The Screen Producers Association of Australia (SPAA) is calling on the Australian government to lift production and development funding in film and television to "more realistic investment levels" in the 2000/2001 budget, which will be released in early May.

However Australian arts minister Peter McGauran admitted today (March 24) that the federal budget is under particular pressure this year because of Australia's commitment to East Timor and the need to balance the nation's books.

"The European Union has committed A$372m over five years to boost European films," said SPAA executive director Nick Herd about how other governments are backing their industries. "Even America, which traditionally has not involved itself in funding independent film, announced a $100m fund underwritten by the US government to invest in independent US films. This is an early warning that Australia is falling behind the world's best practice."

In its budget submission, SPAA asks for the annual allocation to the Australian Film Finance Corporation to be raised from $29m (A$48m) to $33m (A$54.8m) and for the allocation to the Australian Film Commission to increase from $10m (A$16.5m) to $12.7m (A$21m). It also supports state broadcaster ABC's aim of getting enough funding to boost local production by 100 hours, in part to feed its new digital services.

SPAA's public statement noted that industry funding has fallen in absolute terms from $63m (A$104m) in 1995/96 to $47m (A$78m) in 1999/2000. This is mostly due to the discontinuation of the Commercial Television Production Fund, but there are high hopes that replacement investment will come from private sources via the new Film Licensed Investment Company scheme (Screendaily March 9).