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Australian producers slam government at SPAA opening

Producer Brian Rosen slammed the Australian government in his opening address to the annual conference of the Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA) in Melbourne today.

His frustration stems from the government’s silence over its own Convergence Review despite the independent review committee delivering its final report back in March.

The wide-ranging recommendations were examined with great interest around the world because they grappled with the future.

The aspect most important to the Australian production community is the challenge of protecting local content in a landscape flooded with international content because of new distribution channels, including those that will take advantage of the country’s under-construction $40 billion national broadband network.

Implementing all the review recommendations represents a fundamental overhaul of Australia’s media landscape but it’s the interim measures for slowing down the dilution of Australian content, that Rosen was referring to today.

“Last year when giving my first speech as SPAA president I declared I would not swear,” he said. “This year that declaration will probably not survive as there are some very serious issues confronting us … Surely out of $40 billion f*cking dollars, a miserable $40 million dollars could be found to ensure that Australians can see themselves reflected on their screens with pride?”

The eventual outcomes will impact television producers more than feature film-makers but Australia’s compact industry is an interdependent ecosystem and many local production companies straddle both kinds of production.

Rosen also accused the government of dawdling on important decisions concerning the tax rebates available to documentaries, offshore production and interactive media/games. (It is rumoured that the Minister of Arts Simon Crean might offer financial assistance to games when he addresses the conference on Thursday).

Immediately after Rosen, Gillian Armstrong spoke about the importance of a national culture and the influences on her long career. It was the first time a director had delivered the Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture.

The day ended with Screen Australian chief executive Ruth Harley presenting a report card on the producer offset (PO), a tax rebate introduced five years ago and administered by her organisation.

There’s now ample evidence to show that the PO has contributed to a significant increase in drama production. Average annual expenditure on features, for example, has increased from $147m (A$141m) in the five years before the PO to $249m (A$239m), a rise of 70%. More foreign investment has been a key contributor but removing the high-budget studio financed Australian films, pushes that figure to 73%, she said.

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