Australian communications, IT and arts minister, Richard Alston, has warned the local post sector that it has only about 18 months left to exploit its current competitive advantages, because bandwidth, which connects it to the rest of the world, is "virtually unaffordable".

Australian post-production companies enjoy the dual advantages of being English-speaking and able to work "through the night" for UK and US clients because of time zone differences. But Alston recently hosted two seminars, titled "First Past The Post", aimed at assisting the sector to find ways of overcoming the prohibitive cost of bandwidth.

Australia's telecommunications costs are generally expensive compared to the rest of the world - mostly because of the continent's isolation and small population.

Leading effects house Animal Logic has been asked to tender for numerous international jobs since it received two Oscar nominations this year for The Matrix, but the cost of communications has often been higher than the digital effect. Producer Rick McCallum could not afford the prices being asked to send Star Wars footage to the US when it shot in Australia this year, so restructured the schedule to use the FedEx physical courier service instead.

Brenton Thomas, a senior government bureaucrat in Alston's department, assured the 100 participants who gathered in Sydney that competition and new players were driving down prices by 30-50% per year. But the only way to take advantage of this was for individual companies to work out exactly what their needs were, to join forces, develop a business case, and "take it around to the new hungry players".