations for Reforms to the Film and Television Industry

Thursday 14 December 2017 @ 10.38 a.m. | IP & Media | Legal Research

Last week, 7 December 2017, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts (the Committee) released its report on the Australian film and television industry. The inquiry focused, as per the terms of reference (p xiii), on factors contributing to the growth and sustainability of the Australian film and television industry. In their report, the committee made 13 recommendations with the purpose of ensuring the future growth and sustainability of the film and television industry in Australia. As stated by the Chair of the inquiry, Luke Howarth MP (p iii):

“The Australian film and television industry plays an important role in telling the stories that help to foster our cultural identity and also makes a significant economic contribution to the nation. There are however significant technological changes and other issues impacting on its future growth and sustainability.

On-demand platforms such as Amazon and Netflix have transformed the way Australians access their screen content. Cinema and television are no longer as dominant due to this audience disruption although they remain an important part of this industry.

This inquiry was a timely examination of the policy settings that underpin our domestic screen industry including tax incentives and Australian content quotas. Direct funding by Screen Australia, international co-production treaties, and the foreign actor certification scheme were also reviewed.”

The Inquiry

The inquiry was referred to the Committee on 31 January 2017 by the Minister for Communications and the Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield. The objectives and scope of the inquiry (p 1) were said to be quite broad, with the terms of reference allowing “for a wide scale inquiry into the status of the Australian screen industry and ways to grow the industry sustainably.”

Over the course of the inquiry, the Commission took submissions from a number of small and large film and television companies, including Screenwise, Spectrum Films Pty Ltd, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the ACT Screen Industry Association, and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). Additionally, the Committee engaged a number of independent screen content producers to ensure that voices from all aspects of the television and film industry in Australia were heard.

The areas that the Committee focussed on in the inquiry were: tax incentives for screen production; Australian content quotas; direct Government funding; digital games; international co-productions; foreign actor visas; and mental health.

Key Recommendations

The key recommendations made by the inquiry after analysing the above factors (see the media release of 7 December 2017) are:

  • a single harmonised producer offset of 30% for all Australian screen productions which is a 50% increase in the current rebate for television programs and non-cinematic features;
  • an increase in the location offset from 16.5% to 30% to ensure that Australia can effectively compete for large-scale international productions;
  • that subscription video on demand companies invest part of their revenue earned in Australia in new Australian content;
  • that children’s content quotas be reformed in light of current viewing trends but continue to require quality Australian programs for children to be available across all platforms, particularly live-action drama;
  • that the Government consider replacing all or part of the current hours-based quotas for new children’s content with a contestable fund to create quality Australian children’s programs into the future;
  • that a minimum hours-based quota for first release children’s content be included in the ABC charter and that SBS show a minimum of 50% Australian content across all of its channels;
  • that 10% of Screen Australia’s funding be earmarked for productions filmed outside of the Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan areas;
  • that the Government remove the unnecessary red-tape obligation to consult the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance before permitting a foreign actor to work in Australia.

So far there has been a positive response to the report from television and film companies. One example of this was from lobby group Screen Producers Australia (in the Sydney Morning Herald Article, 8 December 2017):

“[the report] sets out an updated policy framework which will empower Australian production businesses to compete internationally for ideas, finance and talent". [Screen Producers Australia] especially praised the "long-overdue, sensible and sober reform" of the rules around foreign actors, a position certain to put it at odds with its occasional foe and recent ally Equity, the actors union.”

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