2 March 1927

10th Parliament · 1st Session

The Senate met at 3 p.m., pursuant to the notification of the President.

The Clerk. - I have received an intimation from the President (Senator the Hon. J. Newlands) that, owing to illhealth, he will be unable to take the chair this afternoon. Under the Standing Orders of the Senate, the Chairman of Committees, as Deputy President, will preside.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Plain) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

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Motion (by SenatorPearce) - (By leave) - agreed to -

That one month’s leave of absence be granted to the President (Senator the Hon. J. Newlands) on account of ill-health.

Senator PEARCE:
Vice-President of the Executive Council [3.3]. - (By leave. · Western Australia · NAT

– I move -

That during the leave of absence on account of ill-health, granted this day to the President, the Chairman of Committees shall take the chair of the Senate as Deputy President, and may perform the duties and exercisethe powers of the President during suchabsence

This motion, if agreed to, will render it unnecessary for the Clerk to announce each day the absence of the President.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (Senator Plain). - I have to inform the Senate that during the recess the death occurred of Mr. William Senior, for some years a representative of the State of South Australia in the Senate. On behalf of honorable senators, the President took steps to convey to Mrs. Senior his own and their deep sympathy with her in the loss of her husband.

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Senator FINDLEY:

-I should like the Leader of the Government in the Senate to tell me how many industries have been established by the Development and Migration Commission, and if the Commissioners have yet made the discovery of that priceless and nameless mineral which Senator Pearce said awaited their appointment.

Question not answered.

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Mail Handlingappliances, Sydney

Senator BARNES brought up the report of the Parliamentary Standing Com mittee on Public Works, together with minutes of evidence, relating to the proposed installation of mail handling appliances at the General Post Office, Sydney.

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Senator THOMAS:

– I should like to ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council if it is a fact that the Senate is now to be honoured by having four Ministers instead of three?

Senator PEARCE:

– I have a statement to make on that matter a little later.

Later -

Senator PEARCE:
Vice-President of the Executive Council · Western Australia · NAT

(By leave.) - I desire to inform the Senate that Senator Alexander John McLachlan was appointed an Honorary Minister on the 29th August last.

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Senator PEARCE:
Vice-President of the Executive Council [3.9]. - (By leave. · Western Australia · NAT

– I desire to make a statement regarding the business which Parliament will be asked to consider during the next few weeks of the sitting in Melbourne. The mam business will be the bill for the termination of the per capita payments. That bill is now before another place, and presumably a week or so will elapse before it reaches this chamber. The other measures are machinery bills, which are necessary but are not of a very important character, and probably will not occupy much of the time of the Senate. It is intended, however, to give both chambers an opportunity to discuss the resolutions of the Imperial Conference. To that end I shall submit later a paper, and move that it be printed, a motion which will enable discussion to take place on those resolutions. It is also intended, in the same way, r.o give the Senate an opportunity to discuss the work done at the last meeting if the Assembly of the League of Nations.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell:

– On what days is the Senate likely to be sitting this week?

Senator PEARCE:

– That is for honorable senators to say; but having regard ro the business that will occupy our attention, I do not think it will be necessary for the Senate to meet next week We should be able to deal with whatever business there is this week, and then we shall have to adjourn until the other branch of the legislature has disposed of the principal bill, which is the main business for which the Parliament has now been called together.

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Royal Commissioner Appointed

Minister for Home and Territories · Queensland · NAT

[3.12].- (By leave)- Early last year certain areas on the Edie Creek in the Morobe District of New Guinea were applied for as dredging and sluicing leases, and the applications were subsequently approved by the Administrator. Opposition by the miners of the district to the granting of these leases has been more or less continuously manifested ever since the leases were first applied for. The principal complaints of the miners were that the ground covered by the leases was of a rich alluvial nature suitable only for working by box and dish, that it was totally unsuitable for the application of dredging and sluicing methods, and that the granting of the leases had locked up in the hands of four individuals an area that could have been profitably worked by many times that number of miners as ordinary claims. Reports have been furnished by the Administrator of New Guinea in regard to the various phases of the matter, and these, together with the representations made by the miners, have been considered by the Government. Having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the Government has deemed it advisable to appoint a. Royal Commissioner to investigate the complaints that have been made, and Mr. P. B. MacGregor, a barrister, of Brisbane, has been appointed for the purpose. The terms of the reference to the Royal Commissioner are as follow : -

Know ye that we do by these Our Letters Patent, issued in Our name by Our GovernorGeneral of Our Commonwealth of Australia, acting with the advice of Our Federal Executive Council, and in pursuance of the Constitution of Our said Commonwealth, the Royal Commissions Act 1902-1912, and all other powers him thereunto enabling, appoint you to he a Commissioner to inquire into and re- port upon all matters connected with the applications for, and the granting by the Administrator of New Guinea, of four Dredging and Sluicing Leases on the Edie Creek in the District of Morobe, of the Territory of New Guinea, on or about the 8th July, 1926, in the names of William George Royal, Arthur Frank Chisholm, Albert Alfred Royal, and Richard M’ervin Glasson respectively, and, without limiting the generality of the above reference, in particular to inquire and report upon the following questions, namely: -

Whether the area, or any substantial part thereof, included within the leases is alluvial, suitable for working as claims;

Whether reasonable and proper steps were taken by the Administrator and his officers to satisfy themselves as to the nature of the ground applied for by the said lessees, and its suitability for working as claims or by dredging and sluicing methods;

Whether flue care and diligence were exercised by the Administrator and his officers in dealing with and determining the applications for the said leases, and in considering the representations made to them in regard thereto by persons other than the applicants;

Whether, regard being had to the nature of the ground covered by the said leases and to all the circumstances connected with the applications for the leases, the granting of the dredging and sluicing leases in respect of that ground was a reasonable and judicious exercise of the powers conferred upon the Administrator by the Mining Ordinance of the Territory of New Guinea; and further to inquire into and report upon the question whether, having regard to all the circumstances, reasonable provision was made for the administration of the Edie Creek locality after the reported discovery of gold, and in particular for the medical requirements of Europeans and natives on the fields.

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The following papers were presented : -

Commonwealth Bank Act - Aggregate Balance-sheet of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, 30th June, 1926, together with Statement of Liabilities and Assets of the Note Issue Department; and AuditorGeneral’s Reports thereon.

Audit Act - Finance - Treasurer’s Statement of Receipts and Expenditure, during the year ended 30th June, 1920, accompanied by the Report of the Auditor-General.

International Labour Conference -

Draft Convention and Recommendation adopted by the Conference at its Eighth Session, Geneva, 26th May to 5th June, 1926.

Draft Conventions and Recommendations adopted by the Convention at its Ninth Session, Geneva, 7 th to 14th June, 1926.

League of Nations - Slavery Convention, Geneva, 25th September, 1926.

National Insurance -Royal Commission - Second Progress Report - Unemployment. Third Progress Report - Destitute Allowances.

Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. -

No. 28 of 1926 - Australian Workers Union, and Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia.

No. 29 of 1926- Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.

No. 30 of 1926- Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia.

No. 31 of 1926 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.

No. 32 of 1926- Commonwealth Telephone Officers Association.

No. 33 of 1926 - Fourth Division Officers Association of the Trade and Customs Department.

No. 35 of 1926- Australian Postal Electricians Union.

No. 37 of 1926- Fourth Division Officers Association of the Trade and Customs Department.

No. 38 of 1926 - Australian Telegraphists and Clerical Assistants Union.

No. 39 of 1926 - Common Rule re Sick Leave.

No. 40 of 1926 - Arms, Explosives, and Munition Workers Federation of Australia.

No. 41 of 1926 - Arms, Explosives, and Munition Workers Federation of Australia, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and the Australasian Society of Engineers.

No. 42 of 1926 - Commonwealth Medical Officers Association.

No. 43 of 1926 - Commonwealth Temporary Clerks Association.

No. 45 of 1926- Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia.

No. 46 of 1926-Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia.

Nos. 47 and 48 of 1926 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.

Nos. 49 and 50 of 1926 - Commonwealth Storemen and Packers Union of Australia.

No. 51 of 1926 - Commonwealth Storemen and Packers Union of Australia.

No. 52 of 1926 - Commonwealth Foremen’s Association.

No. 53 of 1926 - Arms, Explosives, and Munition Workers Federation of Australia.

Audit Act -

Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 186 and 189.

Transfers of amounts approved by the Governor-General in Council -

Financial year 1925-26 - Dated 1st December, 1926; dated 17th December, 1926.

Financial year J 926-27 - Dated 25th January, 1927.

Entertainments Tax Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 187.

High Court Procedure Act -Rule of Court - Dated 15th November, 1926.

Income Tax Assessment Act - Regulations amended- Statutory Rules 1926, No. 191.

Inscribed Stock Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 165; 1927, No. 4.

Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act - RegulationsStatutory Rules 1926, No. 178.

Maternity Allowance Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 172.

National Debt Sinking Fund Act - National Debt Commission - Third Annual Report, year ended 30th June, 1926.

Public Service Act -

Appointments -

Attorney-General’s Department - T. D. Leaper, G. F. Thomas.

Health Department - C. Stanley, D. D. Coutts, A. B. Lilley, E. MacKinnon, T. R. Pearce.

Home and Territories Department - A. J. Higgs.

Postmaster -General’s Department - C. V. C. Chandler.

Works and Railways Department - G. A. Rittinger, G. Hastie, L. M. Jordan, P. R. Fray, J. A. Grant, W. W. E. Gray, E. Smith, G. A. Rittinger ( re-appointment ) .

List of Permanent Officers of the Commonwealth Public Service as on 30th June, 1926.

Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 105, 108, 110, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 136. 137, 138. 147, 158, 160, 194.

Third Report on the Commonwealth Public Service by the Board of Commissioners, dated 30th September, 1926.

Science and Industry Research Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 125.

Superannuation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, No.188.

Treaty of Peace (Germany) Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 140, 164, 192, 193.

War Precautions Act ReDeal Act - RegulationsStatutoryRules 1926, No. 190.

Electoral - Statistical Returns in relation to the Submission to the Electors of Proposed Laws for the Alteration of the Constitution, entitled: - (1) Constitution Alteration (Industry and Commerce) 1926; (2) Constitution Alteration (Essential Services) 1926; together with Summaries of Referendums, 1906-1926.

Federal Capital -Reports of the Federal Capital Commission to the Minister for Home and Territories for the quarters ended 30th June, 30th September, and 31st December, 1926, respectively.

Papuan Oil-fields- - Monthly Reports for June, July, and August, 1926.

Defence Act -

Regulations amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 120, 121, 139, 143,144, 145, 148, 153, 162, 167, 168, 174, 179. 209, 210, 211; 1927, Nos. 5, 6, 7. Royal Military College of Australia - Report for year 1925-26. Defence Retirement Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Bules 1926, No. 161.

Electoral Act - Regulations (Joint Electoral Rolls)- Statutory Rules 1927, No 13.

Electoral Act and Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act - Regulations amended -Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 113, 117, 201.

Meteorology Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, 204.

Nationality Act - Return showing the number of persons to whom Certificates of Naturalization were granted during the year 1926, and the countries whence the applicants came.

Naval Defence Act - Regulations amended, &c-Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 112, 122, 123, 124, 126, 127, 154, 173,. 180, 181, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 207.

New Guinea Act -

Ordinances of 1926 -

No. 18- Supply (No. 1) 1926-27.

No. 19 - Supply (No. 2) 1926-27.

No. 20 - Appropriation (No. 2) 1925- 26.

No. 21 - Mining.

No. 22 - Expropriation (No. 2).

No. 23- Supply (No. 3) 1926-27.

No. 24 - Uncontrolled Areas.

No. 25- Mining (No. 2).

No. 26- Supply (No. 4) 1926-27.

No. 27 - Printers and Newspapers.

Ordinances of 1927 -

No. 1 - Land.

No. 2 - Police Force.

No. 3 - Claims by and against the administration.

No. 4 - Appropriation.

No. 5 -Mining.

Norfolk Island Act -

Ordinances of 1926 -

No. 6 - Executive Council.

No. 7 - Justices Validation.

Northern Territory Acceptance Act and

Northern Territory (Administration) Act-

Crown Lands Ordinance -


Reasons for resumption of reserve at Darwin, together with plan showing area resumed.

Ordinances of 1926 -

No. 21- Public Service (No. 2).

No. 22 - Bank Holidays.

No. 23 - Birds Protection (No. 2).

No. 24 - Jury.

Ordinance of 1927 - No. 1 - Crown Lands.

Northern Territory Representation Act and Commonwealth Electoral Act - Regulations amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 170, 200.

Papua Act -

Ordinances of 1926 -

No. 3 - Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement).

No. 4 - Companies.

No. 5 - Samarai Electric Light and Power.

No.6- Appropriation 1926-27.

No. 7 - Appropriation (No. 1) 1925- 26.

No. 8 - Mineral Oil and Coal.

No. 9 - Superannuation.

No. 10 - Land..

Infirm and Destitute Natives’ Accounts - Statement of transactions of the Trustees for the year ended 30th June, 1920.

Scat of Government (Administration) Act - Variation of plan of lay-out of the City of Canberra and its environs- Order dated 13th December, 1926, signed by Minister of State for Home and Territories.

Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act -

Ordinances of 1926 -

No. 11 - Church of England Lands.

No. 13 - Hawkers.

No. 14 - Lotteries and Art Unions.

No. 15- Motor Traffic.

No. 16 - Provisional Government (No. 2).

No. 17 - Gun Licence.

No. 18 - City Area Leases (No. 3).

No. 19 - Industrial Board (No. 2).

No. 20 - Trespass on Commonwealth Lands.

No. 21- Billiard Saloon.

No. 22 - Trading Hours.

Ordinance of 1927 -

No. 1 - Provisional Government.

Export Guarantee Act -Returns showing Assistance granted up to 31st December, 1926.

Iron and Steel Products Bounty Act - Statement, dated February, 1927, setting out reasons for allowing the use of certain imported materials in manufactures (Traction Engines) on which bounty is payable.

Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at - Melbourne, Victoria - For Postal purposes.

Onslow, Western Australia - For Customs purposes.

Perenjori, Western Australia - For Postal purposes.

Pithara, Western Australia - For Postal purposes.

Sandy Bay, Tasmania - For Postal purposes.

Sydenham, New South Wales - For Postal purposes.

Toowoomba, Queensland. - For Defence purposes.

Urayarra, Federal Capital Territory - For Federal Capital purposes.

Willoughby, New South Wales - For Defence purposes.

Woodside, South Australia - For Defence purposes.

Yenda, New South Wales - For Postal purposes.

Papua and New Guinea Bounties Act - RegulationsStatutory Rules 1926, No. 183.

Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 115, 116, 141, 142, 146, 150, 157; 1927, No. 9.

Railways Act -

By-laws - Nos. 40, 41, 42.

Report, with Appendices, on Common wealth Railways, 1925-26.

River Murray Waters Act - River Murray Commission - Report for the year 1925-26.

Spirits Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 202.

War Service Homes Act -

Land acquired in New South Wales at Keiraville, Neutral Bay, South Randwick.

Particulars of an amendment of an arrangement by the War Service Homes Commissioner with the State of Western Australia, dated the 17th May, 1926.

Wireless Telegraphy Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 114; 1927, No. 3.

Beer Excise Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 184.

Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 166.

Cotton Bountv Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 151.

Customs Act -

Proclamations prohibiting exportation (except under certain conditions) of - Cinematograph Films (dated 9th September, 1926).

Opium. &c. (dated 20th November, 1926).

Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, Nos. 119, 203.

Distillation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 206.

Export Guarantee Act - Returns showing Assistance granted up to 3 1st December, 1926.

Papua and New Guinea Bounties Act - RegulationsStatutory Rules 1926, No. 183.

Spirits Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1926, No. 402.

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Assent to the following bills of 1926 reported : -

Judiciary Bill.

Canned Fruits Export Control Bill.

Canned Fruits Export Charges Bill.

Invalid and Old-age Pensions Appropriation Bill.

War Pensions Appropriation Bill.

Invalid and Old-ape Pensions Bill.

Customs Tariff Bill (No. 2).

War Service Homes Bill.

Maternity Allowance Bill.

Income Tax Bill.

Land Tax Assessment Bill.

Cotton Bounty Bill.

Appropriation’ Bill 1926-27.

Federal Aid Roads Bill.

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Debate resumed from 5th August, 1926 (vide page 4931), on motion by Senator Grant -

That in the opinion of the Senate a Royal Commission with power to send for persons and papers and to move from place to place should be appointed to inquire into and report upon the moving picture industry in Australia.

Senator PEARCE:
Western AustraliaVicePresident of the Executive Council · NAT

– On the 5th August, 1926, Senator Grant submitted a motion for the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the moving picture industry generally, and in doing so delivered a very informative speech, which showed that he had devoted considerable time to the study of the subject. At different times other honorable senators have also expressed strong opinions in regard to the operations of the moving picture industry in Australia. The Government, which has now had time to give attention to the terms of the motion, has also been considering some of the facts, and it would be as well if I supplemented the figures submitted by Senator Grant on the 5th August, 1926, which were then the latest available, by others showing the present position of the industry. The following facts have been suppliedby the Department of Trade and Customs: -

During the year 1926 there were imported into the Commonwealth 1,960 films of all classes - scenic, topical, educational, medical, commercial, and dramatic. The details of the importations are -

It will be seen that more than threefourths of the films imported into Australia were the product of the United States of America -

The length of each reel is approximately 1,000 feet, and as several copies of a film arc usually imported, the total number of feet of film imported was -

The figures previously given refer only to one copy -

Of these films 697 were dramatic or feature films of five reels and over. They were imported in the following numbers, with respect to the country of origin.

It will thus be seen that the United States of America supplies Australia with 93 per cent, of its feature-film requirements. This applies to practically the whole of the British Empire. This state of affairs is due in great part to the advantage American producers enjoyby reason of the enormous home market available to th em.The average weekly attendance at picture theatres in the United States of America is 50,000,000, or half the annual attendances at Australian cinemas.

One-half as many people attend pictures in America in one week as do in Australia in a year.

Thus the American film can earn its profits in the domesticmarket, and is sent abroad to gather in whatever else it can. The British or Australian film, however, has only a very limited field. The number of theatres in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States of America may be taken as 3,000, 1,200, and 15,000 respectively. It will be seen that even if a British or Australian picture got into every home theatre existing, it has little chance of making the same profit as the American film that is shown in only one out of three American theatres. The position is really worse by reason of the “ block booking “ system, as Senator Grant points out, many British and Australian films are precluded from exhibition in any shape or form.

I have also before me the latest report of the Chief Film Censor and the Commonwealth Censor, stationed in Sydney, who censors all films imported into Australia. In this report there are some very interesting points which I should like to bring before the Senate. I shall not quote the figures in his report, which have been given in that which I have just read from the Trade and Customs Department. Dealing with the result of his work, the Censor says -

These 1,960 films- the number I quoted from the previous report - were dealt with in the following manner: -

As many of these films were scenic or topical pictures of one ortwo reels, whereas it is the dramatic films of five reels and over, forming the bulk of the imports, with which the censorship has mostly to do, the work of the censorship is best understood by having regard not to the number of films, but to the number of reels and feet. The figures are : -

The films which chiefly concern the censorship are, as we have said, the feature or dramatic films. Of these 697 were imported in the following numbers with respect to the country of origin . -

The Censor in his report then proceeds to show what is done with rejected films, and goes on to make this comparison -

In 1925, 721 picture films were imported. Of those, 322 were passed without eliminations, 331 after eliminations, and 68 were rejected in the first instance. It will be noted that the number of rejected films has increased, while the number passed after eliminations has decreased. This result follows on the censorship’s policy to reject outright films which are radically bad rather than to attempt to amend them.

He makes some very interesting comments on the present system of conducting the censorship, and expresses some opinions as to what he thinks should be done in dealing with films. I shall quote only one of his statements in this connexion : -

It is just as well to speak plainly on these matters. We have been told recently that we put the producers to much needless expense, and that the methods we adopt are not “ good business.” It is necessary, therefore, to make the position quite clear. What we would plead for is a little more refinement and less’ vulgarity. Assuredly, there are many films which give the highest form of enjoyment presenting a good story, dramatically handled, well acted, and beautifully photographed. But there are too many which have none of these virtues. It is the business of criticism to endeavour to reduce their number.

In this connexion, it may be said that the practice of showing two feature films a night has not a little to do with the multiplication and importation of mediocre films. In by far the greater number of Australian picture theatres the nightly programme includes two features. The first feature shown is invariably of the cheapest kind, and does much to destroy any interest that the main attraction may have.

The purport of the remaining comments is that, in striving to make a film interesting, those who produce it are, apparently, of the opinion that they have to make it what is vulgarly termed “ spicy.” Very often, the good story which the film depicts is spoiled in this way. Moreover, there is a general tendency to appeal to the sex instinct, particularly in dramatic films, those who produce them apparently believing that there can be no real appeal to the dramatic tastes of the people in any other way. Unfortunately, such pictures are generally associated with the lowest form of sex appeal. The Censor points out that pictures in which women who have been made the victims of men’s passions are shown are generally presented in such a way that, instead of inciting pity for the victims, they appeal to the lowest sex instincts of those attending the theatres. The difficulty confronting the Censor is that he cannot say definitely that such pictures are immoral. It is rather that they are vulgar. Yet the effect on the community, and especially on the younger generation, cannot be anything but harmful. That is a serious thing for any community. The vogue of the cinema is so universal, and the pictures make such a strong appeal .to th’i younger life of the community that no country can afford to allow the moral sense of its future fathers and mothers to ,be thus sapped or injured. This matter is,

There is another phase of this question to which Senator Guthrie has devoted particular attention - the use of the film for purposes’ of propaganda. Personally, I have no objection to any country using picture films for that purpose; and, therefore, I do not share the views of those who have denounced picture producers in the United States of America for what is called the “ American boost “ in their pictures. Those producers have a. perfect right, if they so desire, to boost their own country.

Senator Duncan:

– The pictures are produced in the first instance for exhibition in the United States of America.

Senator PEARCE:

– Yes. We must cot overlook the fact that, in the first instance, those pictures are produced to meet the demands of the home market of over 110,000,000 people in the United States of America. Australia, with her 6,000,000 people, receives only the spillover, as it were. I do not think that we are wise to indulge in a tirade of abuse against the producers of pictures in the United States of America. They are following the commercial instinct, and appealing to the home market of their own people.

Senator Ogden:

Senator Guthrie urged that there should be a greater production of Empire films.

Senator PEARCE:

– We can endeavour to stimulate Australian production without attacking the American films which come here. They come to Australia because there is a market for them here. When we realize the powerful propaganda which the cinema makes possible, and the insignificant proportion of British films exhibited in Australia, it behoves us, not to abuse the Americans, but to do something in the British Empire. In criticizing and denouncing other people when we have the same capacity that they have to produce these things within the British Empire we are wasting our time and beating the air. Within the British Empire is a variety of scenery unequalled by that of any other country. Moreover, in historical associations the Empire is unrivalled. Tho historical associations of the British Isles, India, the East and tie West Indies, Australia, New Zealand,

Senator Sampson:

– And awful travesties they were !

Senator PEARCE:

– English literature teems with examples of the home life of the Empire which, if put into films, would be both educational and interesting.

Senator THOMAS:

– A film depicting Oodnadatta, for instance, would be most interesting.

Senator PEARCE:

– The country surrounding Oodnadatta is as suitable for the making of a film as are the deserts of Arizona. Central Australia provides a setting for a film quite as good as the scenes depicted in many of the films shown in this country. Moreover, into such films could be interwoven happenings as dramatic as any of the exploits of “ Bill “ Hart. Unfortunately, although these opportunities exist, we do not exploit them; nothing is done. This subject has excited interest throughout the British Empire. At the Imperial Conference of 1926 it was discussed. In the appendix to the Summary of Proceedings the following statement appears on page 403 : -

The general economic sub-committee beg to make the following report to the Imperial Conference on the subject of the exhibition within the Empire of Empire cinematograph films: -

The importance and far-reaching influence of the cinema are now generally recognized. The cinema is not merely a form of entertainment, but, in addition, a powerful instrument of education in the widest sense of that term; and even where it is not used avowedly for the purpose of instruction, advertisement, or propaganda, it exercises indirectly a great influence in shaping the ideas of the very large numbers to whom it appeals. Its potentialities in this respect are almost unlimited.

Then we have the further statement -

It is a matter of the most serious concern that the films shown in the various parts of the Empire should be to such an overwhelming extent the product of foreign countries, ana that the arrangements for the distribution of such Umpirefilms as are produced should be far from adequate. In foreigncinema pictures the conditions in the several parts of the Empire and the habits of its peoples, even when represented at all, are not always represented faithfully, and at times are misrepresented.

I think we all indorse that -

Moreover, it is an undoubted fact that the constant showing of foreign scenes or settings, and the absence of any corresponding showing of Empire scenes or settings, powerfully advertises - the more effectively because indirectly - foreign countries and their products.

On page 405 the report proceeds -

Great importance is attached by the subcommittee to the larger production within the Empire offilms of high entertainment value and films of sound educational merit, and their exhibition throughout the Empire and the rest of the worldon an increasing scale. The subcommittee have considered various methods by means of which it has been suggested this object could be most usefully assisted by the Governments of the various parts of the Empire. These methods include: -

Effective Customs duties on foreign films, whether accompanied by a change in the basis on which duties are payable or otherwise;

Ample preference or free entry for films produced within the Empire;

Legislation for the prevention of “ blind “ and “block” booking;

The imposition of requirements as to the renting or exhibition of a minimum quota of Empire films.

The sub-committee are in full agreement as to the need for remedying the existing position and promoting the production and exhibition of Empire films, and recommend that remedial measures of the kinds indicated in the preceding paragraph should be considered by the Governments of the Empire.

The sub-committee recommended the following resolution, to which the conference subsequently agreed: -

The Imperial Conference, recognizing that it is of the greatest importance that a larger and increasing proportion of the films exhibited throughout the Empire should be of Empire production, commends the matter, and the remedial measures proposed, to the consideration of the Governments of the various parts of the Empire, with a view to such early and effective action to deal with the serious situation now existing as they may severally find possible.

The Commonwealth Government has taken into consideration the various speeches which have been delivered in Australia, indicating the local feeling which has become general, and also the report of the sub-committee of the Imperial Conference and the resolution which I have just read, and it feels that it is essential that an effort should be made in Australia to ascertain the lines upon which the Commonwealth could proceed to carry into effect what is universally desired. The subject is by no means an easy one to handle.It needs the fullest consideration. All interests concerned should be afforded the opportunity to submit their views - not only the importers, but also those who claim that they can produce films locally.

Senator THOMAS:

– The general public should also be considered.

Senator PEARCE:

– That is so. With that end in view the Government has come to the conclusion that the time is ripe for, and that the subject is worthy of, the appointment of a royal commission. If the Senate passes this motion,we shall take it as a direction for the appointment of a royal commission, which will almost certainly be of a parliamentary character, to investigate and report to the Governor-General upon the situation as it exists to-day, and upon the means by which remedies can be applied.

Senator DUNCAN:
New South Wales

– Honorable senators will welcome the announcement just made by Senator Pearce, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, that it is the intention of the Government, if this motion is carried, to appoint a royal commission to inquire into this very important subject. The fact that the Imperial Conference, which has so many matters of vast importance to consider, held that the cinema, as well as the general production of films within the Empire, was of sufficient importance to warrant the appointment of a subcommittee to inquire into the subject, should warrant the Commonwealth in taking action on similar lines, although, necessarily, our action must be restricted in scope to Australia and its immediate surroundings.It is natura] to suppose that the Imperial Conference and its sub-committee viewed the matter from the Imperial stand-point more than from the stand-point of those who view or produce films within the Empire. 1 feel certain that every honorable senator is anxious that more Empire films should be produced and shown in the theatres of the Empire, whether it be in Great Britain itself or in the Dominions. Senator Pearce has rightly reminded us of the very great influence these films have upon those who view them. Therefore, from a propaganda point of view, and regarding the matter from the standpoint of the Empire itself, the greater production of films within the Empire should bring about an extension of the influence of the Empire and also help to build up a closer understanding between its various parts. Indeed, in that respect, the cinema has a great future, and that, I take it, was the view of the Imperial Conference in appointing ‘a sub-committee to consider the question. It was clearly one of the objects the sub-committee itself kept constantly before it in making its investigations, and it was undoubtedly the chief object it had in view when it drew up its recommendation. I feel sure that we can all concur in that recommendation. If it is at all possible for Australia to further film production within the Empire, or even within the Commonwealth, then, of course, it is a very necessary and wise thing for us to do. Already an endeavour has been made to produce films in Australia, but the same charge can be levelled against them as is levelled against most of the pictures imported from America. While interesting, they dealt more or less with the sordidness of life rather than with the higher things to which the Minister has referred. The films I have seen produced in Australia were right enough from a photographic point of view. Perhaps owing, to lack of experience they were not acted as well as films’ introduced from overseas, and the settings were perhaps not so good ; but as photographic productions they were good enough for people to look at. My complaint, however, is that the subjects’ of the pictures themselves were not good enough. As the VicePresident of the Executive’ Council has told us, we have in Australia all the necessary facilities for the production of films that will do something towards elevating the moral tone of the community, and educating the people to higher ideals than perhaps they have to-day; but, so far, the pictures produced in Australia have fallen lamentably short in that respect. The picture industry in Australia is very large. When Senator Grant placed his motion on the noticepaper, I went to some little trouble to ascertain its extent. I found, as the Minister has shown to-day, that the figures were staggering in their immen- sity. Unless one took the trouble to inquire into the subject, one would find it almost impossible to realize just what a huge concern it is in Australia. The Minister has shown that the proportion of films of Empire production shown in Australia is not nearly as high as it ought to be. He has also shown what is perfectly true, that even in Great Britain itself the production of films produced within the Empire is not nearly what it ought to be. My latest figures show that only 8 per cent, of the total films exhibited throughout Great Britain are produced within the Empire. The rest are made in America, Germany, and other countries.

Senator THOMAS:

– Whose fault is that ?

Senator Reid:

– The trouble is that Great Britain is not producing more films.

Senator DUNCAN:

– In other lines of commercialism Britain has not been so backward in production as she seems to be in this direction. I do not know that the British people are keener to look at films that depict American, or even German life, than they are to see pictures of British life; but it is certainly true that only 8 per cent, of the pictures shown in Great Britain are produced within the Empire. If we can only do something along the lines suggested by the Imperial Conference, or some other lines that may be indicated by the proposed royal commission, to increase the proportion of Empire-produced films shown within the Empire, we shall be doing work of a most important nature, and something really worth while. T. want to place on record the figures I have gathered relating to the extent of the picture industry in Australia. The capital invested in theatres in 1921 was £6,700,000, quite a large amount, but in 1926, only five years later, the amount had increased to £25,000,000. The number of admissions to picture theatres, of which children formed 8 per cent., was 150,000,000 in 1926, and the wages paid in that year, not for production, but simply in connexion with the exhibition of the films, was £2,500,000. The number of employees in the industry, of whom about half are women, is 25,000. In 1921 the number of picture theatres in Australia was 808. As the Minister has already told us this number had grown to 1,300 in 1926.

I propose now to quote some figures to show how the Australian people patronize the theatres. In 1922-23 the total taxable admissions to theatres were 78,641,951, of which picture theatres made up 46,371,690. The total entertainments tax collected in that year was £252,611. In the following year, 1923-24, the tax oh certain admissions having in the meantime been remitted, the total taxable admissions were 69,738,089, of which picture theatres made up 38,433,908. The total entertainments tax collected was £228,873. In 1924-25 the total taxable admissions increased from 69,738,089 to 77,994,064, of which the picture theatres accounted for 44,691,650, and the total tax collected amounted to £261,826. These figures show the enormous extent of the industry, and indicate the important part that moving pictures play in the daily lives of the people. The total admissions to theatres in Australia during 1926 numbered 150,000,000, and since the population of this country is approximately 6,000,000, this means that a number equalling the total population visit picture shows at least once a fortnight. One realizes that an enormous number of people are reached, not occasionally, but constantly, by means of films, and that a tremendous influence is thus exercised on the minds and daily lives of the people of Australia in common with those of other countries. These figures should make it clear to the Senate that it is important that the Government should have something definite to guide it, when it proposes to take action on the lines of either more effective control or ensuring that the right kind of film shall be exhibited in Australia, and a proper sentiment created by them. The willingness of the Government to appoint a royal commission, if the Senate asks for it, is most commendable, because such a tribunal, if it made its recommendations in accordance with the facts placed before it, would enable the Government, without hesitation to proceed along right lines, feeling that it had the support of the great majority of the people. The Minister has told us the number of films imported into Australia, and the number rejected. The last figures that I have are those for 1925, a year earlier than those quoted by the Minister, and I was surprised to learn that in 1926 the total number of rejects had increased. Evidently there is stronger necessity than ever for the maintenance of the censorship over films in Australia. The Censor is doing splendid work, as many honorable senators are aware. Some considerable time ago we had an opportunity of visiting his office, and of witnessing many of the cuts that had been made. The rejection of many of the films was abundantly justified in the minds of honorable senators who saw the exhibition. It would be a disgrace to the Parliament, and the people of Australia, if films such as those seen by us were publicly exhibited. The fact that the Censor has found it necessary to increase the percentage of films that have to be totally rejected because it is impossible to cut or improve them, shows a growing tendency throughout the United States of America for picture producers to make films of the character referred to by the Minister.

Senator Andrew:

– It shows that a greater number of undesirable pictures are being imported.

Senator DUNCAN:

– It shows that an attempt is being made to bring in these undesirable films, and their production in the United States of America is evidently increasing. We do not wish the people of Australia to be entertained by means rf American pictures of a questionable character, and I hope the Film Censorship will maintain the stringent oversight that it is now exercising, making it clear that the dirt and muck that American picture producers are anxious to heap upon Australia will be excluded. I hope that the Senate will agree to the appointment of a commission, because much good would result from it. The cost of completing its work would be small, in comparison with the good service that it would render to the community. The matter is of such importance that the Government realizes that it cannot shirk its responsibility with regard to it. Action must be taken, and I trust that the Senate will give a clear indication tb.3,fc it is solidly behind the proposal of the Ministry.

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) r4.12].I realize the importance of the subject under discussion, and I find myself almost in total agreement with many of the comments of honorable senators regarding the motion submitted by Senator Grant. Nevertheless, I cannot see that

I should be justified in supporting the appointment of a royal commission. I recognize to the full the wonderful effect that the moving picture has on the juvenile mind. Visualizing an object by means of a film always leaves a more lasting impression upon the young than does the mere reading of the incident. We heard to-day from the Minister portions of the report of the Censor regarding his work during last year, and the very fact that that information is available is sufficient to warrant the Government introducing legislation at the earliest possible opportunity to deal with the matter, lt is proposed by Senator Grant that the whole subject be referred to a royal commission. But for what purpose? We know that practically all the films coming to Australia are produced in America, and that many of the pictures are presented in such a way as to leave an impression on the young mind that should not be given. We must leave that phase of the matter in the hands of the Censor, who, I am satisfied, is doing excellent work in excluding undesirable films. If a commission were appointed, it could certainly report upon the nature of the films brought to Australia, and the percentage of British and Australian films to imported pictures, but we already have that information.

Senator Andrew:

– The appointment of the commission would help to create a sentiment in favour of British and Australian films.

Senator PAYNE:

– That sentiment should certainly be created in legislative halls. No matter how much the commission might apply itself to its work, I fail to see what it could do to solve the main problem of finding a means of having the right kind of film presented to the public, and having a reasonable porportion of films dealing with Empire matters rather than scenes and incidents in foreign countries. T find on reference to the Summary of Proceedings of the Imperial Conference that -

Great importance is attached by the subcommittee to the larger production within the Empire of films of high entertainment value and films of sound educational merit, and their exhibition throughout the Empire and the rest of tha world are on an increasing scale. The sub-committee have considered various methods bv means of which, it has been suggested, this object could be most usefully assisted by the Governments of the various parts of the Empire. These methods include- -

Effective Customs duties on foreign films, whether accompanied by a change in the basis on which the duties are payable or otherwise ;

Ample preference or free entry for films produced within the Empire;

Legislation for the prevention of “blind;’ and “block” booking;

The imposition of requirements as to the renting or exhibition of a minimum quota of Empire films.

The sub-committee went on to say -

Whatever action may be taken by Governments will be useless ‘ unless producers show sufficient enterprise, resource, and adaptability. On the other hand, it should be recognized that suitable Government action, whether legislative or administrative, may he an effective incentive and encouragement to private enterprise in its efforts to place the Empire film industry on a sound footing.

My personal conviction is that before we can hope for any improvement in the direction of encouraging Empire films we must, by legislative action, make it worth while for those with the necessary capital to invest it in the British or Australian film industries. No matter how wise the choice of members of the proposed commission might be, I fail to see that any good result could accrue from its appointment, because the report would deal mainly with the desirability of an increased proportion of Australian and British films being shown. We are quite aware of that fact already, because it has been found necessary to appoint a film censorship. It would be wise for the Government to consider the immediate necessity of introducing legislation to deal effectively with the situation. The motion, if adopted, would result in a waste of money, since all the information we need is contained in the Censor’s report. Knowing that, we should do all we ca.ii by legislation to encourage the establishment of the industry in Australia rather than rely upon recommendations of’ a royal commission, which can give us no forth pt information than is already at our disposal.

Senator REID (Queensland) f”4.20].I fail to see what good would result from the carrying of the motion, inasmuch as the information which a royal commission could obtain is already available to us. However, I shall not oppose it, because I realize that, amongst a large section of the people of Australia there is a very erroneous impression about the position of the film industry. I have been in close touch with a number of picture show proprietors, and have been impressed by their anxiety to place before Australian audiences the very best pictures that can be obtained. The Commonwealth Government is producing a series of films entitled, “ Know Your Own Country.” These are always most acceptable to the proprietors of picture theatres. There is no trouble at all about arranging for their screening. In fact, most proprietors would be glad to screen double the quantity if it could be made available to them. Because of the importance of these pictures in educating Australians concerning the industries and resources of Australia, the Government is to be congratulated on its enterprise. I have no hesitation in saying that, from the Empire point of view, the majority of picture theatre proprietors are exceedingly patriotic, and on many occasions go out of their way to obtain good British films. Unfortunately, however, the British filmproducing companies are unable to supply all our requirements. We have just been told that only about 8 per cent, of films imported are of British origin. That, I should say, is just about all that the British companies are producing. We should also bear in mind that all British pictures in the past have not been above reproach. Some, I believe, were even more disgraceful than those produced by American companies and rejected by the Censor. The position may be better to-day. I hope it is, because we all know that the tendency of American companies is to produce films with a strong sex appeal, and with all the thrills and excitement that can possibly be crammed into a picture. There appears to be a wave of degeneracy passing over the whole picture world. The producers explain that they must either tu«n out the films that the public demand or go out of the business. The majority of these companies, I believe, would be willing enough to produce a good film of the highest moral tone if it would pay from a commercial point of view; and in my opinion the best way to bring about an improvement is to educate the people to demand a better class of pictures. I said just now that the picture theatre pro prietors in Australia, as a rule, were anxious to show good pictures. One man of my acquaintance went into the business with noble ideals. He was fully persuaded that if he put on the very best pictures obtainable he would do something to educate and uplift the people. He did so; but, unfortunately, found that he was losing money.

Senator Duncan:

– The people would not go to see his pictures?

Senator REID:

– That is so. His financial position became so embarrassing that finally, in conversation with his operator, he expressed the fear that he would soon have to close down. His operator, who, apparently, knew more than he did about the public taste, replied, “Not at all. You let me run the show for a month and I will guarantee to make it pay.” My friend agreed to the proposal, and handed over control of the theatre to his operator for a month. This man gave the people the pictures they wished to see - pictures with plenty of “kick” in them - with the result that very quickly the theatre was crowded every night, and it was not long before the proprietor had to enlarge it. We must not lose sight of the fact that the American producers have practically a monopoly of the world’s market, and, with their huge corporations, are in an almost unassailable position. We have been told that 90 per cent, of the pictures shown in Australia are imported from America. That is because America is practically the only market upon which we can draw. Many Continental pictures in their sex appeal are even worse than the worst American productions. It is very regrettable that American films so often entirely misrepresent outstanding features of British history, with the result that the rising generation in every country where these pictures are shown get an entirely wrong conception of Britain’s important historical events. I am sure that if this royal commission is appointed the picture theatre proprietors of Australia will do all they can to assist it: The Australian climate is one of the best in the world for film production. There is, perhaps, just a little too much sunshine - the light, perhaps, is sometimes a little too strong. An advantage en joyed by American companies is the almost unrivalled climate of California for picture making. In England, on the other hand, the atmosphere is so dense that producers have to depend to a large extent upon artificial lighting. This increases overhead expenditure and adds to the difficulties of the photographers. The Minister has done well to remind us that Britain is not only rich in historical events suitable for screen production, but has a vast literature full of strong, healthy dramatic situations, as well as of magnificent scenery, upon which film producers could draw to advantage. It would appear, however, that at present there is a shortage of star artists, and that it is difficult to entice them from America. One British company that started with a substantial backing of capital found that it could not compete on satisfactory terms with the American corporations. Our only chance appears, therefore, to be along the lines of Empire co-operation. I referred just now to the unfortunate effects which, from an Empire point of view, American films had on certain peoples of the Empire. This is particularly noticeable in India, where many American pictures give Indian audiences an entirely wrong impression of Western life and Western civilization. These pictures are doing much to injure the prestige of Great Britain in India, because so often they present wholly demoralizing features of . our social life. There is no better means of educating the people from an historical, social, and moral point of view than is offered by moving pictures. There is not the slightest doubt that if the moral tone of the people were raised there would be a corresponding improvement in the pictures produced. The picture companies would . at once cater for the improved public taste. To a large extent the blame for the present unsatisfactory state of affairs rests, not upon picture theatre proprietors, but upon their patrons. Another factor that should not be lost sight of was mentioned by the Minister (Senator Pearce). Australian audiences demand two feature pictures each night, whereas in other countries the practice is to put on only one feature picture, filling up the programme with other suitable items. This practice of presenting two feature pictures is responsible for the shortage of uniformly good films. There is no doubt, also, that some, at least, of the Australian-made films have not been altogether desirable; they have portrayed Australians as so many cowpunchers and bushrangers. We have magnificent scenery, and good light for film production, and there is not the slightest doubt that, if we could produce pictures with a good background, they would be acceptable to other countries. Pictures filmed in Australia for Australian audiences only will never be profitable, because our own market is too limited. The American companies with a population of nearly 120,000,000 to cater for,, produce pictures for American audiences with the result that other countries have to be content with the class of picture that the home market favours. We cannot expectto fight the American syndicates unless we link up in an Empire project, because American corporations have not only secured the services of almost every artist that is worth picking up, but have a splendid climate for outdoor photography, and, with their gigantic scheme of distribution, are in a position to supply the requirements of the world. But I am not pessimistic. I believe that if we approach the subject in a commonsense way, we shall be able to evolve a scheme for Empire production that will, to some extent, at all events, give us pictures that will take the place of some of the American films. I hope that the commission, if appointed, will be successful in achieving this object.


– The few observations that I wish to make on this subject are not in the direction of encouraging the proposal to appoint a royal commission, because I am afraid that that would be not merely costly, but an absolute, waste of money. Rather do I think that the remedies lie along the lines of increasing and tightening the picture film censorship by giving the censors more power, and by providing more funds for the department so as to enable it to exercise its functions much more liberally than is possible at present. I hope it will not be thought that I am complaining of the film censorship. I feel that its work has been exceedingly well done, but very often it is a matter of trying to make bricks without straw. I believe that the censors want more assistance and more money to enable them to discharge their duties with complete satisfaction to all concerned. The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Pearce) omitted to mention one very pertinent point in discussing the quality of the American pictures presented to Australian audiences. I refer to the descriptive language used in connexion with them. It is not a language, but a hybrid sort of thing which is particularly demoralizing in its effects on our young people. I should like the film censorship to devote its energies in a restrictive sense to this descriptive matter. It is not typical of any language with which we are acquainted. We have enough slang of our own without importing in this way the dregs of American slang: Whether a royal commission is permitted to function, or whether we increase the powers of the censorship, some effort should be made to deal with this evil, which is crying out for a remedy. Another objection that I have to American pictures is the liberties which the producers take with the original book, or the historical incident on which a picture is baaed. Those who have witnessed pictures founded upon good stories or historical events will admit that, in almost every instance, extraordinary liberties are taken. I believe the position has now become so acute that English authors in disposing of the film rights in any book written by them are insisting upon an inspection of the picture before it is publicly screened. That, of course, is a matter which we cannot control; the remedy lies with the authors themselves. It is very annoying to readers of a good original story to see it mutilated, as is so often the case, when it is reproduced on the screen.

I agree with what Senator Pearce had to say on the subject of unfair criticism. There has been far too much criticism of that nature concerning pictures displayed in this country. Objections have been taken in some quarters that were not apparent to the average’ picture theatre patron. Honorable senators will recall, for instance, the way in which a picture entitled “ The Big Parade “ was criticized in the Senate last year. I saw the picture, and, in my opinion, the attack made upon it was quite unjustifiable. It was declared to be anti-British, and foreign to British sentiment. As a matter of fact, it was merely a pretty love story. The hero happened to be an American soldier in the Great War, and consequently he had to be depicted attached to an American battalion, and following it through its various activities at the Front. I cannot imagine how the story could be construed as being contrary to British sentiment, or as belittling the British Army. These are criticisms to which I was glad to hear Senator Pearce take exception. I have also heard during this debate criticisms levelled against certain Australian productions. The Australian pictures I have seen have been based on good dramatic stories with a good moral tone; they have been exceedingly well photographed, and the women appearing in them have dressed as attractively as those appearing in any American production. I witnessed one a little while ago - at the moment I forget the title - in which there was a mannequin parade, and some of the dresses were very beautiful. I have not seen anything more attractive in any American film. When we can produce pictures of that character, and since our women-folk are quite as attractive as those shown in American films, it is our duty to do all we can to encourage the Australian picture industry. I do not see, however, that any assistance in that direction can be given by the appointment of a royal commission. Senator Reid put his fingers on the weak spot in our efforts to build up the picture-film industry when he said that the Australian picture producers have not the vast distributing area that the Americans have. The Americans secured control of the world’s market during the war, and it will take a good deal of effort to wrest that control from them. Working in conjunction with other portions of the Empire, however, we should be able to secure a wider distribution, and in time should get our share of the world’s distribution.

I have heard some damaging comments on British pictures; but I have not seen any to which justifiable exception could be taken. I recently saw one based on Ian Hay’s play, “ The Happy Ending.” It is one of the most beautiful

I have witnessed for a long time, and bears more than favorable comparison with the best American films. .British producers are as fully conversant with the position as we are, and are making a determined effort to recapture the place they occupied in the cinema trade before the war. That being the case, I hope to see, before very long, a very much wider distribution of British pictures in Australia, [t is open to the States to assist to that end by allowing only a percentage of foreign pictures into Australia. That may be done by the States, although not by the Commonwealth. I understand that efforts have been made in that direction, and if something definite is done, it will be very helpful. I do not think, however, that the proposed royal commission would get us anywhere at all. I suggest that we save the cost, which would be not only considerable, but an absolute waste, and devote a much smaller sum to strengthening the hands of the film censorship by giving it the additional financial assistance which it undoubtedly requires.

Senator MILLEN:

. I feel that something ought to be done to encourage the film-making industry in Australia. Recently, I have been in conversation with some of the American producers, who have told me definitely and clearly that they know of no country in the world where better pictures can be produced than in Australia. They tell me that they expend many thousands of pounds in America in creating artificial scenes that are actually in being in Australia. Undoubtedly, our natural advantages are many, but the point is that we cannot produce pictures without the expenditure of a considerable sum of money. In order to secure a return for the capital outlay, Australian producers require to build up a well-organized method of distribution. There are two important factors to the success of the industry in the Commonwealth. The first is that the technique shall be correct, and the second is a satisfactory distribution. Australian film-makers find it most difficult to arrange for a wide distribution of their pictures when they have been produced; and if the proposed royal commission can do anything to assist in that direction, its appointment will have my support. It is very difficult for an Australian picture producer to arrange for his films to he shown, at a series of theatres.

Senator Abbott:

– He cannot do it.

Senator MILLEN:

– It is almost impossible to do it.

Senator Abbott:

– The picture theatre owners are tied up by contracts.

Senator MILLEN:

– There is no doubt that contracts are entered into twelve months in advance of requirements. Those conducting picture theatres naturally wish to arrange their programmes well ahead, and unless a producer is able to offer a regular supply of suitable pictures, the theatre proprietors are not prepared to negotiate with him. If the picture industry could he successfully established in Australia it would be a great advantage to the Commonwealth, not only from a financial view-point, but also in advertising Australia throughout the world. The difficulty confronting the proposed royal commission is to arrange for Australian producers to enter a scheme of world distribution. The American scheme cost the producers a vast sum of money. If it were possible to get into that distribution, and to show all over the world Australian films depicting life and scenery in Australia and in the islands surrounding Australia, it would be wonderfully advantageous to the Commonwealth. I think it could be done. A royal commission could decide if it were possible-

Senator Pearce:

– And what it would cost.

Senator MILLEN:

– Yes; and also what could be done to compel picture theatre proprietors to show Australianmade pictures. If, as suggested by Senator Thompson, we turn down this proposal, and rely on an improved censorship to encourage the local industry, how much better off shall we be 1 Some of the imported films are so censored that the blank which is caused by a portion being cut out creates in the minds of picture-theatre goers an impression of something worse than might actually have been in the picture. I am at a loss to understand how the film censorship alone could ever help to build up tha local industry. If a commission is ap- pointed, I trust that it will devote its energies to the development of a scheme to encourage the production of Australian films, and their distribution throughout the world. If that could be achieved, it would be of immense benefit, not only to the local film industry, but to the Commonwealth as a whole.

Senator FOLL:

– If the Government decides to accept the suggestions made by some honorable senators in regard to the proposed royal commission, 1 fail to see why its inquiry should be restricted to the film industry. We have been told that many of the imported films shown in Australia are not fit to be screened. Senator Reid and other honorable senators said that, generally speaking, many of them relate to sex problems, and are what the Ministei described as “ spicy.” 1. do not, however, think that that is so. I am not a regular picture-show patron, but I know that some of the most successful films screened in Australia have had nothing whatever to do with the sex question. I recall, for instance, such pictures as “ The Ten Commandments” and ‘“Over the Hill.” If the commission is to be empowered to inquire into the class of picture shown in Australia, its scope should be extended so that it may inquire into the type of plays produced here. Some of them are in every way worse than any of the moving pictures shown.

Senator Millen:

– The pictures are not as bad as some of the plays.

Senator Andrew:

– Plays such as “ White Cargo” have received a wonderful boost.

Senator FOLL:

– Yes, the play “ White Cargo “ depicts the worst phases of tropical life. There is nothing elevating in it. The principal characters are a depraved individual who has spent some time in the tropics, a drink-soddened doctor, and a half-caste harlot. If the time has arrived when a royal commission should be appointed to inquire into the class of pictures screened in Australia, then the commission should also inquire into the moral effect on the public mind of the “ sex “ plays which are finding their way on to the Australian stage. Most of them, by the way, are coming from America. I read in the press to-day that Mr.

Matheson Lang, an actor manager of great prominence in London, said, on returning from New York, that most of the plays being produced on Broadway were nothing but filth. Only a few days ago a prominent actress came to this country from America, bringing with her a play that was remarkably well acted, but which, in common with many others produced nowadays, dealt largely with the sex problem. The dialogue in some plays is far more demoralizing than actions depicted on the picture screen. A hostile attack seems to have been made by a section of the community upon picture shows, and picture shows only. The reason, I suppose is that it is the only form of entertainment available to the poorer sections of the community. If it is Senator Grant’s intention - and that of others who I understand are supporting him - that it shall be the duty of the commission to inquire into the type of films being screened here, investigation should also be made into the plays which are being produced on the Australian stage. I do not think that the people of Australia are particularly desirous of seeing that class of picture, but, unfortunately, many such films are presented to Austraiian audiences. Yet other films of an entirely different type have been well supported by the public. In a speech recently Mr. Stewart Doyle stated that two of the most successful films shown in the “United States of America were produced in Great Britain. He added that American showmen were most anxious to obtain British films, so long as they were of the type that the people desired. Producers, distributors, and showmen, are anxious to place upon the screen the type of picture which the public desires to see. Senator Reid referred to a picture showman who failed to make a success of his enterprise, but I am of the opinion that his lack of success was due to the class of picture which he xhibited.

Senator Reid:

– He exhibited the best he could obtain, but the public would not go to see them.

Senator FOLL:

– Evidently, he made a bad selection. While attacks are continually being made on those engaged in the motion picture industry, it must be remembered that they are doing much to provide a cheap form of entertainment for the people. Many persons in the community who are unable to afford the high prices charged for admission to the ordinary theatres, are able to pay the smaller fee necessary to obtain entrance to a picture theatre. Senator Grant’s statement that many of the pictures arriving in Australia are not fit for exhibition, is a reflection on the censors. While some claim that the censorship is too harsh, Others criticize the censors for permitting certain pictures to be shown. Unfortunately, the censorship is sometimes applied in the wrong direction. Some time ago, I had the privilege of seeing in Parliament House, Sydney, a picture entitled, “ Fit to Win.” This picture, which was exhibited at the request of Dr. Arthur, who has been engaged in combating venereal and other diseases in New South Wales, was not produced as a means of entertainment, but to demonstrate the terrible ravages caused by the red plague. Yet, permission to show that picture was refused by the censor. I desire to emphasize that the censorship of picture films is within the control of Parliament. Should it be deemed desirable to appoint a royal commission to inquire into the class of picture exhibited, its scope should be extended to enable inquiries to be made also into the character of the plays acted upon the Australian stage.

Senator Duncan:

– Indirectly, it will have that effect, because the one could not be improved without an influence being exerted on the other.

Senator FOLL:

– To say that a royal commission should be appointed to deal with this question only is to reflect on the work of the Police Departments of the various States. It may be contended that the appointment of a royal commission would assist in the development of the picture film industry in Australia, but I point out that in the Tariff Board we have a body which deals with the establishment and encouragement of Australian industries. This matter could well be left to the Tariff Board.

Senator Pearce:

– More than tariff questions are involved in this subject.

Senator FOLL:

– I am desirous that the moving picture industry should be de veloped in the British Empire, and particularly in Australia, and therefore have noted with pleasurethat recently the British Government introduced legislation making it compulsory for picture showmen in Great Britain to screen a certain percentage of films produced within the Empire.

Senator Millen:

– The arguments which apply to Great Britain are not applicable to Australia.

Senator FOLL:

– If is a question of Empire production. If the British Government gives us a lead in this matter, the inevitable result will be that the film industry in Great Britain will be revived and that its influence will be felt in Australia.

Senator Duncan:

– Under our tariff, preference is given to British films. We are assisting the British film industry as much as we can.

Senator FOLL:

– The Government is to be commended for having granted that preference to the British film industry.

Senator Duncan:

– But British producers have not taken advantage of it.

Senator FOLL:

– We must remember that they were severely handicapped by the Great War. While they were engaged in making munitions, the great American film making corporations availed themselves of the opportunity to capture the market. The same is true of the film producers of France. I understand that Pathe Freres were the pioneers of the film industry, but the war intervened, with the result that they have practically gone out of business. It is only now, nine years after the termination of the war, that Great Britain is beginning to make any headway towards recovering her lost trade. If the appointment of a royal commission will assist her to do so it should be appointed. Any criticism in which I have indulged has been with the desire that the commission, when appointed, may be able to do something useful. One of the first matters dealt with by the Queensland branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League of Australia when it was formed was that of picture films. Repeated requests were made that showmen should be compelled to present to their audiences a proportion of pictures produced within the Empire. At that time it was impossible to accede to their request, for the reason that the British film industry was then scarcely in existence. It was pointed out at the time that the influence of the American pictures shown in Australia was so great that the average Australian child was more familiar with White House at “Washington than with the seat of the Australian Legislature.

Senator Duncan:

– Even at the present time only 8 per cent, of the films exhibited in Great Britain are produced within the Empire.

Senator FOLL:

– Had it not been for the severe blow this and other British industries received during the war, to the great advantage of America, the percentage of .British films exhibited in Great Britain might have been 80 per cent, instead of the low percentage mentioned by Senator Duncan. I am grateful to honorable senators for having given me the opportunity to speak on this matter, because, after seeing some of the plays to which I have referred, and hearing language to which honorable senators are quite unaccustomed, I am fully of opinion that the scope of the proposed royal commission and the censorship should be extended to include such productions.

Senator ANDREW:

.- The Government is to be commended for suggesting the appointment of a royal commission. The belief is becoming popular in Australia that Great Britain should have its due share of the great industry of picture production. It is no doubt true that America became established iu this particular industry during the war, when Britain was engaged in that great struggle; with the result that it now produces about 90 per cent, of the pictures of the world. If the proposed royal commission can stimulate the production of Australian or even British pictures, it will attain the object we have in view. The statement has frequently, been made that it is difficult to find a market for pictures. It is one of the advantage* possessed by the American producers that they have first of all their local market among the teeming millions of the United States of America, from whom they derive great profit, after which they gather extra profit from the overflow of their pictures to the rest of the world. For these reasons America can produce films on a more expensive and extensive scale than is possible in Great Britain. In the northern portion of Victoria we entered into negotiations for the production of a picture relating to our district and our industries, and we were promised 1,000 feet for £70. Four reels were to be turned out, one of which was to be displayed in Australia, while two of the others were to go to America, and the fourth was to go to Great Britain. We were practically promised that the picture would have a world-wide display at a cost to us of £70, and this fact demonstrates the possibility of Australia developing an overseas market for its films. The popularity of the American film is undoubted; but I think that we can create among our own people a desire for Australian or British films by legislating on the lines that theatre proprietors must display a certain percentage of Empire films. By this means, the business may be developed, and eventually, when the demand for our own pictures is created, it may no longer be necessary to continue the restrictive legislation I have suggested. The proposed royal commission should inquire into the possibility of producing pictures in Australia, and evidence might be taken as to means of stimulating the efforts of those who would care to embark upon this industry. We have magnificent scenery in Australia that could well be depicted on the screen. Dramas could easily be shown in such a setting, and thereby pictures of a very desirable character could be produced. The royal commission might inquire into many phases of the question, and also, as suggested, into the production of plays, with the idea of purifying the Australian stage and leading to the presentation of plays worth seeing - plays of an educational value, which we would not be afraid to let our children see. I commend the Government for its desire to build up and purify the film industry, and I feel sure that if the Senate agrees to the motion, a considerable amount of good will result.

Debate (on motion by Senator Hoare) adjourned.

Senate adjourned at 5.13 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 March 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.