SUBJECT: Australian video game development industry roundtable

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Last week a report was released trying to estimate the bandwidth requirements that Australia would be needing now and into the future. One of the more interesting criticisms of that report that was made in a number of places was that it assumed that only households with children were participating in any form of online gaming. And of course, we know that to be far from true. The game development sector in Australia is one that is growing. The sector in Australia is one that has enormous potential. It's also one that goes to the heart of the importance of having a true National Broadband Network and one in which everyone can take advantage of not only high-speed download, but also incredible upload opportunities.

So it was with great pleasure today that I was able to convene a roundtable, having just about every capital city represented, talking about the games sector in Australia and the importance of developing coherent policy that will benefit this ecosystem now and into the future. And I'm delighted to have been joined today by Ron Curry from IGEA, the Interactive Gaming and Entertainment Association, but also a very distinguished international visitor, Jayson Hilchie, from the Entertainment Software Association of Canada.

Now, I believe Australia has an enormous role to play in terms of fostering our games sector. It's unfortunate that the federal government, that our current Minister for Communications, don't feel the same way. It took around 600 days, indeed more than 600 days, for the government to respond to the Game On report, which was handed down many months ago now. And we had a response from the government that was not even 10 pages in substance. But these are huge issues that need to be addressed if we are going to foster a vibrant games sector in Australia. One of them is the fact that the skills that are required for this sector are indeed highly transferable. They are ones that require a lot of STEM impact. They are ones that require a lot of critical thinking and creativity. They transcend nearly every sector of the economy, from education through to having complex problem-solving skills. And if Australia is going to take advantage of the new economy, if we are going to be a nation that doesn't just talk about innovation, then we need to start taking this sector seriously.

That was the purpose of our roundtable today where we discussed a range of policy issues, including the key recommendations of the Game On report. I will hand over to Ron Curry, who has been quite instrumental in helping to mobilise the interests of the games sector in Australia and thank you very much for participating today Ron.

RON CURRY, INTERACTIVE GAMES AND ENTERTAINMENT ASSOCIATION: Thank you Michelle. Having been in the industry for a couple of decades and engaging with the government, we've often lacked the traction of having a conversation that's meaningful. And even through the Game On report and those sorts of interactions, it tends to be a one on one conversation.

Today, we had the opportunity as an industry, and by that I mean academics, game developers, industry associations and institutions, to talk quite openly and quite frankly about what does the industry look like and what should it look like. We exist in a $100 billion industry and Australia has the opportunity to take as much of that cake as we like. Up to now, we've been thwarted in really progressing as an industry because of some of the mechanisms that are and aren't in place in Australia. So we really welcome the opportunity to have that open dialogue and continuing that discussion to ensure our industry, not just for games as entertainment, but for games serving greater purposes across the community in health, in mental health issues, in real estate. Whatever way you want to look at it, taking those skills and improving opportunities in this country and increasing employment to a point where we compare to countries like Canada. 

ROWLAND: Jayson, thank you very much for sharing your perspectives today. It will be quite enlightening, I think, to hear some of the views that you gleaned through our discussion today.

JAYSON HILCHIE, ENTERTAINMENT SOFTWARE ASSOCIATION OF CANADA: Well, thank you very much for having me here. It's a privilege to be in Australia to talk to the video game industry. I'm here as an envoy to share what has worked in Canada, in an industry that now represents 22,000 full-time workers and contributes $3.7 billion to our national GDP. It's an industry that has grown over the years substantially through very generous support through our government, both provincially and federally. But now also through a focus on innovation and I see our industry now expanding from just an entertainment business to now existing at the centre of an innovation ecosystem, driving things like artificial intelligence, graphics, healthcare and virtual reality and augmented reality. So I've seen our industry grow from a nation industry to a world leader that's now impacting a number of other sectors as the economy advances. And I'm happy to be here to share my views and experiences to try to help the Australian industry advance, so thank you very much.

ROWLAND: Thanks Ron and Jayson. And I guess to end on this point: we know that when Tony Abbott was initially bemoaning the National Broadband Network he mentioned that it was a giant waste of taxpayers' money because it was about videos and about it being a big game system. Well, the reality is actually far different. The reality is that we need first class broadband in Australia and we need those upload speeds if our sector is going to thrive and if regional centres as also going to benefit from that growth. And we need to also appreciate, and policy makers at all levels need to appreciate, that games are serious business. They are serious, not only for their use for things such as entertainment, but also they are used in much greater propensity now in particular for people in aged care, for people who have particular medical conditions, and these promises are coming to fruition now. They are coming to fruition from the investment that has been made but we will only realise the true benefits of this in Australia if it is a sector, if it is an ecosystem, that is taken seriously by policy makers.

It's unfortunate that under this government, their lack of meaningful response, and indeed such a delayed response, to even a single report indicates that they need to start taking this issue seriously. Labor is certainly most interested in making sure that we are examining all the options available to the gaming sector to enable jobs growth, to enable this sector to realise its full potential. And we will keep doing that through sound policy development based on consultation with the experts, as we saw today at our roundtable. Thank you very much.