Screen Australia Bill 2010

I rise today to speak in favour of the Screen Australia (Transfer of Assets) Bill 2010. This bill will facilitate the transfer of part of Screen Australia’s film library and associated sales and digital learning function to the National Film and Sound Archive.

The government recognises the importance of film to the Australian identity. That is why in 2009-10 it invested $93.6 million in Screen Australia and $23.7 million in the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. This funding does not include the Producer Offset scheme. Between July 2007 and November 2010, 233 productions received an offset that delivered $252 million in support of the industry—films such as Tomorrow, When the War Began and TV shows such as the popular Underbelly series, which, may I point out, was co-written by my friend and former colleague from the University of Canberra Felicity Packard. Felicity and her husband, Arthur Hill, who works for the ABC, are well known and well loved in Canberra. They are Canberra royalty in some ways, part of an old Canberra family. They are both incredibly talented people and we are proud that they continue to call Canberra home. It is likely that without the work of Screen Australia these culturally significant, popular and successful productions would not have got off the ground.

Screen Australia has also invested in two documentaries produced locally here in Canberra: For Valour and As Australian As. Another, by the name of The Digger: A History, is in the works. For Valour is a documentary for the History Channel that explores the stories of the Australian servicemen commemorated along the Remembrance Driveway for winning the VC, the Victoria Cross, in conflicts from the Boer War to the war in Afghanistan. As Australian As is a 10-part series for the Biography Channel in which eminent Australians amusingly, movingly and provocatively give their thoughts on what it means to be ‘as Australian as’. The featurelength documentary The Digger: A History is also for the History Channel and travels to the battlefields of South Africa, Egypt, the Western Front, New Guinea, Korea and Vietnam telling individual stories and illustrating actions and events that have defined the character and created the reputation of the Australian fighting soldier— the digger. These have all been produced by the local production company Bearcage here in Canberra.

Screen Australia is also responsible for the development of talent within the Australian film and television industry. In the ACT, for instance, Screen Australia and Screen ACT cosponsored Project Pod 2010. The aim of Project Pod is to increase capability and capacity in screen project development and support a group of targeted top projects to a market-ready stage. This support has been well received by the local industry here in the ACT. It is a small industry but a vibrant one, and, with the continued help of Screen Australia, it will continue to thrive and create a new centre for employment in Canberra. As I have said before, we have a very strong animation industry here and, as you can tell from what I have just explained, we also have a very strong film industry and documentary industry.

The Gillard government is not just committed to the development of Australian film and television. It is also committed to preserving and documenting our past—our history—through the work of the National Film and Sound Archive. The National Film and Sound Archive is a Canberra icon and a national icon. It is that fabulous old art deco building just beside the ANU, on the north side in my colleague the member for Fraser’s electorate. It currently holds over 1.6 million works, including film, television and radio programs, audio tapes, CDs, vinyl records, phonograph cylinders and wire recording. It also includes associated artefacts, such as photos and posters, scripts, costumes and vintage equipment.

The work of the archive can be traced back to 1935 with the creation of the national historical film and speaking record library at the National Library, which is in my electorate of Canberra. Over that time, it has changed names and legislative arrangements. However, its current iteration dates back to 2008, when the Labor government delivered on an election promise to de-merge the archive from Screen Australia and establish it as its own statutory authority. The task given to the archive, of preserving the works of Australian filmmakers, is essential in recording the development of an Australian industry, and it is essential in recording the history of our nation and the history of Australian culture. In 2009-10, the government invested $25.2 million in the National Film and Sound Archive to support its work, and it is through this internationally recognised work that we have been able to preserve such films as the 1906 The Story of the Kelly Gang, that infamous film, and—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

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As many in this chamber would know, The Story of the Kelly Gang—that iconic 1906 film —was not just Australia’s first feature-length production but was recognised in 2007 by UNESCO as being the world’s first. Until recently, only about 10 minutes of this film was thought to have survived; however, through the work of the National Film and Sound Archive more film was found and restored, which means the Australian public can now see 17 minutes of the original 60-minute film.

This is just one example of the work done to preserve our rich cultural heritage kept on film. I support this legislation because of the terrific preservation work of the archive. But this is not to disparage the work of Screen Australia and its library. It has become clear since the establishment of these agencies that some functions currently undertaken by Screen Australia would be better placed within the National Film and Sound Archive. I speak mainly of the portion of the Screen Australia library that was produced by Film Australia and its predecessors. The Screen Australia library of film is one of the largest, at approximately 5,000 films and associated material, and one of the most historically significant sources of archival, documentary and stock footage in the country. This bill will also transfer the sales and commercial function that goes with that library, as well as the associated digital-learning function. The sales function relates to the commercial use of the film library’s holdings, while the digital-learning function relates to the online educational resources that use film and stills to provide a rich source of material for learners of all ages, from primary school to university and beyond.

As the National Film and Sound Archive is Australia’s premier and specialist collecting institution, it makes sense that the items I mentioned, currently stored by Screen Australia, should be transferred to it. This transfer will complement and enhance the direction already set by the National Film and Sound Archive to provide greater online content and improve access to its collection of audiovisual materials. It will ensure that this material is preserved and made available to generations to come.

Before I close, I would like to do a plug for the National Archives Shake Your Family Tree Program event tomorrow. It is being done in conjunction with a range of archives, including the National Film and Sound Archive, and it is going to be lots of fun for Canberrans. If their family migrated here in the 20th century, served in the defence forces, or worked for, or had any other dealings with, the Australian government, they can ‘shake their family tree’ and possibly find some of their family history.

There will be a whole day of activities. One that is of particular interest is the unexpected discoveries panel discussion. Peter Cundall, the environmental activist and gardener, who is well known to most of us in this House, journalist James Massola, who used to work with the Canberra Times and is now with the Australian online, and author Jackie French will reveal some of the surprises that were unearthed while researching their own family history. I am sure you have seen the shows on television in which celebrities from the UK and Australia have traced their family histories. It has been absolutely fascinating—disappointing and upsetting at times, but a revelation for them. It has also been very deep and meaningful in giving them a greater sense of identity through unearthing what their family was all about. Some get murderers, some get criminals, some get barons—all sorts of things. It will be interesting to see what comes of that event. I recommend to Canberrans the Shake Your Family Tree event, which is on tomorrow.

I commend the bill to the House.

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