Treasury Laws Amendment (2021 Measures No. 5) Bill 2021

1 December 2021

Although this bill implements a large number of measures, most of them are minor technical changes which are uncontentious. The exceptions to this are the changes to the screen production incentive, which could have significant impacts on our film and television industry. I have serious reservations about this measure and have had them since it was first introduced in June. Judging by the representations made to my office and to the Senate bill inquiry, those reservations are very much widely shared.

My fundamental concern is that this strikes me as a very narrow change. The government says that the incentive changes are intended to drive the local industry towards higher-quality productions, and it seems reasonable to believe that that will in fact be the effect. But what I want to know is how this measure fits into a broader strategy for the local screen industry.

The Commonwealth puts many millions of dollars into subsidising this industry every year. We have done so for decades, and it's likely that we'll continue to do so for decades to come. But it is astonishing that we do this without having a clear strategy for the industry. The minister for the arts should have a vision for the sector—a vision of where the industry could be in five years or 10 years time. We obviously have the talent and the resources for our screen industry to do incredible things, and there is so much potential to build on those strengths and take our industry to the next level. So there should be a strategy, jointly developed by the minister, the department and the industry, which sets out how to take the industry from its current position to the next level.

We should have a clear idea of how government money and regulation will be used to support this strategy. If we had a vision and a strategy and I could see how this measure contributed to it, I would have no problem whatsoever supporting this bill. I will always support empowering our local industries. But we don't have a vision and we don't have a strategy. This measure isn't part of a long-term plan. It's just a fiddle—a play with the policy levers to see what happens. Unfortunately, it's a fiddle that is likely to have some serious detrimental effects on parts of the industry. A lot of industry stakeholders have made it clear that this bill will be quite damaging to their businesses and will probably lead to some job losses.

Ordinarily, these issues would be picked up by broad consultation and engagement with industry. That would have given government the opportunity to reconsider some of the measures, but that clearly did not happen. There may have been consultation, but it was not broad. It failed to include all parts of the industry. And it was not deep; many stakeholders were not consulted about all of the measures that are under consideration and many of them were stunned by what was ultimately included in this bill. This is simply not good enough. It's a failure of government, and the failure was so obvious that the government was forced to acknowledge it in the bill inquiry report. But they continue to press on with what was obviously a flawed and somewhat harmful bill.

This leaves the Senate in an invidious position. If we support the bill, we will enable the government's damaging changes to some parts of the industry, but, if we oppose it, certain film subsidies will not be paid as expected, and that will be particularly damaging for productions that are currently underway, many of which have already secured external financing on the basis of these subsidies. That could lead to production businesses becoming insolvent and some projects immediately shutting down. It will also damage the reputation of the Australian industry and may deter future projects from coming to our shores.

Both outcomes are damaging to local industry, who, frankly, have done nothing wrong here. They deserve a lot better from this government. But we still have to make a decision, and I've decided to listen to the industry, who tell me that the passage of this bill is now the lesser of two evils. It will still be harmful, it will still be damaging, but it is less harmful than the alternative. So I will be supporting this bill.

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