Screen Australia CEO surprises industry

By Simon de Bruyn

Federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett has taken the film and TV industry by surprise by appointing current New Zealand Film Commission boss Ruth Harley the new CEO of Screen Australia.

Rather than select from a line-up of three or four potential candidates which industry pundits were certain would duke it out for the top job – including ex-Film Finance Corporation chief Brian Rosen and ex-pat arts manager Michael Lynch – Garrett announced Harley would take the job.

This is Garrett’s second surprise for the film industry in just three weeks. The first was the contents of his very direct speech to launch the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) which gave a very clear insight into how much the Rudd Government expected the industry to change in terms of building businesses and producing successful content.

Harley will take over from interim CEO Lyn Maddock on November 15, commencing a five year term with the newly birthed screen agency. Screen Australia was formed on June 1 2008, replacing the Australian Film Commission, Film Australia and the Film Finance Organisation.

The appointment gives some clarity as to what the Rudd Government is planning for the future of Australian film and TV. During Harley’s 10 year long tenure as NZFC chief executive, NZ film making enjoyed strong political support; greater opportunities for talent development and film production financing; an enhanced international profile and significantly increased domestic audiences.

Since the announcement, INSIDEFILM has spoken with a number of industry participants, from producers to distributors, about the appointment. While the news has come as a surprise, as no one seems to have known she was in the running, the general industry reception has been overwhelmingly positive.

The Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA) was quick to throw its two cents into the ring, while also expressing its own surprise at the appointment.

“We welcome Dr Harley and recognise the skills and expertise she has developed working with the New Zealand Film industry for over twenty years,” said SPAA president Trish Lake.

“I look forward to building a shared understanding of the Australian environment at a critical time in the development of a more sustainable Australian Industry.”

For interested readers who would like to read what the Hon. Peter Garrett told the film industry at the opening of MIFF, the speech is located here: