Minister for Communications and the Arts Mitch Fifield. 

The Senate inquiry into the economic and cultural value of Australian content on broadcast TV, streaming services and radio is motivated partly by fears the government could ditch local content quotas without parliament’s approval.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has the right to direct the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to change the content standards without the approval of the Senate.

The Minister was given that power in a regulation issued by the Attorney-General’s Department in 2015 without screen industry consultation.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who announced the inquiry yesterday, is concerned at the lack of scrutiny.

Hanson-Young, who is the Greens arts spokesperson, tells IF: “We’re deeply concerned that the government has already made up its mind to abolish local content quotas and that any changes recommended from the current Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review cannot be blocked in the parliament.

“Big commercial broadcasters complain that creating Australian programming doesn’t suit their business model but what they seem to ignore is the immense value Australian content has on our society and how we can project Australia to the rest of the world.”

The Greens are opposed to the commercial free-to-air network’s proposal to scrap the children’s quotas and any watering down of the drama quota. The party also favours imposing local content requirements on Netflix, Stan and other streaming services.

Sections of the screen industry have welcomed the Senate inquiry, which will issue its report by May 9 2018,  as an independent review which the government may be forced to consider as it deliberates on the findings of the Content Review.

Guild officials and industry figures who met with Fifield, Opposition leader Bill Shorten, Labor’s arts and communications spokesman Tony Burke and members of the Parliamentary Friends of the Screen Industry in Canberra yesterday were encouraged by the responses. Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale and Senator Jacqui Lambie were among those who attended the Parliamentary Friends function.

Australian Directors’ Guild CEO Kingston Anderson told IF: “We clearly enunciated to the Minister our fears about the quotas and the devastating impact if they disappear.  He listened and gave us some feedback. We got a good hearing and I am reasonably positive.”

The Labor party is yet to release its screen industry policies but Shorten and Burke expressed their support for the quotas and funding for the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia.

Bryan Brown, Sigrid Thornton, Sean Keenan, Matt Day, Gillian Armstrong, Peter Duncan, John Seale, Penny Chapman and Michael Tear were among those who went to Canberra to continue lobbying the government in the Make It Australian campaign.

Thornton said it was the first time in her career that she had seen the industry so united and committed to a cause.

Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner tells IF: “This was an incredibly strong display of a unified industry indicating to government, the Opposition and the minor parties that the creation of a diverse range of Australian stories and available on a broad range of platforms is the absolute priority for our screen industry. The impact of this approach, given the range of representatives and the audience achieved, cannot be overstated.”

The guilds are preparing a TVC which will air on social media to give further momentum to the campaign.

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