Film, News & Commentary, Screen, TV

New Screen Australia budget cuts: how the government's deal with Hollywood treated us like mugs

| |

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.

2 responses to “New Screen Australia budget cuts: how the government's deal with Hollywood treated us like mugs

  1. I really sympathise with the film industry in Australia, but I’m not surprised with the mentality of a Liberal Government that in the words of Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawk, who both stated in an interview by the ABC in 2014 that the current Liberal Party and Labor Party are so far moved to the right… and in comparison to the two parties of their time, are completely un-recognisable. Organisations that have taken decades to develope are being eroded…. the problem is, once they are gone, you just can’t recreate them overnight. Because the people who were involved, have to survive, and they have no choice but to move on.. maybe take their talent overseas.. which means you just can not put Humpty Dumpty back together again like it was. You have to start again with the remnants of an industry that is left over once the current Government has, without proper though and consideration of the long term effects of their latest decisions in the budget cuts.. then the rebuild someday of the Australian film industry, will not be the same, it will be missing some of the gems who helped develope it over the past few decades.. never to return here. Some will go overseas where there are governments that are not bent on destroying industries that are not important to them. What more can I say.. If you voted Liberal in the last election, then be smart for your industry and vote with your feet. Encourage another party to look after the Australian film industry and it’s up and coming actors, actors who Kate Blanchart think are World class. Press your local MP to change the Prime Ministers wreckless attitude and support your industry. Because, if you don’t, It will be gone forever. Show Mr Turnbull that your not happy, but very angry and that he is on notice at the next elections.

  2. The power of Hollywood lobbyists and companies such as Village Roadshow , who both invest in and distribute Warner Bros’ film and donated 300k to the Coalition cannot be under estimated. Meanwhile the local producer association wants to be all things to all people, supporting Hollywood pictures here and local films at the same time. It has been hopelessly naïve and plain stupid. As far as Treasury and the Coalition is concerned it all comes out of the same pot despite the money for Aussie films being made on a cultural and not commercial basis. There is in fact not a rational case to put a penny of Federal subsidy to support these Hollywood productions and a Productivity Commission review would be in order. If the Coalition can’t justify subsidy to support the local car manufacturing industry then the case for the Hollywood film manufacturing industry is even more tenuous. Meanwhile telling our own stories has become even harder and the departure of ours shores by our creatives will accelerate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *