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Arts – Wild Things

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Arts, Freedom of Speech

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I am going to take you back to the funding agreement between Screen Tasmania and the production company that made Wild Things, 360 Degree Films. The agreement doesn't include the ability for government to approve the documentary once it is complete and the funding is provided to assist with the making of the film, as you know. There are assessment criteria.

On 17 September, when you were questioned about the Wild Things, an environmental protest film produced by Screen Time - and, I might say, questioned by Labor here in what I thought was a shocking politicisation of the arts - you maintained that Screen Tasmania's funding assessment criteria would remain as they are at present relating to the economic benefits of each project and, quote -

at arms-length from political decision-making which is appropriate, fair and impartial.

The following day, however, you stated in a media release you'd asked the assessment process to be reviewed to ensure that, quote 'illegal activities are not promoted or endorsed'.

Minister, will the Government or you make your position clear and confirm either there will be potentially be interference in the funding assessment for future art projects if they have environmental matters at their heart, or that you will continue to uphold the independence of the arts?

Ms ARCHER - I will continue to uphold the independence of the arts. The Government has made that decision. I have reviewed the guidelines. I have taken advice on the guidelines and for the benefit of members I can say there is the classifications system which is a national system. This deals with classifications based on things like violence and other classifications you are all used to seeing when you are about to watch a film.

The arts are very subjective. The watching of a film is a subjective process and the classification scheme is there so you can have at least some knowledge of violence, sex, swearing - those sorts of things. What it is not for is for political interference beyond that, or censorship, exactly. So, no political censorship.

People don't have to like the content of things. In fact, you can really dislike it - I know our Government is uncomfortable with the subject matter of the Wild Things documentary, for obvious reasons and we don't resile from that fact - but, it is really important in the arts, we maintain an independent process of assessment and that when I'm provided with a recommendation, I don't deviate and utilise a discretion that is not unfettered. What I mean by that in legal terms is that if I chose to reject a recommendation of the specialist panel, I would have to have very good grounds to do so. In other words, they deviated from the guidelines themselves. On this occasion they didn't. I took their recommendation and I will continue to take their recommendation, because they are an independent expert panel there to be apolitical to assist matters, based on the guidelines.

The investment program is largely an economic one for the benefit of employment and the return on investment to Tasmania. There is a certain threshold they have to reach - I think it's a 3:1 ratio of return. We invested $50 000 in this area and it was just over $150 000 return. These are economic decisions.

The guidelines prevent promotion of something that - and I will get the correct wording for the benefit of members, because a lot of this gets misconstrued. What we don't fund under the guidelines of projects solely intended for corporate curriculum-based education, training or promotional purposes. There has been some commentary this is some training video for recruitment of protesters. I don't advocate unlawful protests. We do believe, however, in free speech and lawful activity. We don't resile from our position on the workplace protestors bill we have before the other place where there is unlawful activity around protests. But, for the purpose of arts funding and the subjective nature, it is up to the individual to decide what they watch. I am satisfied that this is not a promotional film. It is a film that it should be noted is not narrated and doesn't seek to do anything other than be a documentary, whether I like the subject matter or not.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I am interested in your thought processes after Labor asked that highly offensive question that was urging you towards censorship and you defended the process, but the next day you said that you would ask for a review of the assessment process. After you initially said you would support the current funding assessment process, on 17 September, your colleague Mr Barnett told parliament the Government and the minister would review Screen Tasmania's guidelines 'to make sure dangerous and illegal activities cannot be promoted or endorsed'. Following this you had a slight change of position in terms of reviewing the process. Can you explain your thinking behind deciding to announce a review of the process? I am also interested in your commentary on questions from members of parliament that urge censorship.

Ms ARCHER - I think the review was a worthwhile exercise because I was able to review and reinform myself that I was making the right decision in law. It was insinuated that I had made this decision and I shouldn't have, and I think it was Ms Butler who asked those questions.

Ms O'CONNOR - I remember it was Dr Broad.

Ms BUTLER - Chair, I am being misrepresented here. It was not me who asked those questions.

Ms O'CONNOR - It was Dr Broad.

Ms ARCHER - That's right, it was Dr Broad but you were cheering him on. I apologise, Ms Butler, but you were cheering him on.

CHAIR - She just apologised, Ms Butler, which is as good as you are getting.

Ms ARCHER - I know that the arts community was terribly disappointed in their so called arts representative because of how they politicised the arts in the way they did for pure political gain. Mr Barnett and our Government strongly support the forestry industry so it is uncomfortable when the Government through Screen Tasmania funds that type of activity. It should not deviate from the fact that we have an independent process and that is in place so that there is not political interference or censorship of the arts or indeed our screen industry. Following the review I satisfied myself that a lot of films contain unlawful activity; in fact the subject matter of a lot of films is just that and they can often be educational in nature of informing people that, for example, drugs can kill. There is a message that you often see in films.

Most of what we fund by way of film and television may not actually make it to getting funding. For example, some of our really popular programs like Rosehaven, where they stole a pig in an episode, and The Gloaming is about murder and intrigue and all those other things, so we would never be able to fund anything so to base it on that is not an acceptable criteria under the guidelines.