Scott Morrison – How Bryan Brown and the Nationals saved Australian film
The problem, says Screen Producers Australia chief executive Matthew Deaner, was that “the government seemed to see it all as one big industry”, and having created a pot of gold to attract Hollywood productions it felt the job was done.
But that was effectively a scheme to support employment, not culture – and no one seemed to have explained that to Prime Minister Scott Morrison or Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
Enter Bryan Brown, with a call to the Nationals deputy leader David Littleproud in January.
The actor had met Littleproud in 2017 when the Queenslander was chair of the Parliamentary Friends of the Screen Industry. They hadn’t talked in years, but when Brown calls people tend to answer.
For Littleproud, backing local production was a no-brainer. “We believe in supporting local content because that is our national story and it should be preserved,” he says. “While it’s great to have these foreign productions here it overshadows the Australian story being told.”
Just last month the Nationals passed a motion advocating local content quotas for all Australian TV producers and streamers, as well as the retention of the 40 per cent offset for film (policies in line with Labor and the Greens). “You’ve got to nurture the industry and those in it,” says Littleproud. “It really is a philosophical view but the fact we’ve seen a lot of production move out into regional Australia recently also makes it a win-win.“
In the last week of February, Brown, Deaner and Wiegard went to Canberra to lobby politicians in person. There was no meeting lined up with either the PM or the Treasurer, but after Liberal backbencher Trent Zimmerman, now chair of the Friends of the Screen Industry, posted a video in which he and Brown debated who should play Frydenberg in a film about his battle with Facebook – “Josh is coming out on top,” Brown said, “he’s tough” – word spread. On the 24th, they got separate meetings with the PM and another with the Treasurer after space was suddenly cleared in their respective diaries.
In March, a second delegation – with Brown joined this time by fellow actors Simon Baker, Justine Clarke and Marta Dusseldorp – headed back to Canberra, this time in full view of the cameras.
Wiegard believes the February meeting was the first time the PM had given the matter full consideration, but he doesn’t blame him. “He has an awful lot on his plate.”
Deaner agrees, and adds the PM “grasped the issue really quickly”, suddenly seeing that a one-size-fits-all approach to the screen sector could inadvertently lead to Australia becoming nothing more than a Hollywood backlot within a very short time.
That’s precisely how it had been for decades before support was introduced from the late 1960s under the Gorton government. The industry had enjoyed bipartisan support for decades, but the proposed changes could have threatened its very existence. But now, that bipartisanship appears to have been restored.
Littleproud acknowledges the work of people across the political spectrum, singling out Labor’s Tony Burke for his efforts (the Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young has also been a staunch advocate for the industry).
“No matter which side is in government,” adds Littleproud, “this now is a legacy that we should all be custodians of, to make sure we nurture and preserve our storytelling into the future.”
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Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.