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Thank you to Matt Deaner and Screen Producers Australia (SPA) for all the engagement that we’ve had over the last couple of years.
I think I came and addressed a SPA gathering towards the beginning of the term and here we are in the latter bits of the term. But in between that we’ve done a lot together, and many of you individually, but in particular the engagement that you have led, Matt, has been very valuable for Labor in Opposition, particularly with the limited resources that we have.
I too want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their elders, past present and emerging.
I am also starstruck by the talent that is here and I thank you very much for coming along to hear these few words this evening.And I want to particularly thank the Make It Australian campaign for hosting me at Fox Studios during this Federal election campaign which has only 17 days to run, but who’s counting.
I’ll get right down to it.
Australia is a nation of storytellers.
Our First Nations Peoples are the world’s oldest storytellers.
Many of you here this evening are amongst our country’s foremost contemporary storytellers.
The Make It Australian campaign itself has employed storytelling, to great effect.
There are a lot of campaigns that go, over the course of a term, in a variety of sectors, a variety of industries.
But I can tell you, the Make It Australian campaign that has been run this term, has been effective for two reasons: It has engaged MPs and cut through the noise, and it has engaged constituents at a local level.
I say that most genuinely, as a representative of Western Sydney who, I would like to think, keeps a finger on the pulse with what’s happening outside my electorate and within my own. It has engaged people from Blacktown to Broken Hill, and for that I congratulate you.
And you captured the imagination of politicians in Canberra about the value of our Australian screen stories, for our culture and for our nationhood.
But as you well know, so much of the screen industry is about what occurs behind the storytelling, indeed well outside of the production sets like the one we are gathered in now.
So tonight I am here to discuss another kind of directing and authorship altogether – that is, the policy and regulatory framework that is set by Government in collaboration with the sector to enable screen culture in Australia.
Now, as you would well know, these settings have been under review for some time – many of you would say too long.
And many of you have invested precious time and resources in participating in various overlapping inquiry and review processes.
So I want to assure you that I share your disappointment and frustration that so little progress has been made on the reform agenda.
Labor is concerned that the Australian screen sector is being held back after six years of Liberal Government cuts and policy inertia.
Over the course of this campaign, my good friend Tony Burke will launch Labor’s Arts and Culture policy.
My focus tonight is to convey Labor’s view on the way forward for modernising the settings that support the production and transmission of Australian and children’s screen content.
The way forward for the policy and regulatory framework, the subject of the Review that stalled under the Liberal Government.
Make It Australian
The history of the policy and regulatory framework Australia screen is actually the history of the Make It Australian campaign.
The Make It Australian campaign goes back 50 years.
With its most recent push, it reminds us that in the 1960s there was no government support for an Australian film and television industry.
Because there was no Australian film and television industry.
In 1961, just one per cent of drama on Australian television was Australian.
Admittedly that was only a few years after the introduction of television, but the imbalance persisted.
And, in the 1970s, in response to a lack of Australian stories on Australian screens, the industry united under the banner ‘Make it Australian’ to demand action on local content which prompted a response in Canberra that saw things improve.
Now, I want to assure you that Labor is not a Party that takes progress for granted.
The whole history of the Australian Labor Party shows that getting a fair go often demands affirmative action.
Be it for a strong minimum wage, a fair day’s work or a decent pension, or even women’s representation in Parliament.
Time and again it is necessary that we actively strive to create the world we want.
We know that workers rights weren’t the gift of an employer who woke up in a generous mood one sunny morning.
Likewise, we know the Australian screen sector, of which we are all so proud, didn’t just spring up like a Lantana bush.
For all the deserved praise of Australia’s world class screen industry, we know that its success is underpinned by an enabling framework that includes subsidies, quotas and incentives.
And that framework creates the space for our creatives to make it Australian.
To apply their talents and originality, their legendary inventiveness, to make the works that connect with Australians and other people around the globe.
When a foreign entity says there’s no need for regulation because the talent and production facilities in Australia are already so good, they take the industry they find here for granted.
They assume it is a naturally occurring thing.
But the reality of our size, relative to that of dominant cultural producers, means that it isn’t.
Labor Members of Parliament attended the launch of the Make It Australian campaign.
And I also leant my face to the campaign’s social media wall, as well; a modern way to show solidarity for a modern campaign to ensure we see Australian stories on new screens.
A campaign in response to the growth of new platforms, services and technologies.
New services which aren’t captured by the policy and regulatory framework, but whose growth and uptake cannot be ignored.
The ACMA’s Communications Report 2017-18, tabled in February, found that Australians still love broadcast television, but are embracing catch up TV and –
for those who can afford it – subscription services as well.
The ACMA Report found that:
“[Free to Air] broadcast programs remain the most watched of any type of content, and more viewers are using broadcasters’ online catch-up services”.
“Australians’ appetite for subscription video on demand (SVOD) and pay-as-you-go services is continuing to increase. Industry research shows an annual increase of 54 per cent, from 5.9 million to 9.1 million subscriptions (paid and non-paid) at June 2018”.
Over seven years ago, the Final Report of the Convergence Review, which was commissioned by the previous Labor Government, noted this trend and recommended that ‘significant media enterprises’ be drawn into a new policy and regulatory framework.
The Review proposed a new ‘Uniform Content Scheme’ to apply to all content service enterprises that provide professional drama, documentary or children’s content, and that meet certain scale and service criteria.
This reflected the view that, “those enterprises that stand to make the most from the Australian market should make the greatest contribution to the achievement of public policy outcomes”.
The Review thought it appropriate to set a high bar for regulation, in order to exclude small and emerging content providers as well as user-generated content.
Based on the information available to the Review at the time, it was considered that a revenue threshold of $200 million and an audience threshold of 500,000 was consistent with sustainable investment in Australian content.
At the time, there were no comparable enterprises to the ‘traditional’ free to air and subscription broadcasters of sufficient scale to qualify for the scheme, and entities like Telstra, Apple and Google fell outside the minimum revenue and audience thresholds.
But the Review noted that, “In the future it is realistic to expect that this group of services will be joined by non-broadcast services as those services continue to expand in line with shifts in consumer preferences”.
Returning to the data in the latest ACMA Communications Report, it is likely that a number of new services are now well over that audience threshold of half a million (500,000) under the Convergence Review framework.
The latest ACMA report pegs Netflix subscriptions (paid and non-paid) at 3.9 million and Stan at 1.05 million subscribers with a further 4.15 million Australian subscribers to other SVOD services, including new services launched in Australia – such as Amazon Prime (June 2018), Foxtel Now (June 2017) and a growing number of sport and special interest services – they’re all fuelling consumers’ desire for content.
On the revenue side, the ACMA report notes that:
“By 2022, it is forecast that SVOD will surpass premium box-delivered Pay TV and will generate approximately $3.2 billion in consumer revenue, while Pay TV via a box will remain stable at $2.7 billion”.
Now this is overwhelmingly positive news.
Services regarded as small or emerging at the time of the Convergence Review have grown and firmly established themselves.
Australians have a broader range of choices at their fingertips.
Our creatives have an expanded range of opportunities.
But what is concerning is that the policy and regulatory framework has not kept pace.
If there was a university degree in arbitrary cuts and policy inertia, this Liberal
Government would get first class honours, majoring in Australian and children’s screen content.
When it comes to supporting our creatives, our culture and diversity in the time since the Convergence Review, the Liberals have failed.
This Government has slashed funding to the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia and cut the Australian Interactive Games Fund out altogether.
That is of great concern when you consider the critical role the ABC plays in the screen content ecosystem.
According to the latest annual Drama Report from Screen Australia, the ABC is by far the nation’s leading broadcaster in supporting home-grown stories and boosting the Australian screen industry.
The ABC financed more drama, comedy and children’s programs across television and online than any other single network, contributing $53 million across 23 titles, including Mystery Road, Riot, Superwog, Pine Gap, Rosehaven and the new ABC KIDS animated series – which I believe is the subject of much critical acclaim – Bluey.
But aside from cuts, the Government has failed to adapt and evolve the law, regulation and incentives to keep pace with the contemporary market.
The policy and regulatory framework for Australia’s media and communications sector is out of date, over 25 years old, and barely recognises online service delivery by traditional media platforms, let alone new ones.
Successive Chairs of the ACMA have referred to the framework as ‘strained’, ‘broken’ or ‘irrelevant’ as a result of digitisation and convergence.
And as the Convergence Review attests, the case for reform was made out many years ago.
These days it is unremarkable to observe that broadcasters are multimedia companies or that telcos are into content provision.
Only last week, the Australian Financial Review reported Optus Chief Executive Allen Lew, as saying they are considering entertainment and drama as the next pillar of their content strategy, building on its successful focus on European football and National Geographic.
Certainly a range of over-the-top content services is on offer, alongside the traditional broadcasters, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Telstra TV and Fetch TV not to mention a range of content over YouTube and other video-sharing sites.
Yet the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 remains stuck in the siloed pre-convergence categories of last century.
This means there is an uneven playing field for industry – in particular our broadcasters, who are subject to the quota system.
It means there are inconsistencies and gaps for Australians, both as citizens and consumers.
It also means Australia is missing out on the cultural and industrial benefits that broader investment would bring, were new entrants in the content market, including SVOD services, to be captured under the framework.
Meanwhile, Europe has the jump on Australia in terms of reform and investment. The European regulatory framework, the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, applies to over the top services and SVOD players already.
This Liberal Government made a lot of the fact our media laws were drafted for an analog era, during debate to repeal the 2 out of 3 cross-media control rule, and yet they’ve utterly failed to reform them comprehensively.
Instead of rolling up their sleeves to do the intellectual hard yards, they cherry picked a few deregulatory measures to favour vested interests, trashing media diversity and neglecting a host of other issues along the way.
In 2016, the Government proclaimed it would be enacting “the most significant reforms to our media laws in a generation” when, in fact, so inadequate were these regulatory changes, that only one year after their passage through Parliament in 2017, the ACCC made a preliminary recommendation that there be a sweeping review of media regulatory framework.
In my speech in Parliament at the time, in June 2017, I said that is it was disappointing that the Government had moved to ease the competitive pressures of convergence at one end of the value chain – through the grant of licence fee relief to commercial broadcasters – but neglected to address the pressures felt by the broader production sector.
I noted that the production sector was suffering as a consequence of the Government’s inaction on joined-up reform, and that the ad-hoc regulatory tinkering was not addressing the structural issues faced by the industry.
And I said that the Communications Minister had proven to be incapable of getting his ducks in a row to usher in abolition of broadcast licence fees at the same time as identifying content policy.
But at least the Government had announced a content review, in which we assumed these issues would be addressed.
However, flash-forward two years and there is still no resolution.
Two years later, the Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review has amounted to virtually nothing.
The Minister has refused to release the report of the review despite a Senate Order for Production of Documents, as well as attempts under Freedom of Information.
Then the Minister made a wholly inadequate announcement at the eleventh hour of the 45th Parliament.
What proactive interventions the Government has made – and here I’m referring to the Location Incentive top-up and the tweak to the Location and PDV offsets –overwhelmingly favour international companies
Now these might get the Ministers for Communications and the Arts, Foreign Affairs and Trade a few photo opportunities, but it leaves the broader ecosystem wanting.
I know the screen sector is immensely frustrated at Government budget cuts and the lack of progress on the reform of Australia’s screen settings.
A lot of time and effort has gone into advancing calls for progress.
In the last two years there have been three overlapping reviews of the screen sector that have gone nowhere – a Parliamentary House Inquiry, a Parliamentary Senate Inquiry, and a Government Review.
In this context, Labor thinks it is important to provide our much valued screen sector with some certainty on the way forward under a Labor Government, should we be elected.
Why the review stalled
Before I set out Labor’s approach, I too some time to think of some of the key reasons for the Government’s lack of progress – which I hope will help explain why Labor intends to take a different approach if we’re elected.
First, to values and leadership.
The Minister for Communications and the Arts has not provided any leadership or coherent policy development in the public interest, which I believe points to a lack of values on the part of the Liberal National Coalition as they are today.
Across a range of areas, the Government’s focus has been short-term and their dealings have been conducted behind closed doors.
This is a Government that junked a media diversity safeguard when Australia already had one of the most concentrated media ownership markets in the world.
A Government that cut the ABC, in breach of a specific election promise, only to provide $30 million to Fox Sports with no open tender process.
A Government that cut the SBS, again in breach of a specific election promise, and tried to increase the level of advertising on SBS during prime time, in direct competition with commercial broadcasters, only to turn around and subject the SBS to a wasteful competitive neutrality inquiry a year later.
All manner of reform tasks have become lost in what has become widely known as ‘The Fifield Triangle’ – be it the content review, spectrum reform or the Minister’s own communications policy roadmap.
Whatever it is this Government values, it just doesn’t seem to be progress in the public interest.
Secondly, the reform agenda.
The Minister’s piecemeal, lopsided approach to reform meant the Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review occurred in reference to an outdated regulatory framework.
The overarching legislation, the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, and the standards that sit underneath it, doesn’t recognise the online content services that have become so significant in our media landscape.
It is difficult to come up with new settings to support Australian and children’s content, when the underlying regulatory concepts and definitions don’t match reality.
As a result, debate around the new policy and regulatory scheme has not taken proper account of the future of the broadcast platform which is shifting more and more towards a mixed terrestrial / online catch up model.
Nor has it taken proper account of the content offerings of our domestic telco platforms. Indeed, some entities did not make a submission to the review, so I’m not sure we’ve even had the right people at the table yet.
Thirdly, the review methodology.
The Review consulted broadly on a set of issues, then went straight to reporting to the Minister.
So it lacked a critical policy development step – public consultation on exactly what the options are.
An options phase, as part of good policy development, is sorely needed to progress stakeholder submissions beyond their opening positions, as well as to model and assess the impact of regulatory proposals.
An options stage may also have helped bring some of these disparate issues and models together.
So what is the way forward?
Labor’s approach: The Way Forward
Well, the Department’s webpage for the Screen Review has a section ‘Where to from here?’ which simply says “The Review is expected to report to Government by the end of 2017’.
Of course, Labor may never see that report.
So what is the way forward, in the event that a Shorten Labor Government is elected, later this month?
Given the range of major and competing stakeholder interests already in play, and the need to bring further major stakeholders into negotiations, some of them for the first time, I think it is important that Labor show leadership and conduct a swift, formal and transparent process and conclude the Review.
As soon as practicable after forming Government, and ahead of the broader reform program, a Shorten Labor Government will convene a Taskforce to conclude the Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review.
The role of the Taskforce will be to implement a consistent set of support mechanisms for Australian drama, documentary and children’s content, that apply across platforms, including SVOD services like Netflix, to ensure the ongoing availability of Australian screen content to Australian audiences irrespective of the platform.
The Taskforce will be headed by an independent reviewer and supported by the Department of Communications and the Arts, Screen Australia, the ACMA as well as the ACCC.
As far as I am aware, the Government’s Review did not include the ACCC, however Labor believes this expertise is important given the competition issues faced, not only by broadcasters in relation to the digital platforms, but also by independent producers in relation to broadcasters and platforms.
I am keenly aware that Labor has not had the benefit of Government advice on the issues in the Review, to date, and this is why Labor has not advanced any firm policy positions on particular mechanisms, obligations or offsets, for example.
Labor’s approach to, or methodology for, the Australian and Children’s Screen Content Review will be evidence-based; informed by public consultation on options; and guided by Labor’s core review principles.
Labor’s core review principles are as follows:
Australians must be able to enjoy Australian screen stories in an online environment across a range of media.
All content service enterprises in the business of providing Australians with professional audiovisual content, that meet certain scale and service criteria, should be contributing to the health and sustainability of our screen content sector under the new scheme.
A consistent set of obligations and incentives should apply across all platforms and access models. That is to say, the new scheme should, as far as practicable, be platform neutral in application, which means an evolution of regulation is required, rather than simple deregulation.
A diversity of services should provide a diversity of Australian content, including Australian drama and children’s programming, and there should be flexibility in how the new scheme operates to maximise viewer access to Australian content and minimise bottlenecks.
Implementation of the new scheme should be effected as soon as practicable.
Labor wants to engage with a broad cross-section of the industry to settle the new scheme.
A public consultation process on options is a necessary step to progress and conclude the review and is needed to assess regulatory impact, minimise any negative unintended consequences that may be associated with of any repackaging of measures and ensure the new scheme applies to the right range of services, both domestic and overseas.
Labor’s National Platform, adopted at our National Conference in December last year, already acknowledges as follows:
“Australia needs: The film and television industry supported and funded, encouraging increased private investment, training further talent and assisting market development through Australian local content requirements on free to air and pay television as well as diverse new technologies”.
That is, Labor has already shown its intention to adapt our screen settings to the new environment.
Exactly how will be a matter for the Taskforce.
If Labor is given the privilege of forming Government by the Australian people, then you can be sure we will waste no time in progressing the reform agenda for the screen sector, to which I know you are all so committed.
Now I don’t promise you’ll always like the decisions or outcomes under a Labor Government, but in putting myself forward as the alternative Minister for Communications, I am committed to an approach that is values-based and consultative.
I will be up-front and straight-talking. I appreciate that there are a variety of positions, but ultimately everyone here needs certainty.
There is a lot to do.
Make no mistake; the next election will be a close-run thing. I’ll either be seeing you good people a lot more, or a lot less.
But I do hope I have the opportunity to work with you all to Make It Australian.