Debra Richards has experience as a government regulator.

Ausfilm is desperate to improve the financial incentives in place to attract offshore production to Australia and has a new advocate in Debra Richards, who joined this week as chief executive.

Expect to see her in Canberra soon lobbying government to lift the location and the post, digital and visual effects (PDV) tax rebates from 15% to 30% of Australian expenditure.

The US studios are not even considering Australia when deciding where to film their blockbusters, Ausfilm claimed in a recent submission to government, and it may take years for the industry to recover if something isn’t done soon.

Richards is expected to be a big asset to Ausfilm because of her contacts in and knowledge of government, having represented the interests of subscription television operators for 12 years, and previously worked for a government regulator. She is also seen as having the right manner to handle the competing interests of members.

She has no delusions about the negative impact of the strong Australian dollar but says it is a force outside the remit of AusFilm.

“We have to live with it, try to get more flexible production incentives, and work with (other agencies) AusTrade, Tourism Australia and the Department of Foreign Affairs (to make Australia more competitive).”

In the last two weeks Ausfilm has sponsored and hosted several activities as part of the general Australian promotion G’day USA, including a gala screening of Peter Weir’s The Way Back (post-produced in Sydney) at the Palm Springs Film Festival, and a lunch for US executives and Australian producers and directors with films at Palm Springs or Sundance.

Ausfilm will be taking part in the combined Produced By Conference/Locations Expo in June and holding Ausfilm Week in October, both in LA.

Ausfilm operates as a partnership between about 30 private sector companies and all Australia’s Federal, State and Territory Governments. It has an annual operating budget of about US$2 million and the equivalent of four full-time staff in Sydney and three in Los Angeles.

Asked specifically about Ausfilm’s relevance given the dominance of Screen Australia, Richards said she had heard nothing to make her doubt its value as a gateway into Australia and as a source of information for the US industry and about co-productions.

Richards’ contract is for three years. A former Ausfilm head, Trisha Heaton (formerly Trisha Rothkrans), has been acting in the role since Richards’ predecessor Jackie O’Sullivan resigned.

One of the biggest recent boosts to the country’s profile in the US has been last week’s airing of four consecutive Oprah shows filmed in Australia at the end of 2010.