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Oz industry nervous about election

Australians go to the polls March 13, and much of the country’s entertainment industry is jittery about the outcome. If the ruling Labor Party is voted out, the incoming Liberal/National Party coalition will lop around $ A 100 million ($ 67.5 million) from arts funding, public broadcasting and film subsidies.

The highly conservative coalition also plans to slap a 15% tax on consumer goods and services (GST), which would force price hikes for cinema tickets and video rentals, among other things.

By all accounts the election will be close, but recent polls predict the end of Labor’s 10-year reign.

Over the last decade, the ruling party has taken a generous approach to arts allocation in the belief that such funding is a long-term cultural investment. Prime Minister Paul Keating is arguably the first chief executive in years to take a hands-on interest in the arts: As treasurer, he personally greenlighted the establishment of the Film Finance Commission in 1988.

The opposition parties clearly plan to put funding for the arts under a microscope. Liberal leader John Hewson has detailed $ 29 million worth of immediate cuts to the arts. (Some $ 177 million was allocated by Labor for ’93.)

The Film Finance Commission, the main source of investment for the industry, reportedly would be cut from the next financial year to $ A47 million ($ 32 million) annually, representing a drop of $ 6.8 million in 1993-94.

Film Australia, the government’s production house, would probably be privatized, while funding for the Australian Film Commission, the main funder of small-budget pix, would be kept at current levels.

The opposition’s arts minister, Sen. Michael Baume, wants to increase private investment in production and streamline fundraising provisions.

Cuts are also expected on other fronts, with the biggest hit to be taken by public broadcasting. The Aussie Broadcasting Corp. and Special Broadcasting Service would have their budgets slashed 10%, a combined savings of around $ 41 million.

The ABC’s board has yet to decide how those cuts would be made, but a senior ABC exec says high-cost areas such as program production would be in the front ranks. The ABC had planned to make up to 120 hours of Oz drama over the next year.

As for the GST, the industry is “certainly nervous” about a further expense to the consumer coming on top of a recession, says a senior policy adviser to Keating.

One lobby group, Arts Action, has just released a study that concludes the tax will be “disastrous” for the sector. The arts wouldn’t be able to take advantage of offsetting tax benefits that would help other industries cope with the GST levy, the report argues.

Concern over GST has led to the formation of the Arts for Labor movement, with reps from all areas of the industry; it’s staging a gala concert Sunday as a platform for Keating to deliver his arts policy.

Michael Gordon-Smith, exec director of the Screen Production Assn. of Australia, the main film producers’ guild, said, “The industry is already pared to the bone. You can’t cut back any more and maintain quality.”

The government’s sudden decision to favor satellite delivery over microwave for future pay-TV services has angered at least one constituency.

Steve Cosser, who owns the only microwave licenses in Sydney and Melbourne, claims the government’s stance has destroyed 4,000 new jobs and $ 136 million worth of investment. The coalition’s policy on pay-TV is as yet undefined.

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