Tuesday, 24 November 2015
World Television Day
This past Saturday was World Television Day. I know that, for many, every Saturday is World Television Day and it is faithfully observed in lounge rooms across Australia. I rise today to mark it in a more formal way, however, because television is more than just a guilty pleasure; it is a key part of how a grown-up Australia has found its voice and told stories about itself.
We are a young nation and we have had to tell our own story. The thousands of years of Indigenous heritage, and the cultural works carried here by successive waves of migrants, provide the foundation for the unique multiethnic culture that we have built here since European settlement. Australia's cultural identity has been built layer by layer by our artists—by the likes of Margaret Olley, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Percy Grainger and Nam Le. But it has also been built by Graham Kennedy, by Laura from SeaChange and by Charlene from Neighbours.
There was, and maybe still is, a degree of cultural snobbery about television. But it is a mistake to discount the power of television to shape national identity. TV's power is partly due to just how much we watch it—just under three hours of broadcast TV every day. But its power is also due to how we interact with TV. TV is not separate from our lives. We do not have to go into a theatre to consume it. Instead, it comes into our lounge rooms and, in exchange, it allows us to go into other people's. TV's intimacy and immediacy give it an oversized power, and it shapes our conception of what it means to have a story that is worth telling.
At the start of the 1960s, however, the Australian households who owned televisions were treated to a medley of British and American accents telling foreign stories. In 1963, the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television presented its report to this chamber. It found that 97 per cent of all drama shown on television in the previous seven years was from the United States. We are lucky that, in the decades since, government policy and circumstances have led to more and more Australian voices on TV telling Australian stories. And we are fortunate that, due to the hard work and advocacy of many in our community, we are hearing more types of Australian voices and stories now than ever before. The ability to see someone like yourself on TV is the ability to feel like you belong. This is something that was denied for a long time to Australia's Indigenous people, to ethnic minorities, to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, to people with disabilities or to people from the LGBTIQ community.
I was reminded of this the other night when I attended a screening here of Call Me Dad, an ABC documentary that explores men's attempts to change their own patterns of domestic violence. It is a story that is an important contribution to our national discussion about domestic violence, but it is also the kind of story that can too easily be overlooked. It is telling that the documentary was produced by the ABC, because the story of Australian voices on television is irrevocably the story of the ABC. It is a truism to talk about the tyranny of distance in Australia. It was the ABC, however, that first over radio and then over TV spanned our geography to give us a truly national voice. There is nothing that I love more—I am a bit of a romantic about it—than to be driving in the heart of rural Australia and to hear the familiar strains that herald the ABC news bulletin. It is a music that speaks for me across distance and across generations. There is the reason that the ABC was and continues to be Australia's most trusted news source.
However, this is also the story of Australia's commercial networks and they also play their part in telling our stories both great and small. Television is also not just part of our cultural landscape, it is a part of our economy. Analysis by Deloitte Access Economics for the Australian Screen Association found that the film and TV industry contributed $5.8 billion to Australia's gross GDP in 2012-13. We cannot take this contribution for granted. The emergence of streaming technology and changes to the media market mean that Australian audiences are exposed to more foreign content than before. We need to find a way to make sure that Australian stories are still told in Australian voices on our screens.