Film, News & Commentary, Screen, TV New Screen Australia budget cuts: how the government's deal with Hollywood treated us like mugs By Luke Buckmaster | December 16, 2015 | It was a happy day for the Australian film industry and one that struck a particular chord with movie buffs. In November the great Sir Ridley Scott – looking distinguished even in a t-shirt – fronted a gaggle of media in Sydney, flanked by a small consortium of more formally dressed locals including Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop. The veteran Hollywood director confirmed his upcoming Prometheus sequel Alien: Covenant will be shot at Sydney’s Fox Studios. This followed an announcement the previous month that the Australian government had secured a deal to bring two blockbusters to our shores: Scott’s upcoming epic and the latest instalment in the Thor superhero franchise, starring our own Chris Hemsworth. The enticement, announced shortly after Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister, cost the government $47.3 million. American productions made in Australia are valuable to the local industry for many reasons, including work and skills development given to our casts and crews on a scale they are often not exposed to locally. But give with one hand and take with the other. Announced yesterday, Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (MYEFO) reveals the pinch. This year Screen Australia sold its site in Lindfield on Sydney’s upper north shore for $35 million – money we now know Morrison put towards the Hollywood deal. Most of the remaining gap will be filled by a new round of cuts to Screen Australia, to the tune of $10.3 million over four years (totalling 3% of its budget). Julie Bishop didn’t mention that when she stood beside the blockbuster director and smiled for the cameras. What makes this act of political chicanery even more galling is that it marks the third cut to the funding body in the last 18 months. Together the cuts amount to a very large slice. Screen Australia has been stripped of $51.5 million since the last federal budget and its revenue from the government will continue to fall in years ahead. In the 2013-2014 financial year the agency received $100.8 million; in 2018-2019 that figure is expected to fall to $82.2 million. The official response from Screen Australia has been rather sedate: “While any cut is difficult, Screen Australia understands the fiscal position of the Government. Screen Australia has been given the flexibility to manage the spread of the cut over the period in question which provides us with the opportunity to cushion the effects on the industry.” They believe they will “preserve program expenditure in 2015-16” and “work to limit the effect of the MYEFO reduction over the forward years.” This will be assisted by cash reserves accrued through repayment of loans linked to Screen Australia’s Producer Offsets initiatives. But this is a band-aid solution and band-aids only work if your limbs aren’t falling off. There was no remedy applied to save the immensely valuable Metro Screen initiative, a longstanding not-for-profit film school that closed its doors last month as a result of previous Screen Australia budget cuts. This year has been a very good one for Australian films at the box office: its biggest haul since 2001. But funding-wise, news in 2015 has been bleak. Despite a triumphant effort from our talented casts and crews – and the presence of Ridley Scott himself – there was no Hollywood style happy ending. Instead, courtesy of our elected officials, a sleight of hand performance that treated us all like mugs. Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Luke Buckmaster Luke Buckmaster is film critic and writer for Daily Review, and contributes commentary to a range of Australian publications.