Senate committee recommends government prioritise streaming content quotas

SPA CEO Matthew Deaner.

A Senate committee interim report on the government’s National Cultural Policy has recommended local content quotas for streaming services are introduced as a priority.

The government has committed to having a scheme in place from July 1 – just six weeks away.

“More needs to be done to support a local screen industry, to redress the power imbalance between global streaming companies and local screen producers and artists, and to ensure that intellectual rights are retained in Australia,” the interim report said.

“The committee strongly supports the establishment of local content requirements for streaming platforms to ensure that local stories about Australians are made in Australia to support a thriving local industry sector int the future, and so Australian audiences can see Australian stories on their screens.”

Screen Producers Australia (SPA) CEO Matthew Deaner said the industry is becoming increasingly concerned that legislation has not yet been put forward.

“As SPA told the Senate Committee last month, while we’re waiting, conditions for Australian screen businesses and consequently their workforce are deteriorating due to a noticeable freezing in commissioning, which is creating a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. There’s a growing sense of crisis in the local industry without this reform being in place.”

Last month, the Arts Department told the Senate committee that it had received legal advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) about the impact of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on the proposed content regulation, but declined to outline what that advice was.

“We are deeply concerned that US-based streaming businesses are exerting political pressure on the Australian government by weaponising the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) behind the scenes,” Deaner said.

SPA’s legal advice is that the AUSFTA presents no obstacle to content quotas under either revenue or expenditure models.

“Australians should be alarmed at claims that the Australia-US free trade agreement could now be being deployed to attempt to constrict the Australian Government from introducing laws to ensure audiences have access to Australian stories on powerful digital streaming platforms like Disney+, Netflix, and Prime Video as was promised in the National Cultural Policy Revive.

“The Australian Government must continue to and always act in the best interests of Australian audiences and our industry and bring forward robust legislation as a matter of urgency.”

The interim report also contained a separate section outlining the Coalition committee members’ concerns, including that free to air content quotas sit under the Minister for Communications’ portfolio, while streaming services appear to sit with the Minister for the Arts, which it said was creating “policy paralysis”.

“The self-imposed deadline for implementation of Australian content quotas of July 1, 2024 is fast approaching yet there has been no public release of draft legislation for open consultation despite reports that the draft would be ready for consideration in February or March this year.

“It is now May, with only two Senate sitting periods between now and the July 1 implementation date which does not allow adequate time for any legislation to be properly considered, particularly if the issue of harmonisation has not been adequately resolved.”