Labor outlines plan for the screen industry

Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland. 

If elected, Labor has promised to convene a taskforce to “conclude” the government’s Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review.

The plan was announced yesterday evening by Shadow Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland, at an event hosted by the Make It Australian campaign.

The Federal Government’s Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review – conducted by the Department of Communications and the Arts, Screen Australia and the ACMA – was first announced in May 2017, as part of its media reform package. However, the findings of the review, concluded in December 2017, have never been publicly released.

Two other inquiries into the sector have also occurred over the last two years: one conducted by the House of Representatives, the other by the Senate.

In a statement, Shadow Minster for the Arts Tony Burke and Rowland outlined that if elected the ALP would run an evidence-based and consultative taskforce process to conclude the review which they said the Liberals had stalled.

Labor promised it would to work with industry to modernise policy settings, “canvassing options that ensure we get the settings right and avoid negative unintended consequences”.

The shadow ministers borrowed phrasing from the campaign spearheaded by Screen Producers Australia (SPA), the Australian Directors’ Guild, the Australian Writers’ Guild and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), arguing that Labor wants to ‘Make it Australian’ – as opposed to what they argue has been “cuts and chaos” under the Liberal government.

“In six long years, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has done little for the local screen sector other than cut services and programs, refuse to release reports and tinker at the edges in a piecemeal fashion,” the statement said.

“Labor values creativity, diversity, and access, and will move swiftly to support our local screen industry by updating the policy and regulatory framework. This framework has not kept pace with change in the media sector.”

The ALP argued that, despite a “concerted effort” on behalf on industry, the government had done little but announce a “minor tweak” to the offsets at the “eleventh hour” – referring to the government’s recent extension of the PDV and Location Offsets to miniseries and series from online platforms just before it entered caretaker mode ahead of the election.

That change was criticised by both FTA broadcasters and the Make It Australian campaign as a missed opportunity for further reform, but welcomed by post-houses like Rising Sun Pictures.

“We expect all players in the screen content ecosystem to do their bit to contribute to the sustainability and diversity of Australian stories. This includes overseas players as well as over-the-top services operated by Australian based companies,” said Burke and Rowland.

“Labor’s approach will be evidence-based, informed by public consultation on options and guided by Labor’s core review principles.”

Labor’s core review principles are the following:

  • Australians must be able to enjoy Australian screen stories in an online environment across a range of media.
  • All content services in the business of providing Australians with professional content, that meet certain scale and service criteria, should be contributing to the health and sustainability of our screen content sector.
  • A consistent set of obligations and incentives should apply across all platforms and access models.
  • A diversity of services should provide a diversity of Australian content.
  • Implementation of the new scheme should be effected as soon as practicable.

The Opposition also reiterated that it would reverse the $83.7 million cut to the ABC announced in the 2018 budget.

In 2012, Labor ran the Convergence Review, which proposed, inter alia, that the current rules applying to free-to-air and subscription television be repealed and replaced with a technology-neutral regime that would uniformly apply to all players, including on-demand services.