Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 August 2021


Children's Television Production

7:25 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to address the need for urgent support for small production companies in our screen industry. I'm referring especially to those involved in children's television production. Despite proposing a harmonised Australian screen content quota, the government has not introduced an Australian local content obligation for streaming services, four years after the government's Australian children's screen content review. In June, the Morrison Liberal government even tried to pass legislation which would have halved the 10 per cent of Australian content expenditure requirement for subscription TV services like Foxtel. That cut to screen content requirements was criticised by the Senate Environment and Communications Committee, including by the government's own senators on the committee. Fortunately, that part of the bill was killed off by a Labor amendment in the Senate. This all highlights the Morrison Liberal government's woeful record on supporting Australian screen content. That track record involves watering down children's content sub quotas for free-to-air broadcasters.

Blue Rocket Productions is an international children's content powerhouse but a small production company based in my home state of Tasmania. It is a multi-award winning animation studio. Blue Rocket has been in business for 22 years sending quality local children's content across the country and around the whole world. They have created 23 children's TV series and a feature film. Blue Rocket describes the decision to cut children's content sub quotas by saying, 'In September 2020 the federal government cancelled the Australians children's quotas for the commercial free-to-air-broadcaster, saving them 0.745 per cent of their Australian production expenditure, putting thousands of people out of work and jeopardising dozens of production companies'.

Without sub quotas for children's content for free-to-air television, the Morrison Liberal government wrongly assumes commercial interests will pick up the pieces. This will not happen, as they well know, because their own media reform green paper told them:

However, due to Australia’s small market, this content can be financially risky to produce, with costs often not able to be recouped in the domestic market.

So there it is. Our broadcasters cannot be relied on to produce enough quality local screen content without a compulsory sub quota being in place. The sub quota support is what helps make our children's television the international and local success it is.

My Tasmanian colleagues and I met with David Gurney from Blue Rocket and other stakeholders to discuss the impact the removal of the sub quota is having. Earlier this year, Mr Gurney also discussed his concern with TheMercury newspaper. At the time, he said the pandemic has had an impact but the decision of the Morrison Liberal government has had a greater impact. A series Blue Rocket has been preparing for four years has been abandoned as a direct result of the sub quota's cut. Blue Rocket, after 22 successful years, is suddenly down from 40 to seven employees. David Gurney said, 'I think that Blue Rocket, along with about 30 other independent children's production companies, has been placed in a very precarious position by the federal government, extraordinary at a time when employment is so desperately needed in Australia.'

Nick, who is 44 and who has worked for Blue Rocket for 23 years had this to say, 'Removing the quotas has cut my family off at the knees and placed us all under significant financial stress. I don't know if we will recover from it.' These are real people, these are real jobs, and this is a short-sighted and completely unnecessary decision by the Morrison Liberal government. As I was saying, Blue Rocket has gone from 40 employees down to seven. Today I have been informed Blue Rocket has dropped to one employee; that's Mr Gurney himself. Today I've also been informed the successful business, Blue Rocket, will close in a matter of weeks.

The Morrison Liberal government has undermined an otherwise successful industry for no good. I will finish by again quoting Mr Gurney, who said, 'Our kids production sector has flatlined, with thousands of people out of work and many companies put in severe jeopardy thanks to the government's ill-informed and poorly considered reforms. Has the federal government got a crack in its motherboard? Seriously, this is simply appalling and beyond disappointing.'

I call on the government to recognise and acknowledge the impact their short-sighted decision-making is having on our creative industries and on the hardworking individuals employed by them. I implore the government to do something to save this industry.