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Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

Speech at the Screen Producers Australia

18 November 2015

E & OE

FIFIELD:

Well thank you so much Matthew. Great to be here and good to be with my colleague Mark Dreyfus. My electorate office is in Mark's electorate and, as a Senator, Mark is one of my constituents. So we have a very close relationship. And Mark actually reminded me, when he was talking about the support that's been given for the next Ridley Scott film and the next Thor film, that as I was taking the proposition to Cabinet I thought, look I better be up front here. So I declared a conflict of interest. In the Prometheus movie there's actually a character called Fifield. So I felt the need to declare that. And Christopher Pyne looked across the table at me and said "Yes, but he died". Anyway, I'm still standing. I'm still here.

I should also make a bit of a confession. I'm strongly of the view that the Arts Minister should always come from Victoria. Got at least half the room with me there. But I know Mark Dreyfus agrees. Although we might differ as to who that Victorian might be. But when I got the call from Malcolm to ask me to serve in his Government as Communications Minister he said "look I hope you don't mind but I'd you to be the Arts Minister as well". So that was a real joy to be offered both Communications and Arts. And I think it's a good fit. I think the most natural home, federally, for the arts is the Communications portfolio. It is where it's been previously. Michael Lee was actually the first Minister to have both Communications and the Arts and Helen Coonan and Richard Alston did as well. So it's a happy fit, particularly with digital developments, issues of content and copyright and intellectual property. So I think that's been a very good and positive development. And I think particularly in the arts portfolio probably even more for the screen side of things than any other part of the arts portfolio, comms is a happy fit.

Previously, I was the Minister for Disabilities and Ageing. So you might ask yourself what are my qualifications to be the Minister for the Arts. And I think what they are is someone who has an open mind, an open heart, a curious mind and a love of people. I mightn't bring all of those qualities to bear in the Communications side, but certainly in the arts side I will. There's somethings that I'd learnt from my previous gig in disability and ageing that I'd like to bring to this portfolio. And that is, I think in large part your effectiveness as a minister is determined by two things: Firstly, the quality of the relationship that you have with stakeholders. Individual stakeholders. And what I mean by that, one on one relationships. And I think the other thing that is a significant determinant for the success and effectiveness as a minister is your willingness to be both a steward and a student in your area of portfolio responsibility. So that's the approach that I'd very much like to bring to bear in this area. And I know that there are many people in this room that are willing to be my teachers. 

My first act as a Senator actually, 11 or 12 years ago, was to speak on behalf of the Government at the memorial service of the great Australian director Tim Burstall, down the road at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. And I hooked out what I said on that occasion, just because I think it's a good anchor point for me in this new portfolio. What I said at Tim Burstall's memorial service was;

"As a six year old child living in the suburbs of Adelaide in the mid-seventies I experienced my first conscious feelings of curiosity, naughtiness and guilt thanks to Tim Burstall. Like many Australians now in their mid-30's (I wish that was still the case) I have memories of my parents sending me to bed on a Sunday night just before Alvin Purple screened. 

The trailers during the preceding week had, of course, laid the groundwork for rebellion. 

Like a good six year old boy I snuck out of bed, crept down the hall, lay on the floor with my head peeking around the corner of the lounge to spy my parents watching Alvin Purple. Hoping to catch a glimpse of the cavorting black and white figures. 

Detection and a smack were only minutes away. It was a pattern repeated with Number 96 and The Box.

 As a child I had no idea of the other significance of what I was witnessing. Nor for that matter did many adults. The true importance of such things is often only appreciated in retrospect. But as a punter, I was and am grateful for Tim's work. To an audience, directors have a certain nobility. Regardless of what happens on set, they are ultimately about minimising self and maximising others. And in Tim's case giving an entire industry confidence in itself."

One of the reasons why I took the time to hook that out and share it with you is because I think all Australians have been shaped by the screen industry in ways that they don't necessarily appreciate and aren't particularly aware of when it's happening.

I know that our big screen industry didn't come about by accident. It didn't just fall from the sky. That there was hard work and a lot of determination by people in the past who often times didn't have a lot of support. Sure, there's been different forms of government support along the way. But it really is an industry that has been established by sheer bloody determination. 

As the Minister for Arts, yes obviously I believe in arts for arts sake. But I also recognise that the creative industries are a very important part of the economy. And also, I know it's hackneyed and clichéd to talk about the telling of Australian stories, but that doesn't make it any less true.

The importance of having Australian perspectives brought to bear and available for all Australians and those overseas as well. Government does have an important role to play in helping to create an environment that is conducive for the screen industry. On that Mark and I are certainly on a unity ticket.

We do know this is a very exciting time for the screen industry. A lot of things doing well on the small screen and the big screen. We know that there have been terrific box office receipts. On the big screen there's been Paper Planes, Mad Max - Fury Road, Last Cab to Darwin, Oddball and The Dress Maker. All of those successes make crystal clear that the forecast demise of the big screen in years gone by hasn't come to pass. That we know that for the big screen, there's still that ethereal quality and there's still a great and innate human desire for people to have that shared experience that you can only have when you're sitting in the room with complete strangers in the dark. But I think that's great that there's still that embrace, that desire on behalf of the public. 

We know that Australians are now amongst the most famous faces in the world. You know them all, Kate, Hugh, Nicole. They don't need surnames, that's the ultimate sign of success, Mark. Russell Crowe, Geoffrey Rush, Toni Collette, Simon Baker, or as he used to be Simon Baker Denny, I think we remember. Naomi Watts, Judy Davis, Rose Byrne and there's the next generation coming through; Sam Worthington, although I think he's already through, Rebel Wilson, Sarah Snook and of course the Hemsworth brothers.

Now all Federal Ministers are entitled to have favourites. Julie Bishop we know has a favourite. Well she actually has two favourites – Chris and Liam. And it's not inappropriate, therefore, for the Arts Minister to have his favourite as well. And mine is Sarah Snook. And just what a brilliant performance in Predestination. Or really you could say two brilliant performances. We have some tremendous talent. 

Behind the camera we know we have world class people, producers, writers, directors and I should mention them because I shouldn't just mention people in front of the camera. Justin Kurzel, Jennifer Kent, Joel Edgerton, who is on both sides of the camera. Kate Shortland, Luke Davies, Stuart Beattie, Warick Thornton, Wayne Blair. And I think it's worth just pausing for a moment to mention some of the individuals who make the industry so strong. We are continuing, as you know, to excel in visual and digital effects productions. We've got world class PDV houses spread across the globe. 

And the small screen is also doing very well, and the distinction between the small screen and the big screen is becoming more blurred, it's starting to dissolve. Not just in terms of quality and production values, but also in terms of how people seek to access what it is that they view. We do have some great Australian TV shows. You know Catching Milat, which I was absolutely glued to, House of Hancock. And both of those had in excess of two million viewers. There's Peter Allen, Not the Boy Next Door, and the Katering Show, Plonk and many others. And they're selling well internationally to boot. Which is terrific. 

Even though our screen industry is relatively small in an international context, it really does do bloody well in creation and innovation. Something that we can be tremendously proud of. We've got a colossal cultural contribution. A big economic contribution, and they tell me, and I think if we had a dollar for every KPMG or Access Economics study of the value of a particular industry or sector we'd all be very wealthy. But nevertheless that does not make it untrue. So I'm told, and rest assured that this is something I repeat mantra like to Cabinet and the ERC, that every job created in the film industry and television industry supports 3.57 jobs in other industries. And that every dollar of turnover creates a turnover of $3.52 in other industries. And an amount equal to 13-20% of spend comes back to the Australian Government in taxation and a further 3% goes to State Governments in the form of taxation. Now when I was before Cabinet talking about Thor and Prometheus I knew that off by heart. But you can rely that I will always repeat those stats when the opportunity presents. 

Now at this point of any discussion Federal Ministers usually start to talk about support that government provides to the screen industry. And it's true that we do provide a range of supports. Successive governments have. In recognition of the fact that screen production is costly. That content providers and platforms are facing more competition than ever before. And that the economics of screen production is such that governments do need to have an ongoing role. Australian content and Australian cultural expression, as Mark touched on, are not always competing on an even playing field. High rating episodes of American TV shows can be purchased for less than $100,000 per episode. While the cost of high quality Australian programming can be upwards of $500,000. And we do provide significant support through direct investment of Screen Australia, in a range of ways. And we do also provide support for Ausfilm's work promoting Australia as a film destination and production partner. There's the Australian Children's Television Foundation and of course there are the great national training institutions of NIDA and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. 

Now what Federal Ministers also usually do at this point is talk about the dollar figure that government contributes. Now I'm not going to do that, because whenever Federal Government Ministers talk about dollar figures, it can leave the misleading impression that somehow this is the government's money, that it is benevolently bestowing on a particular industry or a particular sector. It's not the government's money, it's the money that everyone in this room and everyone in the industry and everyone in the broader community has rendered in taxation. And the purpose and role of government in this area in simply to be a conduit to guide some of that towards what we agree are good community and economic purposes. So I won't mention dollar figures there.

As you know, and as Mark touched on, perhaps the most significant support for the industry is through the film tax offsets. The Producer Offset, the PDV Offset, the Location Offset. They make a very important contribution. And the intention is to help the industry be competitive. But I am going to break my own rule, and just mention one dollar figure. I think it's worth pondering. And that is, since they were introduced in 2007, more than $1.3 billion in support for the industry has been provided through the tax offset system.

I am aware, well aware, of the interest and desire in the sector to increase the rate of the Producer Offset for television content as well as an increase in the Location Offset. Let me say that they are things that I'm examining. We have spoken a little bit on the support given to, recently to blockbuster US films and periodically various other foreign film productions. But the overwhelming bulk of support that government provides in for the domestic industry. But nevertheless, I am well aware of your desire to have some change and that is something that I am examining.

You might've noticed that Malcolm, the Prime Minister, does on occasion mention the word innovation. In fact every Federal Minister is giving serious thought to changing their middle name by deed poll to "innovation". And while we're pondering that, the last thing we do at night before we go to bed is to talk to ourselves and recite "innovation" and "agility". And it's the first thing we do each morning as we get up as well. But I think it is a good and important focus of the new Government. And I mention innovation and I mention agility just to give you some context and the backdrop against which I will be considering the increases in the offsets that you are proposing. Because I recognise, and the Government recognises, that the creative industries and the arts more broadly are very important to help create a culture in the community of creativity, of innovation, of lateral thinking. That what we have fostered in the arts, what we have fostered in the screen sector, goes towards helping create more broadly that sort of innovative culture that we do want in Australia.

I might just touch briefly on some of the regulatory mechanisms which I know are of interest to many in the room. Things like programming quotas and minimum expenditure requirements which have helped support production in Australia and made sure that we continue to put forward Australian stories on the small screen. There is significant cultural value in that. And it's terrific that there are audiences that embrace that content. Things like Lovechild, Wentworth – although I'm still pretty fond of the original Prisoner. But we each have our own tastes. I think we each probably get a little bit of demographic lock in terms of our tastes. Both TV and music. But I'll share my 80's musical interests later.

Australians, I think, are very comfortable with measures that support the fostering of an Australian cultural identity. I don't think that that's something that the broader public have an issue with. But the regulatory mechanisms that we have were developed for an environment where viewers accessed traditional broadcast services that offered linear programming schedules. The environment is undergoing tremendous change. Shifting viewer preferences are being facilitated by that rapid technological change. There are expanding choices for when and how Australians consume media content. And obviously that provides opportunities but also challenges. It's clear, I think, that some things are working well. But there may be room to improve. So that's an area where I would be very interested in your thinking as to what might need to be done. 

Copyright, as has been mentioned, has come from the Attorney General's portfolio to mine as part of the broader arts portfolio. We do need an effective legal framework for protection and enforcement. Copyright is fundamental to sustaining our creative industries. To encourage investment. To provide economic certainty. The Act has a challenge. It's got a great challenge at its heart. Balancing the unique interest of rights holders who quite reasonably want to have appropriate reward for their creative endeavour and hard work. It's got to balance that with users in a tech savvy environment. It should facilitate easy, affordable and legal consumer access to copyrighted materials, and also ensure that the economic rights associated with that material are enforceable and upheld for the benefit of creators and their creative effort.

The Copyright Act has had a lot of reviews. We know it's complex. We know it's lengthy. We are taking some steps to improve the framework. In June this year Parliament did pass legislation creating a new injunction power to block access to foreign websites which profit from hosting Australian creative content illegally. In December last year, the now Prime Minister and then Arts Minister and Attorney General requested the development of an industry code to foster

collaboration between rights holders, ISPs and consumers to prevent or minimise online infringement. As many of you will know, the final aspects of the code are still being negotiated. And what I want to see is rights holders and industry working together to manage piracy. Whether by educating users, making content available to consumers in a way that's timely and affordable, or developing licensing platforms to the mutual benefit of creators and distributors, intermediaries and consumers. To complement this reform agenda, the Government is currently reflecting on how we might improve the workability of the Act. 

Ladies and Gentlemen that's where I'll leave things off. But I did this afternoon, tonight, more than anything want to give you a bit of a flavour of me. Of where I'm coming from. Not to make any declaratory or definitive statements in relation to policy and some of the changes that you would like. I'm here to listen to you, to learn from you as a new Minister. And I hope that I can bring to this portfolio an approach that I took to my last portfolio of disabilities and ageing in both opposition and government. And that is one of, as far as possible, setting partisanship aside. I don't know about you, but I think a lot of people in the community, certainly a lot of my parliamentary colleagues, have had a gutful of petty partisan point scoring just for the sake of it. We want to get on with the job. And I'm confident that I'm going to work well with Mark in the arts portfolio to try and reach agreement on some of these issues. Sure, certainly they'll be areas where we disagree. But I think this is a portfolio where we can have a good tone, where we can have a good discussion, not just amongst ourselves, but also across the aisle in the Parliament. 

Thanks very much for having me here tonight. I look forward to working with you over the years to come. And there may be time to have a chat on the couch, thanks very much.

Media contact: Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | Justine.Sywak@communications.gov.au

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