GOLD COAST, Queensland–The Australian government will introduce tougher measures to combat burgeoning DVD and Internet piracy, according to Communications and Arts Minister Richard Alston.

And Alston indicated for the first time the government’s willingness to extend the 12.5% tax credit for big budget films lensed Down Under to international TV series if the local industry makes a compelling case.

Addressing the Australian Intl. Movie Convention Friday, Alston said that during ongoing negotiations for a free trade agreement between the U.S. and Australia, both sides stressed the importance of working together to combat Internet piracy.

But he strongly implied the trade pact, unlike those the U.S. has signed with Chile and Singapore, would not permit unlicensed importing of videos from the U.S. (The government already allows unlimited importing of CDs and computer software but it specifically excludes filmed entertainment products).

Alston said he’s evaluating proposals from the Australian Film Industry Coalition aimed at strengthening the Copyright Act in several ways including giving courts sentencing guidelines in dealing with offenders; fine-tuning the laws against hacking; and making it easier to prove ownership of copyright.

The Coalition also wants closer co-operation between Internet Service Providers and distribs to identify people hawking films on the Net.

After his speech, Alston told Daily Variety the government will move “pretty quickly” to amend the legislation after the changes have been approved by cabinet.

Mike Ellis, who heads the Motion Picture Assn.’s anti-piracy ops in Asia/Pacific, warned the convention that Internet piracy could grow faster Down Under than in any other country as broadband penetration expands.

Ellis said the MPA’s planned anti-piracy office, the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT), will launch civil prosecutions against offenders, and file-swapping services will be on its hit list. He did not refer to people who download movies but it would not be surprising if AFACT eventually targets individuals.

At a media conference, Alston was asked why the government hasn’t responded to a concerted industry campaign for the tax rebate for films to be extended to series that spend at least $650,000 per episode.

Alston noted there’s a general downturn in TV drama production worldwide as reality shows are popular, and argued “you can’t assume TV productions are going elsewhere just because” the Oz rebate doesn’t apply to series.

Informed by one reporter that many execs are convinced this country is losing series to Canada and other countries which do offer such incentives, Alston said, “We will look at the industry’s case and if we’re convinced we would go down that track.”