ALP goes ballistic about the arts in Parliament, signals trouble for the government

The new regulations which strip advantages from the tax rebate system will have to go to Parliament, and the ALP is keen for a fight.

Tony Burke, Shadow Minister for the Arts and Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives, caught the Morrison government in a sneaky move yesterday and launched an impassioned defence of the Arts community in Australia. 

He started with 

‘What sort of government attacks workers in the middle of a pandemic? Because what’s in front of us now is nothing more than an attack on people who work in creative industries. Let’s not gloss it over. This is not like what we were dealing with when we were arguing they needed to redesign JobKeeper to make sure people who were actors and creatives got access to it. This is not negligence on the government’s part. What’s in front of us right now is a direct attack to halve the contribution to Australian drama from Foxtel. That’s what’s in front of us.’

He is not a happy camper.

‘If you’re working in television, if you’re working in scripted drama, whether you’re an actor, whether you’re a scriptwriter, whether you’re a producer, whether you hold the camera, whether you’re a make-up artist, whether you’re one of the many people employed in this area, have a think about the number of attacks that are on from this government right now.

‘First of all, you’ve got the lack of protection in terms of support during the pandemic itself, and we’ve canvassed that many times in this chamber. But then you have direct attacks from this government. They chose now to reduce the obligation on free-to-air television for scripted drama.

‘Now! During a pandemic, when people are already out of work, when people are already struggling to make a living, they decide now is a really good time to say to free-to-air TV, ‘Oh, you don’t have to do as much scripted drama as you used to.’ Of all the times!—they wait until an industry is on its knees and then say, ‘Oh, now’s a good time to attack them.’ They do that for free-to-air TV, they do that in cuts to the ABC and then they use the fact that these cuts have been made to say: ‘Oh, now Foxtel is at a competitive disadvantage. We need to reduce their obligation.’

The government had introduced the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill 2021, without fanfare, without the full exposure draft process. It will  ‘reduce the expenditure required by subscription television broadcasting licensees on new eligible drama expenditure from 10 per cent to 5 per cent,’ which has been separated from other ‘reforms’ and obscured by small bits and pieces here. Like a grenade in a kid’s lunch box. 

Labor member Peta Murphy rose to the attack.

‘Who are we as Australians if we can’t tell our own stories? Who are we as Australians if we don’t know our own stories? Who are we as Australians if we don’t have an industry of creatives—of screenwriters, playwrights and actors? Who are we if we can’t tell own stories?

‘Australian stories matter. I grew up watching Play School and Humphrey B Bear, The Henderson Kids and BMX Bandits, or, when mum and dad didn’t notice, sneaking in to watch A Country Practice—seeing Australian faces, hearing Australian voices, watching Australian stories. It would be a tragedy if the generations to come don’t get to grow up watching Australian stories and hearing Australian voices. That’s why content rules matter. Australian content has an economic impact. It supports small businesses. It supports individuals to pursue their craft. It builds an economic ecosphere in Australia around film and TV production. But Australian content rules are more than an economic question. They’re actually about the soul of a country and the content of a country and how we depict ourselves, how we know ourselves, how we portray ourselves to the rest of the world.’ 

And it was on for one and old. Labor member Patrick Gorman added 

‘This bill, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No. 1) Bill, shows us the Liberal government’s vision for Australia. It’s a future that has no place for high-quality Australian television. It’s a future that has no place for a publicly funded ABC broadcaster. We know they had their federal council here last weekend.

‘It was only a few years ago that their federal council was backing the Young Liberals’ drive to destroy the ABC and privatise it. I understand that still stands as policy of the federal Liberal Party council, and we see the grains of that in this legislation in front of us today. The future that is put in this legislation ignores many Australians with disabilities and many regional Australians.’

The whole thing is on Hansard. The Labor Party may be wobbly on some things but they truly know how to campaign for the arts. 

You can find Tony Burke’s speech in full splendour on Facebook, where it has 8,200 views in just over 24 hours.

This is just the beginning.

On Monday, the Senate will hold a committee hearing on the full set of amendments, which will authorise raising the rebate threshold from $500,000 to $1 million, the exclusion of the Gallipoli clause, the 30% limit on rights, and the removal of expenses from QAPE – all losses which make producers grind their teeth over the resultant technical bastardry.

The ALP is signalling that this legislation will be made as public as possible and opposed to the hilt. They will almost certainly move amendments to remove these provisions in the Senate. At the very least they will put them. for all their technical intricacy, on the public agenda and they could get enough cross-benchers to get the provisions dumped.

If that is likely, the government will probably withdraw the legislation. Would that not be a victory? 

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.