Australia's Federal Parliament today tabled legislation to establish a new single film agency, Screen Australia. It is expected to be debated in early March and then passed.

Screen Australia will come into being July 1 andencompass the responsibilities of the investment agency Film Finance Corporation Australia, the Australian Film Commission (AFC) - which has a development focus, and documentary house Film Australia.

The previous government announced it would establish Screen Australia last May, and introduce a new 40% tax rebate for Australian feature films. The rebate legislation was passed last year.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's new government, elected in May, also supports what is to be the biggest structural shift in two decades, except that it will split the National Film and Sound Archive back out of the AFC. The legislation referring to this has also now been tabled as well.

Speaking in Parliament in support of the Screen Australia Bill 2008, the Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett said, 'Beyond its contribution to our cultural life, the sector's input (film and television) to the Australian economy is also significant, contributing some $1.5 billion annually to GDP and employing more than 50,000 people.'

In a global entertainment environment, there are many challenges, he continued, in particular, the lack of sufficient private investment to provide a strong capital base. Production levels and box office returns continue to fluctuate and filmmakers are unable to build strong creative businesses.

'The government is committed to providing a framework within which the industry can grow and prosper, and establishing Screen Australia is part of that framework.'

Garrett said the new agency would have a strong focus on cultural objectives and artistic merit, while also pursuing the growth of a more competitive film production industry. The synergies of combining the resources of the three agencies will enhance coordination, facilitate strong national leadership and enable a fast response.

Documentaries, children's programming, indigenous filmmaking, projects of real national significance, and the work of emerging filmmakers were all highlighted of being important within the new agency.

It would also provide ongoing work for the many highly talented Australians who currently work abroad or have to find employment in other industries to supplement their incomes. It will also seek to provide opportunities for world-renowned Australians.

'The establishment of Screen Australia is a key plank in the strategy to revitalise the industry, restore confidence and deliver exciting productions to Australian audiences and beyond,' said Garrett.