Address to the Australian Directors Guild Conference

7 November 2013

Thank you, Ray and may I acknowledge the custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present. I would also like to acknowledge some of the participants in this conference: Kingston Anderson, the Executive Director of the ADG; Fred Schepisi, who will shortly be delivering the keynote address; Gillian Armstrong; Ben Lewin and many others who have brought their skills to bear in telling a nation a story through the wonderful medium of drama.

It is a pleasure to be here this morning to open this conference and I want to thank you for your invitation.

As you know, there is a new Government in Canberra and a new Arts Minister, namely me, and the new Government will, and I will, bring a renewed commitment to, appreciation of, and enthusiasm for, Australian creativity in all its forms. The reason I have accepted the invitation to open your conference today is and sought to attend as many different forums in the creative industries as I can get to in the last two months or so since I’ve been the Arts Minster is to assert and affirm the new Government’s appreciation of, and support for, what you do.

Whatever policy decisions the new Government makes that affect this sector, you should know that I will always be accessible to you. I know there was criticism of previous Arts Ministers in the last government – that they were not accessible but I will, as the Arts Minister and the Attorney-General, always be accessible to you and always be prepared to listen to the industry’s point of view.

Looking at the programme for this conference I can see that delegates have a very busy two days ahead with a variety of sessions ranging from directing in Asia, how Indigenous directors are making their mark in television and the challenges of documentary filmmaking.

Whether it is making documentaries, feature films, television drama, commercials, reality television or transmedia storytelling, the digital world takes some navigation and indeed vigilance.

I want to say a few words this morning about copyright because I know it is very much on your mind.

It is a happy intersection of roles, as the Minister for the Arts and the Attorney-General, that copyright and intellectual property is an important issue in both my portfolios. In fact, I think one of the reasons that the Prime Minister asked me to take on those roles was an acknowledgement of the importance of the protection of intellectual property of Australia’s content industries.

I want to see an even stronger screen production sector in Australia and I know that one of the ways to ensure that that comes about is to make sure that the rights of content creators and the owners of intellectual property are appropriately protected.

This is something I feel very strongly about and it pre-dates my entry to Parliament. Before I entered Parliament, I was a barrister practising at the commercial bar, mainly in Federal Court matters and as a lawyer, I developed an appropriate lawyer’s respect for property rights.

It is my belief that the fundamental principles of intellectual property law that protect the rights of content creators have not changed, notwithstanding new media and platforms. The principles underlying intellectual property law and the values which acknowledge the rights of creative people are not a function of the platform on which that creativity is expressed. Those principles didn’t change with the invention of the internet and social media.

Nevertheless, the rise of the internet and of social media and the digital age in general has placed those principles and the observance of those principles under new challenges and threats.

You may be aware that the Australian Law Reform Commission is currently about to present its report on reforms to the Copyright Act. The Copyright Act is an act of 1968. It is forty-five years old and it has not been fundamentally reformed in all that time. This Parliament, the 44th Parliament, will have as one of its tasks – and this would be the case, by the way if there were a Labor or Liberal Attorney-General or Arts Minister – it has as one of its tasks the reform and modernisation of Australia’s copyright law and intellectual property law in general.

Whatever form those reforms take, I want to assure you, following from the observations I’ve just made about my own attitudes to intellectual property protection, that those reforms will not impinge on or violate the rights of content creators and the owners of intellectual property. They will be designed to further secure and protect those rights.

I also noticed in the programme the session on the morality of rights. I think that’s a marvellous topic because it acknowledges that these questions are essentially ethical questions. Whatever form they may take in the law, whatever arguments might be made in policy debate, these are essentially ethical questions as your session acknowledges.

Given that my portfolio encompasses copyright law and the arts, I look forward to working with the Guild and with other parts of the screen sector to get the fundamentals of these policy choices right.

Piracy is now a long-standing issue with which screen industries and governments around the world are grappling. Members of Australia’s creative industries need to make the most of new opportunities arising from changing distribution models and audience expectations. I want to make sure the Government’s policy settings facilitate these opportunities. The sector needs to have confidence to invest their talent, time and resources to create; importantly confidence that your investment in creativity will be properly respected and protected.

Let me say something about the Screen Australia Drama Report. This report contains certainly some positive news for the screen production sector. It shows that the sector remains strong. As it should because what you do is one of the things that Australians do best.

It was pleasing to note that drama production was up nine per cent on the previous financial year, to a total value of $752 million. There has been strong growth in particular in television, which is up 27 per cent to $373 million worth of production. The ten year trend for Australian television production is upward, seeing an overall rise from $200 million in 2003. Foreign feature film production has received a boost mainly due to Wolverine shooting in Australia.

There has been, unfortunately, a disappointing reduction in the level of production in Queensland, which I feel as a Queensland Senator. A flow on effect has been a reduction in income for the Queensland screen industry.

Nevertheless, the Australian Government is continuing to play a significant role in attracting foreign productions to our shores. The Government began offering tax incentives to overseas productions in 2002. Since that time, particularly as you know, with the offset change introduced when I was Arts Minister in 2007, we have seen more than $2.6 billion in inward investment in the Australian film and television production industry. As I said, after I became Minister for the Arts last month, it is my intention to keep the levels and thresholds of the offsets under review.

One of the matters you will be discussing is documentary direction and discussing the unique challenges of working in this genre.

The Australian Government contributes approximately $18 million a year in direct support to documentary program making throughout Australia.

This investment generates production budgets in excess of $50 million. Screen Australia-funded documentaries do consistently well with domestic and international audiences. Last year, seven documentaries attracted more than one million domestic viewers on their first free- to-air transmission, which is impressive in an era of media and broadcasting fragmentation.

Viewers tuned in to Go Back To Where You Came From: Series 2 on SBS; while over on the ABC the documentary offerings ranged from Gough Whitlam to ABBA to Ian Thorpe. Australia also had major international success with the documentary The First Four Billion Years seen by 12 million viewers on prime time television in the United States.

Winning awards is, of course, another public way of being recognised for the craft of making documentaries and last year Screen Australia-funded projects won their share of Walkleys, ATOMs, AACTAs and AWGIES as well as an Emmy in the mix.

These awards recognise excellence which is one of the six principles of the Australian Government’s arts policy—excellence as well as integrity, artistic freedom, self-confidence, sustainability and accessibility – about which I have spoken in many fore. All of these values are important to me and will shape the attitude of the new Government.

All industries are subject to trends and circumstance and your industry is no exception. The reality is that because of the challenges of the digital age, which you will be addressing at your conference, the changes and the pace of change are perhaps more radical for you than for most industries. As we all know, this is an industry which has been, for half a century now, been supported by both sides of politics through incentives and principally through the taxation system, and I want to assure you on behalf of the new Government that that support will continue.

We are full of pride and immensely appreciative of what you do – the lustre you bring to our country on the international stage, the sheer enjoyment you bring to all Australians in our domestic audience. In opening the conference, I want to end where I began, on behalf of the new Government, in paying tribute to your work, to expressing admiration at the excellence of your creativity and committing the new Government to be a friend of this industry for many, many years to come.