SAG backs Oz industry against U.S. trade plan

Rush warns against pact at public rally

SYDNEY — The Screen Actors Guild has joined the campaign of its Aussie counterpart to get the Australian Senate to vote down the U.S.-Australia free-trade agreement.

The pact should be rejected because it “unnecessarily restricts Australia’s ability to formulate and adopt policies necessary to support social and cultural objectives on free-to-air multichannelling, subscription television and new-media and digital audiovisual services,” SAG and Australia’s Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance said in a joint statement Monday.

The release followed a public rally Sunday at Sydney’s Parramatta Park, where thesps warned that the free-trade agreement could lead to a flood of cheap U.S. shows and less Australian content. Geoffrey Rush told the gathering, “It’s not a free-trade agreement if it costs us our culture.”

Oz’s Democratic and Green parties oppose the trade pact and Simon Whipp, national director of the alliance’s Equity division, said the campaign hopes to persuade the Labor Party and independents to join them in voting down the measure in the Senate.

Whipp said he expects the legislation to go to Parliament in August, although there is strong speculation in political circles that the government may hold national elections that month.

Whipp accused Prime Minister Howard’s administration of surrendering to Hollywood’s wishes in that the pact will set limits on local content quotas for terrestrial and pay TV. His worry is that “our stories won’t be told, our accent won’t be heard and our country won’t be seen.”

The actors alliance has called on the government to adopt the same terms as the trade agreement negotiated with Singapore, which retains Australia’s right to determine, alter and potentially strengthen cultural regulation.

Communications and arts minister Daryl Williams has insisted the U.S. agreement does ensure the government will retain the power to regulate for local content in existing and new forms of media.