Ruth Harley has stepped down after a decade as chief executive of the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) to take the same role at the new super agency in neighbouring Australia.

She will be on deck at Screen Australia from November 15 but will attend a planning meeting of the two-month-old board on September 16.

She said there was much debate in Australia around best development practices and ways of boosting audiences and New Zealand had been successful on both fronts.

'I am passionate about connection with audiences; I am charged up by it,' she said. During her tenure distributors and independent cinema owners have changed their thinking on the value of New Zealand films, she said, and this is what she is most proud of. She also emphasised the importance of filmmakers operating in the international marketplace.

The New Zealand industry is generally regarded as being in better shape than ten years ago although this has corresponded with the rise of Peter Jackson (The Lord Of The Rings).

Screen Australia opened its doors on July 1 with responsibility for practically all Federal Government support of features, adult and children's television drama, and documentary. Its budget is about $86m (A$100m) compared to the NZFC's $21m (NZ$30m). In recent years the Federal Government has been in investing in the production of 15-20 features per annum or about four or five times more than NZ.

Screen Australia 's arrival means the financing of film development and production is now under the same roof, as it has always been at the NZFC. The NZFC also administered the grants given to large offshore films. This is handled by a government department in Australia but Screen Australia does have to administer the new producer offset, which is the second other big shift happening in the Australia film industry.

It will be interesting to see if Harley pushes for Screen Australia to launch a sales agency over time as the international sales rights for most of the films that the NZFC invests in are held by NZ Film, its own sales arm. She told she had no 'preset opinions' about what Screen Australia should or shouldn't do because she does not know the market well enough.

'I am glad the government has finally got around to appointing someone but I am not sure what it says about Australia 's ability to manage its own affairs,' says Geoff Brown, executive director of the Screen Producers Association of Australia. It was now time to get on with the job of bedding down Screen Australia and the producer offset, he added, and the co-investment rules around them.

'She will find it a very testing environment,' said Whale Rider producer John Barnett from New Zealand. 'The Australian industry is much more robust and vocal in its approach to funding bureaucrats, the players are more mature and aren't as dependent on government funding as NZ producers and there is a high degree of xenophobia.'

Harley laughed off the notion that there would be xenophobia around her appointment: 'No-one is going to give me to the keys to the safe all by myself, anymore than they did in NZ.'

While the NZFC does not handle television, Harley was previously executive director of New Zealand On Air, which substantially funds television in a market that has no local content rules. She also worked at TVNZ in a commissioning role.

Former head of the now defunct Film Finance Corporation, Brian Rosen, said Harley was a good choice. He was a frontrunner for the job but his appointment would have gone against the message that the government is trying to send: that a brand new era is beginning.

'The merger process has been a disaster under (interim chief executive) Lyn Maddock and the industry needs to rally around and ensure that the merger is done as flexibly and transparently as possible and that it is not bogged down by bureaucratic process. A lot of very good people are leaving.'

Rosen is in discussion with several entities on creating a fund to finance the producer offset and to finance movies. He would not comment on rumours that one of those entities is Animal Logic.