Screen industries key to Australian jobs’ future

Published on Tue 1 June 2021 7:50pm

The circumstances of the pandemic have emphasised many of Australia’s strengths, and one of them is as a place where screen productions of the highest quality can safely happen. We can make more of this in future, but only if we enable it. For a long time, we’ve needed a balanced producer offset for film and television without cutting one to meet the other, and thankfully the government has abandoned its plan to cut the offset for film. We need strong and fair local content requirements both in Australia and especially for the streaming services that derive billions of dollars from Australian consumers. And there has to be proper funding for Screen Australia and for our national broadcasters, which of course this government has scandalously cut time after time despite promising that would not be the case.

Mr Wilson (7:50pm) – The week before last I attended an event to celebrate the screening of 100th episode of Outback Truckers, a successful and distinctive piece of Australian factual television making that was developed and continues to be made by Prospero Productions, in my electorate. Prospero is just one example of the incredible skill, creativity and commercial nous that exist in the Australian filmmaking ecosystem with all its businesses and all its varied practitioners. Australian film does so much and could do so much more if only we supported it more concertedly and more intelligently—and I will come back to that.

It’s no small achievement for any series to reach the 100-episode mark. Julia Redwood described how it took four years and numerous rejections for Prospero to get the series going in the first place, and now it has run for nine series and has been seen by millions of viewers in over 120 countries. Importantly, the Outback Truckers juggernaut has supported 450 jobs in its life to date and provided some rare working continuity for a number of screen professionals.

What I particularly loved about the celebration event—in addition to the Outback Truckers cap—was the way in which Steve Grahame reflected on the relationship that had developed between the workers in what might seem like two disparate professional worlds. It’s not surprising that filmmakers learnt a lot about the stamina, perseverance and creative problem solving of truckers, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the truck drivers came to respect the persistence, attention to detail and logistical management of the filmmakers. What Outback Truckers shows is that drivers are storytellers too and that filmmakers are devotees of the road and that both are running difficult businesses with more uncertainties than certainties.

Steve Grahame remembered that, when he was first approached by the Prospero producer at the truck assembly park in Wubin, he thought to himself, ‘Hello, this bloke is definitely on the bunk, on the run from something, and maybe looking for a ride,’ but he finished by expressing gratitude to the show for helping people understand the reality of the freight trucking world, its many challenges and the hardworking, good-humoured characters who take on that work. Over years, the Prospero team and truckers like Steve, Sludge and others have formed a bond that has brought together workers that could easily be seen—if you’re in the silly game of dividing Australians from one another—as living in unbridgeable worlds, but that was never true.

Filmmaking is one of a number of creative industries that should be a foundation stone of Australia’s economic diversification and job creation in the future. Screen industries, which include film and television but also gaming, are exactly the kind of sophisticated, high-tech and high-skill human capital dependent manufacturing that we should be looking to build. Without doubt, we live in the screen age and yet, in so many emerging areas of screen communication and screen engagement, whether that’s telehealth or remote education, we do not make the most of the screen specific expertise that is out there, ready for us to optimise how we deliver and benefit from such essential services. Understandably, there is already a strong tie-up between filmmaking and tourism, and it should also be the basis of further collaborative filmmaking and co-production work in our region.

The circumstances of the pandemic have emphasised many of Australia’s strengths, and one of them is as a place where screen productions of the highest quality can safely happen. We can make more of this in future, but only if we enable it. For a long time, we’ve needed a balanced producer offset for film and television without cutting one to meet the other, and thankfully the government has abandoned its plan to cut the offset for film. We need strong and fair local content requirements both in Australia and especially for the streaming services that derive billions of dollars from Australian consumers. And there has to be proper funding for Screen Australia and for our national broadcasters, which of course this government has scandalously cut time after time despite promising that would not be the case.

The measures I have described are the kinds of sensible things that other countries do. If we could make those changes, changes the industry has been crying out for for years, the Australian screen industry will grow, will generate export dollars, will employ Australians, will build links into our region, will accentuate our tourism and international education offices, will support the best form of screen communication in emerging and innovative service delivery and, most importantly of all, will allow Australian voices, stories, faces and landscapes to flourish loudly and in full colour or quietly and in black and white if it needs that kind of vibe.

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