10th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator theHon. Sir John Newlands) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health. upon notice -
– The Minister for Health has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions -
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice -
– The AttorneyGeneral has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions -
Statement of Government Resident
asked the Ministerrepresenting the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow -
Motion (by Senator Graham) agreed to-
That two’ months’ leave of absence be granted to Senator Grant on account of ill health.
Bill presented by Senator McLachlan and read a first time.
Report of Royal Commission
Debate resumed from 26th April (vide page 4376) on motion by Senator Craw ford -
That the paper be printed.
– The first . thought that occurs to one in considering this question is the splendid work accomplished by the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the moving picture industry. The zeal and diligence displayed by the members of the commission are certainly worthy of commendation, and no honorable senator can have perused their report without coming to the conclusion that they carried out the duties entrusted to them faithfully and well.
The importance of the moving picture industry in Australia and its effect on the every day life of the nation cannot be over estimated. Films have entered into the public and private life of the community; they have a considerable influence for good or evil, and it is well that an exhaustive inquiry has been made into this industry with a view to placing it on a footing that will be a benefit not only to the nation, but also to the people individually. The picture theatre is today the chief form of amusement for the people. It is not only popular, but also cheap. . It is readily accessible to the majority of wage earners who are precluded from attending dramatic or operatic performances for which high admission charges are imposed. Pictures are also instructive and can be made more so.
Generally speaking, I am in agreement with the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and I am glad to learn that ‘ it is the intention of the Government to give effect to that portion of them which come within the ambit of the powers of the Commonwealth. Some of the recommendations of the commission touch upon matters that lie within the control of the States.
It is estimated that there are 1,250 picture threatres in the Commonwealth, affording employment to 20,000 persons. Therefore, apart from the question of amusement or recreation, this business enters largely into the public life of the country because of the employment it gives. I glean from the report of the commission that the capital invested in the moving picture industry is approximately £25,000,000.
One of the recommendations of the commission is to increase the duty on certain classes of films by id. a foot. The money derived by means of this extra duty would amount to £44,000 a year and portion of it, I understand, would be devoted to granting awards to the makers of the best pictures produced in Australia. The commission recommends that £10,000 a year should be devoted to this purpose.- I realize the necessity for helping on the picture industry in Australia, and I think that this country lends itself particularly well to picture production. We have the space here, we have’ the natural scenery, and I am sure that we have the talent necessary to produce good films. While there may be something in the contention of the commission that advantages would be derived from the imposition of this extra duty, I myself have grave doubts as to whether this money would be paid by the picture proprietors. I do not want to cast any vote in this Parliament which might have the effect of making this class of entertainment any dearer.
– The honorable senator is a free trader in connexion with this industry, but a protectionist in others.
– I have not yet said that I shall oppose the duty. I have said that I should hesitate to agree to the imposition of an extra duty of -Jd. a foot on certain classes of films if I thought that the picture theatre proprietors would pass that tax on to their patrons. The prices to-day are just about as much as the average picture theatre patron can afford. At present prices many men do not find it possible to take their wives and, say, three or four children to the pictures more frequently than once a fortnight. We should not do anything which might reduce the opportunity of such people to indulge in this form of recreation. I remember a statement credited to Sir Victor Wilson who, I understand, is Chairman of the Motion Picture Distributors’ Association that if the ½d. a foot extra duty was imposed on these films it would have to be passed on to those who visited the. theatres. On the other hand, I have read that the Minister stated that, allowing 6,000 feet to be the average length of a feature or dramatic film, which in ordinary circumstances would be screened about 75 times, the extra cost imposed by this duty would be about 3s. 4d. for each screening. If that is so, I cannot see any necessity for passing on the extra duty.
– If the theatre proprietors pass on this extra cost will the honorable senator vote for the remission of the duty?
– That question is not before us at the moment, but if it were I should very seriously consider whether I would vote for that increase in duty unless we had a positive assurance from the Government, or from a representative of the motion picture industry, that the public would not be penalized by the imposition of the extra duty. It is estimated that on a Saturday evening 156,000 people visit the various theatres, picture shows, and other places of entertainment in the Commonwealth. Of that number approximately 124,000 visit picture shows. The report of the Film Commission states that during the course of a year 110,000,000 visit the theatres in Australia. Taking into consideration the population of Australia, it may be seen how many times a year the average citizen patronizes the theatre.
The report also makes a recommendation regarding the introduction of the quota system. I realize that we are practically inundated with American pictures, and that an English picture is relatively a rara avis. We must remember that America is the home of the film industry. She has displayed considerable enterprise in fostering the industry, and has spent- an enormous sum of money on it.
– She had a free hand during the war.
– I admit that she had a free hand, but even apart from that, it must be admitted that Great Britain, up to the present time has not made a very serious attempt to compete with America in the production of pictures. The United States of America, on the contrary, has attained the peak of proficiency in the production of films. Personally, I am not a frequent visitor to picture theatres ; I go occasionally, and have seen only one or two- English pictures, and they have not impressed me. I do not say that we cannot get as good pictures from Great Britain as from anywhere else. I believe that the English producers are now making an earnest effort to improve the quality of their output, but they have a long way to go before they catch up with America.
– Only in quantity. The pictures are quite as good.
– I doubt if Great Britain, will spend nearly as much money on the development of the industry as America has, or that those controlling it in the Mother Country will pay the same almost fabulous salaries to skilled artists; but unless they adopt this course, the success of the industry in the Mother Country will be to some extent retarded. Statements ‘ were made prior to the appointment of the commission to the effect that the American combine had strangled the industry in Australia. A perusal of the report of the commission does not support that contention. On the contrary, the view is expressed that there is evidence of something in the nature of an Australian combine. We are told that Union Theatres control 42 picture houses, and that Hoyts Limited controls 116 picture theatres, or a total of 158 houses throughout Australia. It is stated also that the Australian combine regulates the distribution of American pictures in Australia, and frequently is in a position to dictate its own terms. I feel sure that members of the commission did not reach this conclusion without having carefully weighed the evidence submitted to them by witnesses, many of whom are prominently identified with the business life of this country.
– The commission found that there was no evidence to support the view that the American combine had strangled the Australian industry.
– The commission states also that the Australian combine practically dictates its own terms.
– Yes, but the exhibiting end of the business is quite different from the production end.
– Dealing with the censorship, the commission recommends the establishment of an appeal board, to consist of five members, one of whom shall be a woman, and a board of censors, comprising three persons, including one woman. I approve of this recommendation. We are all agreed that moving pictures exert an extraordinary influence for good, or evil in the community, and particularly on the younger generation of our people. It is my firm conviction that no matter how good an example may be set children in the home - and home influence is the thing that counts most in the development of our citizens - we cannot afford to ignore the part played by moving pictures, and therefore it is essential that, by a system of strict censorship, we should fake every precaution to protect our public morals. But I am not one of those who subscribe to the view that hitherto Australia has been flooded with pernicious or immoral pictures. I admit that a certain number of suggestive films have been passed by the censors, but on the whole those officials have done good work under considerable difficulty.
– If, as the honorable senator says, Australia has not been flooded with bad pictures, why has it been necessary for the censors to reject or alter over 50 per cent, of the films imported?
– I am aware, of course, that the censors have been obliged to cut a number of films, but in my opinion it cannot seriously be contended that the picture-going public in Australia have had served up to them a large number of immoral or suggestive films, because our censors have discharged their duties with much care and diligence. Thu proposed new censorship board should include a woman, as has been recommended by the commission. A woman, particularly one who is a mother, is in a better position than a man to realize the dangers and pitfalls before the rising generation, and her presence on the board of censors should make for better pictures. In my opinion, members of the commission discharged the duty entrusted to them in an. eminently satisfactory manner, and their recommendations are calculated to do much to promote the development of the industry in Australia.
– It is indeed gratifying to members of the commission to find that their recommendations have been so favorably commented upon by all sections of this Parliament and the press of Australia. This unanimous approval is almost unique in the history of the deliberations of royal commissions or select committees. As a rule there is plenty of room for differences of opinion as to the findings of .such bodies, particularly when financial interests of such importance are involved. It is gratifying also to know that the Government has accepted unconditionally most of the recommendations made, and in respect of others, it is only waiting for the necessary power to be vested in it by the States, to enable it to give effect to them. That is one of the difficulties which confronted the commission as soon as it commenced its inquiries. It found that whilst the Commonwealth has full power over the importation of films from other countries the States really possess even more important powers relating to the production, exhibition and to some extent the censorship of pictures in Australia. It therefore became necessary’ for the commission to endeavour in some way to suggest a means of reconciling conflicting Commonwealth and State interests in order to reach a common agreement. The commission, realizing that some of its recommendations did not come within the scope of the Constitution under which this Parliament legislates, has made certain suggestions because it believes that the time has arrived to negotiate with the State Governments with the idea of entering into an agreement under which the States will hand over to the Commonwealth the powers necessary to enable it to deal with the whole problem of picture production, importation and screening in Australia. The commissior has not recommended that the powers of State Parliaments to control the actual theatres in which pictures are shown should be given to the Commonwealth. All that the commission desires is that the Commonwealth shall possess all embracing powers over the films themselves.
The Commission found when it entered upon this extensive inquiry that the opinions which many of its members held, in common with other members of Parliament, and a great majority of the community, had to be thrown overboard. Honorable senators will remember that the commission was originally appointed as a select committee of Parliament because of the popular agitation that had been set up both inside and outside of Parliament for an investigation of the whole business. As the work of the committee proceeded it was found that in order to obtain all the necessary information it should be converted into a royal commission. That was done.
– It originated with a member of the Opposition.
– I am not forgetting that. It was on the motion of Senator Grant that a select committee was appointed, and we were all pleased that that honorable senator was a member of the committee and eventually of the royal commission. The commission visited every important centre in the Commonwealth where the picture industry was of sufficient magnitude to justify the taking of evidence. It carried out its business in a. most expeditious and economical way, in. order that the people of Australia might know the position of the industry in Australia, and what legislation the commission considered necessary. As I have stated, the members of the commission had to drop many of their preconceived ideas concerning the picture show business in Australia. Some of the Commissioners, in common with the general community, believed that the business had fallen into the hands of an American combine, and that it was using the enormous power, influence, and money at its disposal to strangle every other picture interest in the Commonwealth. It was also thought that it was using the power it possessed to secure a grip on the Australian market for the purpose of throttling the extension of picture production in this dominion.
The Commission enedavoured so far as possible to obtain evidence from every section of the community. I do not believe that any person who wished to give evidence was prevented from so doing. It sought evidence that would be useful and perhaps vital to its work. It went even further. It approached the Government and asked that a responsible officer of the AuditorGeneral’s Department should be placed at its disposal to conduct a financial investigation into the affairs of the American exchanges operating throughout Australia, to ascertain if they were making more than a fair thing, and whether the charges that they were refusing to pay income and other taxation to the Commonwealth were true. This officer conducted an inquiry in a thoroughly efficient manner into the financial affairs of the various Australian firms that are representing American companies. Practically all of the evidence of this official, which it is not proposed to print, was given in camera as it would not have been fair to publish it.
As the report clearly states, the whole -of the distributing houses in Australia are registered as Australian companies; but only sufficient shares are issued here to render them eligible for registration in Australia. Actually they are American companies registered in the” Commonwealth for the purpose of trading in the Comonwealth.
– The commission’s investigations relate only to the affairs of Australian companies. It had no jurisdiction to inquire into the affairs of companies outside Australia.
– No, the commission could inquire only into the affairs of companies operating in Australia. The commission found that the charge that there was a combine between these various distributing concerns in Australia was not borne out by facts, but that, on the contrary, there was the keenest competition for business between the Australian exchanges. The competition was so keen that in some cases they undercut one another and for that reason the commission, as mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham), found that the combination of interests in Australia was able to impose its own terms and conditions upon American exchanges. As the report mentioned there is a very powerful combination consisting of Union Theatres and Hoyts Limited operating in Australia. These two concerns control practically the whole of the first release houses in Australia. Having great resources at their disposal they are in the fortunate position of being able to dictate to the American exchanges as to what pictures they will accept and what price they will pay for them. The control of the first release theatres is most important, because a picture which has not secured a first release in a big city theatre is not wanted by country showmen. The advertising of a picture by the proprietor of a big city theatre creates a demand for it throughout the country.
The position in the moving picture industry is entirely different from that placed before the Senate before the appointment of the select committee, and also from what is generally understood by the people of Australia. Although the commission found no evidence of any American combine, it was made clear to it during its investigation that two Australian companies were able to dictate terms to the American distributing houses.
– Then the honorable senator admits that there are two combines in Australia?
– I would not say that they are combines, because they are bona fide Australian companies, operating with Australian capital, each controlling its own circuit of theatres, and in no way imposing upon the people of Australia. Their prices are reasonable; their theatres are splendid, and they are rendering a service to the people.
SenatorFoll. - But they are not showing Australian pictures.
– Can the honorable senator say why. in the motion picture industry the Americans are so far ahead of the British?
– The honorable senator may remember that Britain was just entering the picture production business in a big way when the Great War broke out. Thereafter, during the continuance of the struggle, the energies of the nation were devoted to the prosecution of the war. The American picture producers were not slow to avail themselves of the opportunity which presented itself. They set out to create a demand for pictures of a certain standard and type, and because they were in continuous production and had an assured market throughout the world for their pictures, they were able to secure the investment of enormous sums of money to produce still better pictures.
Some people imagine that almost any one can, without difficulty, produce motion pictures. That is not so. It is true that there have been instances, even in Australia, of people who, with little experience, have produced one or two freak pictures that have paid moderately well in Australia, but have had no market outside Australia. For picture production, either in Australia or in Britain, to be a success, an enormous amount of capital is necessary. In addition, a highly efficient staff of technicians, actors, and others is essential. In this connexion the American producers are at a distinct advantage because of their longer experience. It is pleasing to note that, within the past two or three years, Britain has been tackling the problem, and to-day is producing many pictures of a fairly high standard. But it cannot be said that the standard of British pictures which so far have come to Australia is equal to that of American pictures. Indeed, showmen who gave evidence before the commission were not at all keen about being forced to accept pictures merely because they are produced in the British Empire.
SenatorRobinson. - Is it not time that our children were shown something besides the Stars and Stripes?
– There is not so great an intrusion of the American nationality into pictures to-day as there was in the past. The Americans are too astute for that. I remind honorable senators that the American pictures exhibited in Australia are produced originally for exhibition, not in Australia, but in the United States of America. The Australian market is, as it were, only a side show. Of the total receipts by American producers for their pictures, only 2 per cent, comes from Australia.
SenatorRobinson. - American pictures are destroying our national outlook.
– The American producers could easily refuse to send any more of their pictures to Australia.
– That would be a good thing.
– I remind honorable senators that £25,000,000 of Australian capital is invested in the motion picture exhibiting business in Australia, and that 20,000 Australians are employed in the industry.
Were it not for American pictures every Australian picture theatre would have to close its doors for lack of supplies. The commission has endeavoured to stimulate Australian production, as honorable senators will see by a perusal of its report. At present, so far as I am aware, not one picture is being produced in Australia. It is true that a few fairly good Australian pictures have been produced, but the number is small. The position in Germany is much the same as it is in Britain, and for the same reason.
– Is it not obligatory for picture programmes in Germany to comprise 50 per cent, of German pictures ?
– It was; but they have had to modify that provision recently. Moreover, German producers are able to carry on only because of an agreement which enables American producing companies, with American directors, actors and technicians to produce pictures in Germany. Even if we were to secure all the pictures produced in Germany or Great Britain, whether they suited our conditions or not - a great many of the British pictures do not suit our conditions - there would not be enough of them to keep the picture shows of Australia open for one week. The commission, because of that, has had to be very cautious in its recommendations. “We did not want to injure the picture showmen of Australia, men who have put so much capital into the business, or the pleasure-loving people of Australia, who like to attend picture shows because they find in them a cheap source of amusement and entertainment.
– If the showmen of Australia have so much power, why do they accept blind booking?
– They do it for their own protection, because it insures to them a continous supply of films of a high-class nature for a long period. They are not anxious to enter into repeated short tenure contracts which do not give them any degree of certainty that their competitors here may not compete against them with success. I could mention firms, but it would not be wise to do so, who are having the greatest difficulty in securing films to keep their shows open because competitors with more money have outbid them and entered into long contracts with American exchanges. These long contracts are not always sought for by the American exchanges. Very often it is the Australian showmen who seek them. When we asked witnesses if they were in favour of abolishing long contracts altogether, with almost one breath they said, “No.” They are not anxious to abolish these long contracts because their abolition would leave them high and dry. They would not know exactly how they stood. The commission has recommended, however, that no contract should be permitted for a longer period than twelve months. It has made other recommendations relating to contracts, so that every precaution possible may be taken to safeguard the interests of British showmen and producers against the continuous stream of importations from America. But we have had to act in a careful way to insure that that stream will not dry up before there is another from somewhere else to take its place.
– Can the honorable senator say anything about the statement that has been made that British and Australian films have been hounded out of the country ?
– The commission has- had to report that there is not a word of truth in that statement. I am aware that certain well-meaning and enthusiastic gentlemen were led astray by people in whom they reposed their confidence, but who were unmistakably branded before the commission as liars of the first water. We examined one gentleman who brought films from Great Britain. He said that it was impossible to get a theatre in which to screen them; that he had been boycotted not because of himself but because he was handling British films. He said that the treatment he had received from the showmen in Australia was such that he was being hounded out of the country. The commission found that the terms which he was asking were so exacting as to be almost impossible to accede to them. He wanted about 60 per cent, of the gross receipts.
– Do not the Americans get 60 per cent, of the gross receipts ?
– According to the report of the commission they do.
– In the case of some big films, such as the “ Ten Commandments,” the American producers demanded and obtained 60 per cent., but it paid the showmen to give them those terms. ,
– Does the honorable senator mean that they got 60 per cent, of the gross takings?
– Yes. But they have not been alone in that respect. In some cases the gross percentage demanded for the screening of “ For the Term of His Natural Life “ was as high as 65 per cent. That film was produced in Australia, and was handled by an Australian company.
– The Americans have the advantage of their own .home market first.
– That is so. We learned from the showmen who handled films for which they paid 60 per cent, of the gross takings, that it paid them to do so because the net return they got from the screening of those films was greater than it would have been from the screening of the ordinary programme picture, for which, generally speaking, the charges made by the American exchanges are low. As a matter of fact the charges for these ordinary pictures are so low that the Australian, and very often the British, production is not able to compete with them.
The evidence taken by the commission showed that showmen have had to pay considerably more for Australian pictures than for American pictures of a very much higher standard. We have to remember that we are placing a great strain upon the patriotism of the Australian showman in asking him to take Australian or British pictures for which he has to pay much more than is demanded for American pictures. We have also to remember that while some American pictures are harmful to the British national sentiment, and to some extent to the morals of the younger generation, generally speaking, the standard of American pictures is very high. It is regrettable that the class of pictures that is cut about so much by the censor, to whom the commission has paid a high meed of praise because of the excellent work he is doing, is produced not only in America, but also in Great Britain. Some of the most atrocious cuts the members of the commission saw were made from pictures imported from Great Britain.
– Why rub it in so?
– For this reason, thai we draw attention in our report to this feature and recommend that the British Government be approached by the Commonwealth Government and asked to exercise a more rigid censorship over the films exported from Great Britain to Australia. We do not want that class of picture in Australia-
– Will the honorable senator say that the American war films are better than the British pictures “Ypres” and “Mons”?
– I assure the honorable senator with a great deal of regret that there is no comparison between the American and the British war picture. The former is so far in advance of the latter that it is almost impossible to compare the two. Of course, I am speaking not of the story, but of the method of production.
– Is there any American picture that can approach “ Ypres “ and “ Mons “ as war pictures !
– Not for truth, but “ Ypres “ and “ Mons “ were not so much pictures as they were a series of what might be called gazettes strung together in a very loose and disjointed way. That sort of picture’ does not make the same appeal to the ordinary every day citizen as does a picture that is built round a story.
– They were the truest representations.
– There is not’ a shadow of doubt about that, but the most successful novel is often one that does not stick actually to hard facts, but wanders into the realms of fancy just as the works of Jules Verne do, thus securing a larger reading public than does a strictly historical work consisting of a mere chain of events, arranged . in chronological order. A political novel may secure 100,000 readers, but Hansard, which is a true rendering of what actually occurs in Parliament, may not secure more than 5,000. That best illustrates the difference between the war pictures Senator Thompson has mentioned, and those that have been produced by Americans. The latter are sometimes grossly untrue and very often grossly unfair, but they have been produced in such an entertaining way and have been so magnificently photographed and acted that they make an appeal to the Australian public from the showman’s viewpoint.
– I am glad to hear the honorable senator say that they are grossly unfair.
– Yes, but from the showman’s viewpoint they are a draw. It would be hideously unfair to do anything that would force the showmen of Australia who have to make a living out of this business to screen films that do not make an appeal to the public.
– It is a matter for patrons of the theatres.
– The Australian public demands pictures with a story in them, and until Great Britain can give us the pictures the Australian public wants it is not fair to force on Australian showmen the duty of showing others to the Australian people.
– The Australian public has no choice. It has to take what the showmen give them.
– The Australian people have a wide choice of pictures. Of course I am not speaking of small country towns where there is only one theatre and where the people have to take what they are shown. In bigger centres there are many picture shows and the advertisments in the newspapers indicate that the public has the very widest choice of not only American, but also British, German, and, occasionally, Australian pictures. The commission, however, recognizing that the position was not altogether sound, has submitted recommendations for an increased rate of duty, awards of merit and the provision of other encouragement of increasing Australian production. It believes that the extra customs duty recommended and which the Government has now imposed, by giving a wider margin of preference to British producers, will enable them to place pictures on the Australian market at a price that will ‘permit them to compete more effectively with American exchanges. Hitherto they have not been able to do so.
– What does Sir Victor Wilson say about that?
– I do not know. The commission was not concerned with the views of any individual. We did our job in the way we thought it ought to be done and I am proud to say the members of this Parliament have endorsed what we have done, and have commended our labours.
Despite strong appeals made to the commission by various witnesses we have recommended not an Australian, but an Empire quota. We were faced with the position that no pictures were being produced in Australia to-day, and that nearly all of those already produced had been widely shown and no one wanted to see them again. Had we recommended the introduction of a purely Australian quota it would have been impossible to find sufficient Australian pictures to fulfil the requirements of that quota. We have, therefore, recommended an Empire quota which, of course, is a matter that will depend upon an agreement with the States. The Commonwealth cannot impose on the showmen of Australia the responsibility of showing any quota of British or Australian pictures. Providing the States agree we have recommended that there shall be imposed an Empire quota, starting with a carefully considered ratio - not a high one, I know, in the opinion of Senator Guthrie and others - but as high as it’ is safe to go. We knew of the pictures that were being produced in Britain, we knew the market in Australia, and we knew what pictures it was possible to obtain from other countries, and we took these things into consideration in recommending the quota for the first year.
– That will not help the Australian industry.
– It will, because the Australian industry will come within the Empire quota. We have recommended that negotiations be entered into with the British Government to ensure that Great Britain will give us the same consideration that we are giving to her in order that there might be built up a great Empire motion picture industry that will enable us to “ boost “ our own national sentiment, instead of placing all the time before our people the sentiment of a foreign country.
We have made these recommendations, feeling that every one of them is in entire accordance with the weight of evidence, and feeling, also, that if they are adopted and acted upon by the Government, and supported by the people of Australia, they will not only materially assist the Australian motion picture industry from a production point of view, but. will have the effect of stimulating production in Great Britain and- in the Empire, thus making us, as far as possible, independent of outside sources of supply. I am gratified as a member of the commission to find that our report has been received in such a very kind way by all sections of this Parliament. We were a very happy family, and all got on very well together. Our report is unanimous, except on one point - .the question of the Empire quota.
– Much of the credit for that belongs to your chairman.
– I agree. Our chairman was as good a man for the position as could have been obtained. There is only one point upon which we differed. The majority reported in favour of an Empire quota. Senator Grant, who took such a big part in the establishment of the commission, has expressed the opinion that there should be in the Empire quota an Australian quota as well. We did not think that there was room for that or, indeed, any necessity for it.
– Does the honorable senator think that a commission could properly finalize its report. on a subject of’ this kind without visiting the centre of the motion picture- industry in America ?
– Some men are always looking for what they can get out of a thing, but this commission was looking only for the truth. Here it is, in our report, and we present it to Parliament with every confidence.
– I wish to join with other speakers in expressing my appreciation of the work of this commission. Those of us who have had the pleasure of listening to Senator Duncan this afternoon, must realize the extent to which the members of the commission have” given their best efforts to the solution of the difficult problems surrounding this question, and they are entitled to all the encomiums that have been heaped upon them since the presentation of their report.
Everybody knows that this industry is of a. peculiar character, and I feel some hesitation in venturing upon any criticism of the report of a body which has done such excellent work. There is only one matter in regard to which I am doubtful whether the recommendation of the commission is a wise one. It has already involved some action on the part of the Government, but as it must come up for determination by this Parliament at a later date, I mention it now because I wish the Government to give careful consideration to a suggestion I have to make before the matter is dealt with finally. In spite of all that has been said about American films, I have always felt, and nothing that the commission has said has altered my belief, that the real reason of the success of the American film is its excellence.
– We have admitted it in our report.
– No matter what barriers we try to erect, short of total prohibition, we cannot prevent these films from coming here unless we produce something else which is better, or at least as good. Films are like art productions of any kind:- The demand for them rests entirely upon their intrinsic value.
– Would the honorable senator say that the immediate success of Beckett’s Weekly, in New South Wales, was due to its intrinsic excellence ?
– In the point of view of certain people, yes. It is entirely a matter of demand, and, unfortunately, so long as there are people with salacious tastes, there will be a demand for that sort of thing. However, I do not propose to argue that subject with Senator Elliott just now.
I think that most honorable senators will agree that the success of the American films in this country has been due to their excellence. America has sent its pictures all over . the world, ‘ and the world has taken them because they are good - because, in short, they meet the public demand.
– They built up their industry during the war when other countries were engaged in something more serious.
– I admit that. But I think that the commission has proved that there is nothing whatsoever to prevent others from doing exactly the same thing, and entering into fair competition with the American article.
– Is there any restriction on the importation of films into America ?
– I have no doubt that there is. Judging by the national policy of America, I have every reason to believe that such restrictions exist.I am doubtful, however, about the wisdom of imposing an additional duty of1/2d. a foot under the general tariff in respect of certain classes of films. I do not think that it will have any effect in the direction, of increasing the quantity of films which will be produced by” Britain or Australia, because the matter does not really rest on that basis. This is not an industry which can be assisted in the ordinary way by means of a protective duty. The additional duty will probably lead to an increase in the price of admission to the public, and I am not certain that it is really necessary. ‘ I am prepared to meet the views of the commission and of the Government to the extent of agreeing that the industry should be made to bear the cost of carrying out the recommendations of the commission. If the Government can show that this will absorb the whole of the £45,000 which this additional duty will provide, I am prepared to support the imposition of the duty. I do not think, however, that this duty should be made the means of raising additional revenue at the present time. “We are now reaching a point with regard to taxation beyond which it is not wise to go. I am doubtful whether it is necessary to impose an extra duty of1/2d. a foot in order to meet the cost of carrying out the commission’s recommendation.. I believe that a duty of1/4d. a foot would be sufficient. This would provide a revenue of £22,500, and I cannot see anything in the recommendations of the commission which would justify the raising of more than that amount.
– Is -there any item in the tariff in respect of which a duty of1/4d. is imposed?
– I do not know that there is anything else that is taxed by the foot. I see no reason why we should not impose the duty of1/4d. a foot, and I think, that the industry could bear that without any extra charge to the public. But the whole £45,000 could not be raised without increasing the price of admission to picture, theatres. I throw out the suggestion at this time in the hope that it will be acted upon as the bill has not yet been introduced in another place.
– The bill has already been introduced.
– A motion for the imposition of the extra duty of1/2d. per foot has been submitted by the Minister, but the bill itself is not yet before’ the House. Perhaps if the Government goes into the matter carefully it will see that the whole of the extra revenue proposed to be raised is not necessary, and it may recognize the advisability of imposing an extra duty of only1/4d. a foot rather than a1/2d. I think that the former sum will be sufficient to meet all the needs of the situation. .
With the general recommendations of the commission I am thoroughly in accord, and I hope that the Commonwealth Government will be successful in this instance in securing the co-operation of the States in passing the legislation necessary to give full effect to the commission’s recommendations. This is one more of the many instances we have had in this Parliament of our lack of powerto deal in a national way with a really national question. If the States can be induced to co-operate in the manner suggested in the report, the commission will have rendered yet another service to the people of Australia. It will be the first body to have succeeded in finding a subject upon which it has been possible to obtain unanimous legislation by the States, thus enabling the Commonwealth Government to deal nationally with a national question.
– (Victoria) [4.18 J. - I wish to add my congratulations to those of other honorable senators on the excellence of the work done by the commission. I think that this report supplies the answer to most of the criticism by the press and by our friends opposite that the business of this Government is carried on entirely by means of boards and commissions. In no other way could the necessary evidence have been collected, and this report made.
– One swallow does not make a summer.
– The honorable senator probably means that other commissions have served no useful purpose. I am not going to subscribe to that. Other commissions, even if they have not done such splendid work as this, have done equally valuable work in their particular spheres.
The American producers have been able “to get away with a good deal of Australian money. The commission makes the point that its investigations seem to indicate that losses are being incurred on the importation of American films. I think that impression was due to what may be regarded as a. rather clever manipulation of figures and I agree with the conclusion of the commission that unless the business showed a substantial profit the American producing companies would not continue to export films to Australia year after year. I understand that the American companies hide their profits by declaring that the films are being hired by branch organizations in Australia, and as income tax in this country is levied only on profits, the Taxation Department is not able to obtain income taxation on business connected with the hiring of films. Itshould not, however, be impossible for the Government to devise some alternative method for the levying of taxation upon these American branch organizations.
– The Taxation C0111.misioner has been endeavouring to do that for some considerable time.
– -When a foreign company is trading in Australia and when there is not sufficient ‘data upon which to ascertain its profits, power is given to the Taxation Commissioner to make an arbitrary assessment.
– That cannot be don? without proof of profits having been earned, and to obtain proof, documents must be produced.
– In the case of certain foreign companies trading in Australia, the only means of ascertaining profits are the figures relating to the quantity of goods sold. Such goods; I understand, are usualy invoiced at such a high figure that the business does not disclose any discernible profit. But if the commissioner seeks information as to the cost of manufacture and it is not forthcoming, he has authority under the act to fix a certain percentage as profits and levy income tax on that amount.
– That is contained in a recent provision inserted in the Income Tax Assessment Act.
– That is so. It is reasonable to assume that the profits of the American branch film houses are in the neighbourhood of 20 per cent, or 30 per cent. If the companies concerned are showing losses on their trading operations, it. should not be difficult to furnish the necessary proof.
– The salaries they pay are enormous.
– Of course income tax is paid on salaries received. The point I have raised is, I think, the only one which was not satisfactorily explained by Senator Duncan.
.- It is not my intention to occupy the Senate for any length of time in discussing the motion before the Chair. Figures quoted in the debate this afternoon show that the moving picture industry is a most important one. We have been told that 110,000,000 people annually attend the 1,250 picture theatres throughout Australia. Judging by the activity manifested in at least two of our capital cities, and I presume that the same may be said of the other cities in the Commonwealth, adequate provision has not yet been made for the many thousands of people who attend picture shows nightly everywhere. I read in the columns of the daily press the other day a statement that a new picture theatre, opened recently in Sydney cost £180,000, was capable of seating 3,000 people. I know also that the foundations have been laid for a large picture theatre in Melbourne, and that arrangements are in hand for the erection of another huge picture house in that city.
Those who attend moving pictures are, in the main, people engaged in the workaday world ; that is to say, they belong to the working class. Moving pictures are a cheap form of entertainment, and this appeals to the masses. A few years ago when the Government introduced and passed a measure. levying a tax on admission charges to places of entertainment, I and other members of the Labour party strongly objected to it on the ground that the tax would fall chiefly on the workers, and that therefore, it was in the nature of a class tax. The commission recommends the imposition of an additional duty on the importation of films, which impost, according to Senator Duncan will realize about £45,000 per annum.’ On this point I remind honorable senators that a gentleman closely identified with the industry is reported to have said that if the duty is increased the additional impost will not be borne by the industry, but will be passed on. Unquestionably the added burden would under those circumstances fall upon those who patronize moving pictures. If that is the intention of those controlling moving picture theatres I would hesitate to support the recommendation of the commission for the proposed increased duty. It is true that we may, by legislation, provide that only certain pictures shall be screened in Australian theatres ; but after all those who attend such places regularly are the most competent to judge what isacceptable or unacceptable to them.
– If that is so, why appoint a censor?
– I am assuming, of course, that the pictures have been passed by the censor. If I required confirmation of this viewpoint, I should have it in the speech just delivered by Senator Duncan who admitted that the showmen were the best judges of what pictures were acceptable to their patrons. It is obvious that if they put on programmes that were not popular attendances would dwindle and their business would become unprofitable.
In regard to the report itself, it is as well, I think, that I should remind honorable senators that, had it not been for the interest in this matter shown by Senator Grant, who is a member of the party to which I belong, the commission would not have been appointed. Senator Grant submitted the motion for the appointment of a select committee. He was supported by members on the Government side and the committee was duly constituted. Subsequently it was converted into a royal commission. I congratulate Senator Grant upon his action and J regret that owing to his very serious indisposition, he is not able to attend the Senate to take part in the consideration of the commission’s report. I feel sure, also, that other honorable senators join with me in this expression of regret with regard to the illness of Senator Grant.
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!
– He did very valuable work on the commission.
– I am sure he did, because he discharges conscientiously any duty which he undertakes. He has always taken a keen interest in the moving picture industry and at all times has done what he could to promote its development as well as to ensure a fair deal for those engaged in it.
On page 4 of the commission’s reportthere appears the following statement with regard to film censorship : -
Registration will not be granted in the case of a film which in the opinion of the censor -
is blasphemous, indecent or obscene;
is likely to be injurious to morality or to encourage or incite to crime;
is likely to be offensive to the people of any friendly nation;
is likely to be offensive to the people of the British Empire; or
depicts any matter the exhibition of which is undesirable in the public interest.
I direct attention particularly to paragraph (c). On page 14 the commission recommends -
Appeal Board -
Why is it considered necessary in the recommendation with regard to film censorship to refer specifically to the registration of films likely to be offensive to the people of any friendly nation? Why not eliminate altogether the word “ friendly “ ? Why should we tolerate the screening of a picture that may be offensive to any nation ? Who is to say whether a nation is friendly or unfriendly? The same’ course should be followed in relation to pictures as is recommended in regard to awards. As we wish to create a better international feeling we should not discriminate between nations in this way. The word “ friendly “ should be eliminated. The commission took considerable evidence concerning the influence of pictures upon the young mind. In paragraph 127 of. its report the following appears : -
The frequent attendance of children at night picture performances is found by school teachers to militate against their educational progress, for it is noticed on the days following nightly picture show attendances that the children are listless, inattentive, and unable to concentrate. The continuance of such a state of affairs is not desired, but a difficulty exists in finding a remedy without unduly enforcing hardship.
The statement that attendance at picture shows seriously handicaps the education of children is a very serious one.
– Was it general?
– Yes, from teachers.
– Apparently the commission realized the serious effect of pictures upon the . education of children, but was unable to suggest a remedy. On visiting Western Australia it found a partial remedy had been provided. In that State Friday night is observed as a special children’s night, when pictures suitable only for children are shown. As there is no school on the following day, their education is not affected. Is that the result of an arrangement with those engaged in the picture show business, or is there any State law or. regulation covering it? >
– There is no State law. A special programme is provided on Friday nights; the proprietors do not want children on other nights.
– Are not children admitted on other nights?
– It is becoming the custom in Western Australia for parents in the suburbs to send their children on Friday nights, when special programmes are presented. That is not done in the city theatres.
– Is special provision made in, say, Perth for children to attend picture theatres on Friday night?
– No, only in the suburban theatres.
– Why should not the same system apply to the cities?
– Children do not travel to the cities to attend picture shows.
– Although the commission realizes the seriousness and importance of this aspect of the question, it has not made any definite recommendation.
– Even if it did, it could not be enforced by the Commonwealth.
– I know that; but the commission has not even made any such recommendation. In the dairying industry in some parts of Australia some years ago many children worked before and after attending school. Public attention was directed to the fact that some children so engaged were listless at school, and some of them even fell asleep. I do not know whether the same results have followed attendance at picture shows.
– If the children were debarred from attending it would be in some cases a hardship on the parents.
– I do not wish them to be debarred from attending places of amusement.
– The statement to which the honorable senator has referred is based upon the evidence of school teachers. Parents seemingly do not recognize the evil effects of some pictures upon the child mind.
– If children who frequently attend pictures are handicapped in their education some definite recommendation should be made in their interests.
The commission also recommends the appointment of a censorship board consisting of three members, and an appeal board of five. Why should there be aboard of appeal ?
– A board of appeal is necessary so that the public may appeal, if desired, against the decisions of the censorship board.
– Should not a censorship board of three be competent to censor all pictures?
– An appeal board is to meet cases where there is a public outcry against the screening of a picture passed by the censorship board, such as arose in Melbourne in connexion with the screening of the “ Callahans and the Murphys. “ There should be a body to which the public can appeal.
– There might be an outcry against the decision of the appeal board. It does not follow that the appeal board will vary a decision of the censorship board. Personally I do not see the necessity for superimposing on the censorship board a board of appeal, the members of which will have to be paid an adequate remuneration for the service they render.
– There was an almost general demand throughout Australia for a board of appeal by the public and organizations representing the public.
– No evidence on behalf of the public has been given in support of it.
– Oh; yes.
– Until stronger reasons are advanced by Senator Duncan, and others familiar with the work of the commission, I shall not feel -disposed to support that recommendation.
– The honorable senator knows that an appeal can be made to the Minister against the decision of the censor.
– (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - Order! I ask honorable senators to allow Senator Findley to proceed without interruption.
– I notice that the commission desire that there shall be uniformity of censorship throughout Australia. With that I agree. At present the censorship is controlled by a Commonwealth censor, and in some of the States by State legislation. It would be in the interests of the industry and to the advantage of the people, if ‘a picture passed in one part of the Commonwealth could be shown without further censoring in any other . part of Australia if so desired. At present that cannot be done, because of the different methods employed in the various States. I am not willing to support all of the commission’s recommendations. I am, however, prepared to support the ‘Government’s proposal to give legislative effect to some of them.
.- In common with other honorable senators I wish to congratulate the commission on the excellent work it has accomplished in clearing the atmosphere which existed concerning the position of the picture industry in Australia. The report of the commission shows that many of the charges made in the Senate, and as a result of which the commission was appointed, have not been proved, and that there is apparently no justification for the statement that an American combine is endeavouring to strangle the picture industry in Australia. When the. proposal for the appointment of a select committee was made, I stated that most of the information could be readily secured from those engaged in the industry. I am, however, very pleased with the way in which the commissioners have carried out their work, and with the recommendations they have made. Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity of carefully perusing the report because although it wastabled in another place last week, a copy of it was made available to me only at 10 o’clock this morning. I do not know who is responsible for the delay in the distribution of this document, but I protest against the delay.
Considering the effect that motion pictures have, particularly upon the young people of Australia, I trust that . effect’ will be given to many of the commission’s recommendations, and that, as a result, pictures will be produced more in harmony with the civilization we are building up here. No one can deny the effect which American pictures have upon young people, and even upon some adults. Our views of domestic life and our social customs are altogether different from those portrayed in American productions. Many of the scenes depicted on the screen have a detrimental effect even upon adults. The portrayal of extravagance and luxury creates a feeling of discontent and gives to picture patrons abnormal views of life:
The commission has recommended the enactment of legislation providing for a quota of Empire pictures. I am sorry that a higher quota could not be “recommended, but I am afraid that to provide even a 5 per cent quota a lot of rubbish will be screened.
– I think there is a sufficient supply of good Empire pictures to provide the quota recommended.
– To the extent that the quota will stimulate local producers and encourage the importation of Empire pictures, it is justified.
I am not enamoured of the commission’s recommendation of a bonus for good Australian pictures. It may encourage producers; but if they can produce pictures with an international appeal the returns from the pictures themselves will be sufficient without any award of merit. I have sufficient faith in the ability and enterprise of Australians to believe that, apart from the prospect of a bonus they will go in wholeheartedly for the production of good pictures. The making of pictures is an expensive undertaking. Good pictures like “ The Ten Commandments “ are costly to produce.
– Does the honorable senator think that that was a good picture ?
– That it was a good picture was proved by the way the people flocked to see it. Yet that picture, which was so costly to produce, did not give any return to its producers for several years.
A good deal has been said regarding American pictures controlling the market. Senator Duncan has made it clear that were it not for American pictures nearly every Australian picture theatre would have to close its doors. One of Britain’s foremost picture producers, Mr. Stoll, admitted that he could not compete against his American rivals.
– That was just after the war.
– No; his statement was made some years after the termination of the war. A good deal has been said ‘about the influence of some American pictures, but the censor has stated that some of the British pictures produced just after the war ended were so disgraceful that they had to be rejected. Even some which passed the censors were so bad that the showmen would not exhibit them. Particularly in connexion with pictures dealing with the sex question British producers got to lower depths than did the Americans.
– What is the honorable senator’s authority for that statement ?
– If the honorable senator will inquire of the censors he will find that the statement is correct.
– There is no such statement in the -censors’ report.
– The members of the commission will confirm my statement.
– The honorable senator is keen on the Yankees.
– That is a cheap gibe. I have no greater respect for the Yankees than Senator Guthrie has. For years before I saw Australia I was prejudiced against them because I knew something about them. But my prejudice is not sufficient to cause me to shut my eyes to facts. I am as British as is any other honorable senator, but to refuse to acknowledge facts, is foolish. If I had my way I would wipe out the American picture industry to-morrow, because I know how demoralizing many American pictures are. But it cannot be gainsaid that the acting, the photography and the finish generally of American pictures are superior to that of pictures produced in any other country. I know that some excellent pictures have been made in Great Britain, and that leading British actors have been induced to leave the legitimate stage to act as film stars. My remarks apply to average British and American pictures. In the matter of sub-titlesthe American pictures are far ahead of those produced in Britain. The truth of the well-known saying that the average Englishman has no imagination is made clear by a study of the subtitles of moving pictures produced in Britain.
– Does the honorable senator like the language in the American sub-titles ?
SenatorREID. - No; but those subtitles exhibit cleverness. Their wit and humour cannot be denied. I dislike their slang.
– Do they not tend to Americanize our children ?
– They do. British producers should give more attention to sub-titles.
– The best American pictures are . based on stories by English writers.
SenatorREID. - I have not yet seen an American picture which has correctly interpreted British history. At times my blood has been stirred by whatI have seen. Nothing has so tended to demoralize the colored races as have some of the pictures purporting to depict the domestic life of the white races. These pictures have done much to injurethe Empire in the eyes of its colored peoples.
-That has been my contention all along.
– I am extremely sorry that British producers have so far been unable to produce pictures acceptable to Britishers.
– Mr. Stuart Doyle said that 72 per cent, of American pictures are based on stories by British writers.
– I repeat, that at times my blood has been stirred by the way historical facts have been misrepresented in American pictures, but that does not blind me to their excellence in other respects. British producers must exercise more imagination and bestir themselves if they would find a market for their pictures.
– The honorable senator should not forget how they were handicapped during the war.
– Even since the war they have not made much progress. The effect of pictures on children is a matter of considerable importance. Most picture showmen hold matinees on Saturday afternoons so that there is no necessity for children to remain up late at night to attend picture shows. But many parents who desire themselves to view the pictures have no one to look after their children while they attend the theatre, and so they take them with them. In our industrial districts it is not an uncommon sight to see parents, with their children, some in perambulators, returning home late at night from the picture shows. It is difficult to legislate in this matter, because if we were to prevent children from attending picture shows at night, we should interfere with the liberty of parents. I know that in order to. avoid their children being out late at night many parents deny themselves to the extent of spending their Saturday afternoons with them at the picture theatres.
In my opinion the only justification for the increased duty on foreign films is that the additional revenue may be required to meet the expenses of the censorship. I favour the establishment of an appeal board. Should the censorship be too strict at times, the showmen should have the right to have their case heard. The general public also should have the opportunity to present its views to such a body. The members of the Appeal Board will have to be paid for their services and I think the industry ought to provide the money, but I am afraid the tax will be passed on to the public. In 1927, according to the annual report of the Commonwealth Film Censorship, America sent us 1,681 films representing 24,187,591 feet, the United Kingdom sent us 271 films representing 1,904,190 and other countries sent us 1.99 films representing 1,366,466 feet. The total length of films imported for the year, was thus 27,458,247 feet. The imposition of this extra duty of1/2d. a foot will mean that the distributors will have to provide an additional £45,000 in customs taxation, and as I do not suppose they are making sufficient out of the business to pay this out of their own pockets, they must pass it on to the showmen who in turn will pass it on to the public. I do not know whether the registration fees can be increased to cover the expenditure which will be involved in appointing a Censorship Board and a Board of Appeal.
– The commission also recommends expenditure on awards of merit and in other directions.
– That being so, the £45,000 will easily be swallowed up; nevertheless I fear the duty of id. a foot will be passed on to the public. If the money is spent in the production of clean pictures and in purifying the screen it will be well spent.
I am pleased that the royal commission has recommended that ‘ there should be a woman on the Board of Censors and on the Board of Appeal. I trust that the Government will adopt that suggestion. In regard to sex questions women are often better judges than men as to what is right or wrong, and as a rule a mother exercises more care than does the father in regard to what the child should or should not see. I hope that the Government will help to make the industry cleaner by the appointment of a board that will see that the best possible pictures are screened for adults as well as children
Senator HERBERT HAYS (Tasmania) [5.10J. - The debate on the motion for printing the report of the royal commission on the moving picture industry has been of such a nature that there is very little by way of criticism for members of the commission to answer. It is extremely pleasing and gratifying to honorable senators who were members of the commission that its recommendations have been received so favorably not only by the Parliament but also by the press, by those engaged in the industry and, I. am sure, by the general public. Senator Findley has pointed out that Senator Grant took the first step in the Senate for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the moving picture industry. If my memory serves me right the motive which prompted Senator Grant was that he believed, with many others in Australia, that greater encouragement should be given to the production of films iv Australia. Another honorable senator who took a prominent part in the debate upon the motion for the appointment of the select committee, was Senator Guthrie who stated his belief that something more should be done to ensure the production of British films.
In its inquiries the royal commission examined many witnesses in regard to the possibility of Australia supplying anything like a substantial proportion of the requirements of the Australian picture showmen, and found that it was utterly impossible for Australian producers to do anything substantial towards meeting those requirements. It also ascertained that even Great Britain could not supply anything like a substantial proportion of Australia’s requirements. Indeed we know that the quota adopted in Great Britain after a great deal of consideration was only 2J per cent.
– But Great Britain has five times more theatres to supply than has Australia.
– Great Britain’s opportunities for producing pictures are five times greater than those of Australia. At the first glance one might think it an easy matter to establish the motion picture industry in Australia, but the commission was unanimously of opinion that it would be impossible to establish an industry in Australia to produce pictures only for the Australian market. Australia must produce films for an international market if it wants- to enter seriously into the business. The average cost of producing a feature film is estimated at £50,000, but the most liberal estimate of the earning power of such a picture in this market alone is nothing like 50 per cent, of that amount. It is clear, therefore, that the Australian market in itself is not sufficient to encourage capital to engage in the industry of producing pictures for the Australian market alone, and that it is necessary to look for a market abroad.
– What chance is there of doing that ?
– I am not so pessimistic as to say that Australia could not engage in this industry. If producers have sufficient capital and go into the matter seriously, realizing the competition that is against them, there are possibilities of producing pictures in Australia that will find a market abroad.
– There ought to be a market in Great Britain for Australian films.
– I think there would be. Already pictures produced in Australia have beenexhibited successfullyin other parts of the world. But the people who are anxious to engage in the industry of film production in Australia, must realize the enormous expenditure it would involve, and must be prepared to - enter into serious competition with other countries in the markets of the world.
As honorable senators are aware,. and as the report shows, 90 per cent. of the world’s requirements of pictures comes from America. One would gather from the trend of the debate this afternoon that pictures produced in America are produced by Americans. That is a mistaken impression. During the war, when all the other countries that had been previously engaged in producing pictures were engaged in that titanic struggle, the Americans took the opportunity to do everything possible to develop the production of pictures. They set about this businessinthewayinwhichtheyhave set about the establishment of other industries. They started off with the advantage of having a great number of home buyers for their output. That is an advantage enjoyed by Americans in other industries. For instance, the American motor car manufacturers have, in America itself, a tremendous number of customers for their output. Furthermore, like other American producers, “the film producers could engage in mass production. They have enormous capital at their command, and by this means are able to attract to Hollywood the best artists from all countries. In a big feature film they do not rely on make-up for their different types, but if necessary, draw the actual types themselves from all parts of the world. Because of the large salaries which they are able to pay, they are able to attract the best actors, the best directors, and the best producers from other countries and concentrate them in their own centre of production.
– The British are doing that now.
– I would remind the honorable senator that among those who are engaged in making the film industry in America are many leading British actors, and many Australians who have been very successful in America.
A great deal has been said about the difficulty experienced by the British film producers in finding a market for their products in Australia, and in arranging for the exhibition of their films. This is, in a measure, true, but we must remember that those engaged in the picture theatre business in Australia have invested their own capital in it. It is a commercial enterprise with them; they are selling entertainment to the public. In view of this, we should be particularly careful, while doing what we can to assist production within Australia and the Empire, not to do anything which would jeopardize the capital of those people who have invested their money in the picture business. There was a good deal of truth in the statement made by Senator Guthrie that the British producers have been unable to obtain screenings for their films in the Commonwealth, but I think that those who gave that information to Senator Guthrie told onlypart of the story. We found in the course of our investigations thatit mattered little to the exhibitors what the country of origin of a film might be; with them it was a question of its entertainment value.
– Have not some of the big exhibiting combines committed themselves to contracts for American films for a period of three years?
– I wish to draw the attention of Senator Guthrie to this fact : The American producer has his own distributing house in Australia, or a branch of his company operating here on bis behalf, and this local agency arranges for the leasing and distribution of films. The British producer, on the other hand, has been trying to sell his films instead of hiring them out as the Americans are doing. In many instances Britishfilms were sold at ridiculously low prices to those who hawked them around Australia. When, however, they went to the exhibitors and asked them to put aside other films so that the British product might be exhibited, they asked 40 per cent., 50 per cent. and sometimes 60 per cent. of the gross takings. The British producers have failed because they did not follow the American practice. They should have appointed their own distributors in Australia, who would have arranged to rent the films out to the exhibitors, and then pass them on to other distributors through their own organization. Provided the merit of the pictures was equal, they would secure the same return from them as the American producers are doing. Senator Guthrie referred to the difficulty experiencedbecause exhibitors had entered into long contracts. In this connexion it must be remembered that it is the practice in commercial circles to enter into contracts for a considerable time ahead. In some cases importers have to make contracts to take the whole output of a woollen mill for perhaps one, two, or three years. The contract system ensures to the exhibitor a continuous supply of films, and guarantees him his programme for several months ahead. The commission recognized that it was not desirable that these long contracts should be made, and came to the conclusion that steps should be taken to encourage the production and exhibition of Australian and British films.
On the subject of censorship, the issue has been raised as to the suitability of some of the films that have been exhibited. We all realize the difficulties under which the censor works, and the tremendous task with which he is confronted. While it is possible to set out by regulation in a general way rules for the guidance of the censor, it is not possible to lay down definitely what pictures he may or may not release. In thefinal analysis, a great deal will depend on the standard set by the censor himself. I think that we should compliment the chief censor upon the vigilance which he has exercised in the course of his work. Nevertheless, we all admit that there have been leakages from time to time which have justified the complaints as to the standard of some of the pictures exhibited. It must in fairness be said, however, that the same thing applies with regard to spoken plays, and to literature. It is not fair to point in the one direction only, and to say that all the harm is done by films. If I may digress for a moment, I should like to say that I think it would be a good thing if more supervision were exercised with regard to the class of literature which is distributed throughout this country.
– Many books are worse than the pictures.
– If the censor and the appeal board disagree, with whom is the final decision to lie?
– At the present time there is a right of appeal from the censor to the Minister. It is not desirable, nor is it fair to ask, that a Minister of theCrown should have to make decisions upon such subjects as this. Ministers come and go, but if an appeal board is appointed, consisting of three or five members, it will be. constantly engaged on this class of work, and the members will have the necessary qualifications to enable them to come to a proper decision.
– Why is it necessary, in the opinion of the commission, to have a woman on the appeal board?
– There have been cases in which films have been passed by the censor and subsequently objected to by women’s organizations.
– Under the Constitution every State has power to appoint censors, and some of them have exercised that right. In order to give effect to the recommendations of the commission, the consent and cooperation of the States are necessary. Instances have occurred in which films have been released by the Commonwealth censor, and have been subsequently refused exhibition in one of the States. Therefore, in order to secure the goodwill and co-operation of the States, we have recommended the appointment of an appeal board, so that if a particular film is regarded as objectionable by any organization, representation to that effect may be made to the Minister, and the matter may come before the board of appeal, whose decision in my opinion, should be final. If this course were adopted it would, I feel sure, bring about a more satisfactory state of affairs than exists to-day. At present the States have certain powers of legislation and one or two have set up local State censorship boards.
The commission recommends the adoption of uniform legislation and uniform standards of censorship, the object being to secure co-operation of the several States and the setting up of one competent authority to- control the moving picture industry. This should place it on a more satisfactory basis and give general satisfaction. The commission gave consideration to the possibility of further advertising Australia through the medium of the “ Know Your Own Country” pictures. These films are distributed by one agency and are being shown ‘in a considerable number of towns throughout the Commonwealth, but the commission believes much more can be done in this direction. The pictures are very much appreciated by the people.
– Is it not a fact that those pictures are being distributed in the United States of America by an American company?
– I cannot say definitely what is the evidence on that point.
– They are being shown in certain parts of America.
-Senator Reid and one or two other honorable senators made special reference to the recommendation concerning the attendance of children at evening performances. I can assure honorable senators that the commission found the position bristling with difficulties, and realized, that after all we must depend to a large extent upon parental control in this matter. The commission ascertained that although matinee performances were advertised by various’ exhibitors throughout Australia, the programme was not always specially arranged for children. As a matter of fact in most theatres the evening programme was put on and therefore was not always suitable for young people. Exhibitors explained that they found it extremely difficult to obtain films suitable for children only and therefore were obliged to fall back upon ordinary programme pictures. To meet what is admittedly a difficult situation, the commission has recommended that films should be graded by the censor as “ universal “ or “ for adults only “ ; and further that exhibitors should advertise the grade of picture to be shown at every performance. This would throw on parents the responsibility of deciding whether their children should attend certain picture performances. Speaking from memory I think the censor stated that not more than about 40 per cent, of the films ‘ imported could be graded as suitable for children. It is important therefore that parents should be aware of their responsibility in this matter. The commission did what was practicable to meet the situation.
In closing, I should like to say a few words in praise of the work of the chairman of the commission. Mr. Marks entered into the inquiry most enthusiastically, and was at all times a tower of strength to his fellow members. I am very pleased to know that the Government proposes further to utilize his services in carrying out certain negotiations with the States and I feel sure that he will be equally successful in the special duty so entrusted to him.
– Since my name has been mentioned several times during the debate and American film producing companies have had many champions, it is appropriate that I should take this opportunity to state my views concerning the commission’s report and recommendations. Senator Duncan was almost fulsome in his .praise and advocacy of American films and sought to belittle the effort of the British companies to make pictures. Surely in a British communit.y like this it is natural that some one should wish to defend British institutions and do what is possible to assist Britain to recover the picture trade which she founded prior to the war but which, unfortunately, she lost’ together with 1,000,000 of her men in those frightful four years. In this connexion it is as well to remember that during the first three and a half years of the war the United States of America with ‘ a population of 110,000,000 and most of the wealth of the world, did not have a man in the fighting line. Senator Duncan spoke strongly in defence of the American film producing concerns and their pup companies in Australia.
– Mr. DeputyPresident, I rise to order. I submit that Senator Guthrie is offensively misrepresenting the attitude which I have taken up in this debate in asserting that I represented and advocated the interests of American companies. I contend that an honorable senator’s references to other members of this Chamber must be couched in courteous language and above all, be fair. Senator Guthrie’s remarks concerning my attitude are most offensive but are characteristic of the honorable senator.
– I have not the slightest desire to be offensive to Senator Duncan or any other honorable senator. When Senator Duncan rose I was merely making a statement based on my notes of what he had said. I do not wish to infer that the honorable senator in his speech this afternoon defended the American films, but certainly he spoke in defence of the American companies. It has been asserted in another place that the branch distributing houses in Australia are merely pups of the American concerns, by means of which they are evading Commonwealth income taxation.
Senator Duncan also stated that there had been no boycott of British films by Australian exhibitors. My information is to the contrary, and I accept as authoritative statements made by several gentlemen of high reputation, including Colonel Pottinger who definitely assured me that he could not get a screening of his British films in Australia in any recognized circuit, with the result that he had to exhibit in -houses outside the combine.
– What I said on that point has been endorsed bv every other member of the commission who has spoken in this debate.
– Senator Guthrie must be aware that Colonel Pottinger bought a number of British pictures and was exploiting them in Australia not in the interests of the British producers, but on his own behalf. ‘
– I understand that Colonel Pottinger had several British pictures for which he could not get a screening in Australia.
– Perhaps not at his price.
– The commission’s report states that from 50 per cent, to 65 per cent, of the gross takings of the 1,250 picture theatres in Australia is paid to the American film companies in respect of certain films. That is what I would like honorable senators to bear in mind.
I wish to discuss the report in a dispassionate manner. I regret very much that owing to illness, my colleague. Senator Grant, is not able to take part in this debate. He has always shown a keen interest iti the moving picture industry. It was on his motion that the Government appointed a select committee, which subsequently was. converted into. a royal commission because a prominent manager of one of the big companies in Melbourne refused to answer certain questions put to him by the chairman of the select committee. Senator Grant, like myself, thought that not only in Australia but also throughout our great Empire, we should have cleaner films and a greater proportion of films of Empire production.
The members of the commission have worked’ hard and have, I think, presented a valuable report, although, of course, I do not agree with everything it contains. For instance, rather too much attention was given to the interests of those engaged in the industry for profit, regardless of the suitability or otherwise of the films screened and their effect upon the people. Too much attention was also given to the interests of the showmen in Australia who are dominated by the producers in America and too little to those who gave evidence hi support of the screening of a greater number of films of a higher moral standard and of -the production and exhibition of Empire films. Still, on the whole, I approve of the report, the recommendations of which, if adopted, will result in some good.
I have nothing to retract in regard to my enthusiasm for the British Empire and the encouragement of British industry. -The report of the commission which I read only this .morning confirms practically the whole of the statements in my speech in the Senate in August, 1926, and the evidence which I gave before the commission, when I again directed attention to the enormous power of films . for good or for evil. In Australia alone, the report states, there are 1,250 picture theatres to which no less than 110,000,000 people annually pay for admission. Of. this number 80” per cent, comprises women, girls and children. I have always endeavoured to stress the enormous influence of films upon the people, particularly children, and the terrible stranglehold -on the industry which the Americans enjoy. Thai stranglehold is just as great in Australia as elsewhere as is shown by the figures in the report. For instance for the year 1925, of the 24,000,000 feet of films imported into Australia, 22,841,000 feet came from: America. In 1926 of 23,779,000 feet imported, 22,000,000 feet came from America, and last year, of 27,458,000 feet imported, no less than 24,187,000 feet came from the same source. According to the report 17,430,869 of the 19,153,912 feet of feature films, which are the most important and draw the largest audiences, came from America.
I wish again to emphasize “ the tremendous grip which American producers have upon the whole of the film industry in Australia, ‘and in doing so shall repeat the figures, facts and arguments which I gave in my speech on a previous occasion. On page three of the commission’s excellent report, it is stated that approximately 90 per cent, of the films imported into Australia are produced in the United States of America, and on page seven are further official statistics dealing with this matter. In paragraph 48 it is stated that “Importers claim that generally they have no choice of selection in the films exported to them from America.” I emphasize those words in order to show that the Americans have a very strong grip on the industry in Australia. The report also states “ It is not surprising therefore that these films frequently contain features objectionable to Australian standards.” On page nine it is stated that one exhibiting company controlling a large circuit of theatres in the capital cities and the suburban areas recently made a three years’ contract with an American producing company.
– It got in ahead of the others.
– But such lengthy contracts do not assist the pro1duction of British or Australian films. Even if picture showmen were sufficiently patriotic to provide for the screening of British or Australian films on their programmes, they would still have to pay the full price for a programme of American films.
– They could put a British production on as an additional picture. .
– They would have to exclude an American picture for which they have paid, and would- thus lose money. So far as I know, picture showmen are not philanthropists. In paragraph 101 it is stated that - . . . It must not be forgotten that some OS per cent, of the films shown in Australian theatres to-day are produced in foreign countries, and, with the exception of 2 or 3 per cent., these arc of American origin. . . .
Surely if the commission, which has done much good work, finds that 95 per cent, of the- films shown in Australia are of foreign manufacture, and of the 95 per cent, only 2 or 3’ per cent, are not of American origin, it clearly proves the tremendous grip which the American industry has upon the picture business of this country.
These statements were supported in speeches made in another place by the chairman of the commission (Mr. Marks), and other honorable members. The chairman said, “ The Americans are pretty smart people ; I have great admiration for them.” There has been a lot of admiration expressed this afternoon for the Americans, but none for the British. Mr. Marks further stated -
If the Commonwealth has not the . power to legislate in the direction required, they will see that no films other than American are shown in Australia, and Australian production will be postponed for ever.
He shows quite openly the stranglehold which the Americans have upon the film industry, particularly in Australia, and asks that the Commonwealth should have power to combat it. He proceeded -
The commission has been most lenient in its recommendations regarding showmen.
With that contention I agree. The commission, perhaps, paid more attention to the interests of the showmen than to those of any one else. In another part of his speech the chairman said -
It is true that with about 95 per cent. of the films shown in Australia being of American origin the American picture producers control the Australian screen.
Some of the members of the commission seemed to be annoyed when I gave evidence to that effect before the commission, a fact which I also mentioned in this chamber, but here we have an admission by the chairman that my statement was correct. I cannot understand their attitude towards me in this matter. My only object has been to secure the screening of cleaner films and a greater number of British Empire production. I have no other motive. The chairman also said, “ America dominates the picture industry.”
The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), another member of the commission, repeated in another place much of what I have contended, but he also said that the British Empire has not recognized the importance of the motionpicture industry. That is nonsense. Prior to’ the war the British were well abreast of other nations in the production of films, but on the outbreak of hostilities their factories and talents had to he put to other uses. Since then Britain, unlike America, has been suffering from the aftermath of war, and has been endeavouring to regain the trade she has lost. The Americans made enormous fortunes during the war period, and had ample time to concentrate upon the organization of industry, and to extensively circulate American propaganda. . The Americans were digging into the film industry while the British were digging in at Gallipoli, Flanders, and elsewhere. Now they are demanding from Great Britain £31 a minute for the next 60 years as a repayment of the money advanced to help Britain and her Allies, really in the cause of America, while that country was preparing her men for the fighting line. I do not blame the Americans for seeing that trade follows the film. We cannot deny the overwhelming value of the film for propaganda purposes, particularly when we realize that in Australia alone, a country with a comparatively small population, 110,000,000 people per annum pay for admission to picture theatres, and £25,000,000 is invested in the industry, I admire the business acumen of the American people in getting in early and sending their filmic to all parts of the world in order to increase their trade and prestige.
I have been accused of being almost hysterically in favour of British films. I am a most enthusiastic Britisher, and am not ashamed of it. I always wish to see everything possible done to help the good old Mother Country to win back the trade which she lost during the war. Mr. Forde, in speaking in another place, said -
Practically95 per cent. of the pictures shown all over the world are produced in the United States of America.
– Does that include England ?
– He says, “all over the world.” If that is not a stranglehold on the film industry, I do not know what a stranglehold is. Another member of the commission, Mr. Gregory, also speaking in another place, said -
The evidence which was placed before the commission left no room for doubt that, to a very large extent, trade follows the cinema. The screening of American pictures in South America has had a pronounced influence, and has tended to the building up of American as against European trade.
That is only natural. I do not blame the Americans for that.
– That is proAmerican, not anti-British.
– I have always said that a lot of the films which enter this country are of a low moral standard. I have also, at all times, given credit to Professor Wallace, the chief censor, for the manner in which he has performed his onerous duties. I am not acquainted with the censor in Sydney, but understand he also is an excellent man. The censors have done their work well.
I have been accused of having exaggerated the necessity for more extended powers being given to the censors and for a stricter censorship. This report of the commission gives conclusive evidence that many of the films bought by the Australian combines for exhibition to our people are unsuitable. The report states that last year over 50 per cent. of the films imported into Australia had to be rejected in part or in whole. The film censors have never been accused of being extremists or anti-American; yet that is their statement. Of the feature films which entered Australia last year 319 were passed unconditionally, 308 were passed after eliminations had been made, and 88 were totally rejected. That is evidence of their low moral standard.
– Is the honorable senator aware that there have been periods in which the percentage of rejected British films has been greater than that of rejected American films?
– Yes ; I do not desire to exonerate any one in this matter. The numberof British films entering Australia is, however, so small that their effect on the people has not been so prejudicial.
– Films that are rejected cannot harm the people.
– That is so; but the report admits that there has been some leakages of undesirable films. The censors have been overworked. Moreover, both in Sydney and in Melbourne, they have been working under difficulties. That insufficient facilities for viewing films have been provided, is stated in this report. I think I have shown clearly that numbers of undesirable films have been shown in this country.
– Is that not a reflection on the censorship?
– No ; the censors have done excellent work, but they have too much to do. For that reason I am glad that the commission has recommended a board of censors, and that better accommodation be provided for them.
I desire to emphasize the necessity for a stricter censorship in the interests of our children, the importance of which is shown by the statement in the commission’s report that 80 per cent. of the people who attend picture theatres are women, girls and children. I am delighted that the commission has recommended the appointment of a woman to the Censorship Board. That is what I have advocated all along. I am also glad to see the recommendation in favour of an appeal board. I hope that Professor. Wallace, who has done such excellent work, will he persuaded to accept the chairmanship of the board.
As further evidence of the low moral standard of many of the films which still are sent to Australia, I desire to quote from the speech in another place of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) when tabling the report of the commission. The Minister said: -
The Government agrees with the view that some stringent power should be given over those few traders who have in the past bought or imported films without regard to the standards of censorship set up.
There is no possible doubtthat, by means of the film, there is an infiltration of ideas that tends to break down, rather than build up, that distinctive national sentiment which it should be the object of all well-wishers of this young nation to cultivate.
In another part of his speech the Minister said: -
No real improvement in the standard of the pictures sent to us by producers is as yet apparent.
That is quite true, and is borne out by the censor’s latest report.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
Privatebusiness taking precedence after 8 p.m.
Connexion with New South Wales Railway System.
Debate resumed from 8th March (vide page 3675), on motion by Senator Thomas -
That, in the opinion of this Senate, the Federal Government should enter into negotiations with the Governments of New South Wales and South Australia to link up the East-West Railway with the New South Wales railway system via Broken Hill or Hay.
– It is so long since Senator Thomas moved this motion that I feel sure the majority of honorable senators have almost forgotten what he said, in his remarkably able and clear speech. On that occasion Senator Thomas was followed by Sir Henry Barwell, who is not now with us. I was surprised that that honorable gentleman who usually had a broad outlook in regard to big
Australian questions was not inclined to support the motion. His chief objection was on financial grounds. He could not see -that any great advantage would accrue to Australia commensurate with the cost of building the proposed line. But in the consideration of a proposal for the construction of a railway that will confer many advantages on the people of Australia, we cannot afford to look at it merely from the point of view of present-day cost.
– What are those advantages ?
– I hope to be able to tell them to the honorable senator, who has succeeded Sir Henry Barwell, and who, I trust, will not adopt the stand of his predecessor in regard to this railway. I hope that he will see that in the interests of South Australia he ought to support this motion. Since Senator Thomas first submitted his proposal a great change has come over affairs. There is no doubt the construction of a railway between Port Augusta and Hay would open up a great deal of valuable land now held for pastoral purposes; but the New South Wales Government having extended its railway system to Broken Hill, the cost of linking up the east-west railway with the New South Wales system has been considerably reduced.
Many advantages would be derived from the construction of this link. First of all, there is the prime consideration of defence. It is unfortunately true that one of Australia’s greatest disadvantages, from a defence point of view, is our inability to transport large bodies of men rapidly from one point to another. The bulk of the people of Australia live on the east coast. Although Western Australia is making big strides, and gives promise of becoming one of the most populous States of the Commonwealth, it has not yet reached that stage in its development.
– Why not alter the gauge of the New South Wales railways to 5 ft. 3 in.?
– There are. all sorts of reasons why that should not be done, but the principal objection- is the fact that the Australian standard gauge on which the east-west railway is built is 4 ft. 8£ in.
– The people of New South Wales deceived the people of Victoria, in the first place, and now they seek to deceive some one else.
– We have no desire to deceive an3’ one. By the building of this line we propose to do South Australia one of the greatest services it- could possibly have done to it. If Western Australia or South Australia were threatened by an enemy* the greater part of the population of Australia from which it would be possible to draw forces to repel an attack would be found on the east coast, in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland. Victoria has splendid railway communication with South Australia and Western Australia, and it would be easy to transport men and material from that State to the other States I have mentioned; but in order to transport to South Australia and Western Australia men and material from New South Wales, which ha3 the largest population, it would be necessary to drag everything down to the break of gauge on the Victorian border> and move it first of all south to Melbourne,and thence north-west again to South Australia and, if necessary, to the connexion between the east-west line and the South Australian railways. That would involve an enormous waste of time and money.
The motion submitted by Senator Thomas is eminently- practicable. In the case of attack by an enemy, a connexion between Broken Hill and Port Augusta would make it possible to transport everything essential from the great populations of New South Wales and Queensland in an almost direct route to the East-West railway.
– The honorable senator is evidently anxious to wipe South Australia off the map.
– If it is to the disadvantage of South Australia to provide it with additional means of communication with the greater centres of population in Australia, then the sooner we cut off all its means of communication with the other States, the quicker it will become rich and powerful. To my mind, the honorable senator is seeking to reverse the natural order of things. I have always imagined that in a country like Australia, with its wide ‘ spaces and enormous distances to cover, we cannot have too many railways, providing they are not directly competing with each other. Senator Thomas proposes to give South Australia a line which would provide direct means of communication with the -greatest market Australia has. It would bring to South Australia a great deal of business it does not get to-day. It would add very largely to its importance.
– It would take nothing from South Australia.
– That is so. There might be room for opposition from Victoria to this proposal, because a direct connexion between the New South “Wales railway system and the east-west railway might take away some of the traffic which the southern State now enjoys, and give it to South Australia; but there is no reason for opposition to it from the people of South Australia. They would get more speedy communication with the east coast of Australia, and with America, Japan, and China. The State is doing quite a large business in certain lines with the eastern coast, and is hoping to do a great deal more ; but it is severely handicapped by all its communications with the eastern coast having to pass through Victoria. Yet Senator Verran would have us believe that that is not in the interests of “ “South ‘ Australia. The construction of the railway proposed by Senator Thomas would increase the prestige of that State tremendously. It would make it a central place of business between the east and the west of Australia. A great deal of the traffic and business which now go t,o Melbourne, and not through South Australia, would go from Sydney to Adelaide, and from Adelaide to the west.
To my mind, Senator Thomas has put forward one of the finest proposals, from a South Australian point of view, it is possible to imagine. But we ought not to look at the matter from a parochial stand-point. We should look at it from the point of view of the great bulk of the people of Australia. Although the proposed line might not be of immediate advantage to the people of Victoria or Tasmania, it would be of very great advantage to the people of Western Australia,
South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland, which States will carry the great bulk of the population of the Commonwealth in the years to come. Victoria, which already is highly developed, may not continue to show any great increase of population; but in the other States the population must grow enormously, and the honorable senator proposes to give them direct means of railway communication, which will be of great advantage to them, looked at from the points of view of defence, business, and development. We have not to look only at the very large area through which the proposed line would pass: We must consider it from the stand-point of the areas at each end of it. If we looked at a railway proposal only from the point of view of the territory to. be traversed, the eastwest railway would never have been built, because for the greater part it runs through what is termed, perhaps not quite correctly, “ desert.”
– That line was built for military purposes.
– Only partly for military purposes. Until it was built, Western Australia could hardly be regarded as an integral part of the Commonwealth’. Its construction made it actually a part of the Commonwealth. Adelaide opposed it, because the people there thought . that it ‘ would injure South Australia. But, on the contrary, the construction of that railway has been a good thing for the State. It has given South Australia an increased prestige which it otherwise would never have had. This is another proposal of the same sort. It cannot be regarded merely from the point of view of the territory through which the line will run. ‘It cannot be expected that this territory will, for many years, pay interest on the cost of construction. The traffic will be a through traffic, either from Adelaide or Sydney. The New South Wales Government has had courage enough to build a railway line connecting Broken Hill with Sydney, not because it thought that the country to be opened up by that line was first class land, but because it recognized that it. was necessary to give communication between the capital city of the State and one of its important outlying cities. It was felt that Broken Hill could not be recognized as really a part of the State until it had direct communication with the capital. The New South Wales Government was looking to the future, to the years that are ahead. It realized that the construction of such a line was not only in the interests of the State itself, and of the territory through which the line passed, but of the Commonwealth as a whole. Senator Thomas, with a larger vision than some of those who are opposed to this proposal, is not looking to the next five or ten years, but to the time when we shall have a teeming population in New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia - a population that will need quick communication, and means to transact its business without any of the delay involved by an excursion into Victoria or anywhere else. This railway will have to be built sooner or later. If we do not agree to this motion the people who come after us will say that we were men of small vision, who could see no farther than our own noses, and that we were not able to realize the possiblities before this country.
– This railway ought to be built simultaneously with a line through to Camooweal.
– Perhaps, but this project has to be considered on its merits, and it has sufficient merit to induce us to carry this motion. Even the starting of negotiations, with a thorough discussion of the whole position, and of the possibility of a line either from Hay or Broken Hill, would be an advantage, because we should then be able to determine whether the advantages which would accrue from the construction of the line would be worth the cost of construction.
I earnestly commend the motion to the Senate. Since Senator Thomas has introduced it, he has met with a good deal of support from New South Wales, and not because New South Wales wishes to injure South Australia. It is not possible to shift Adelaide to New South Wales, and we are supporting this motion because we believe that it is in the interests of New South Wales, of South Australia, and Western Australia, that there should be speedy communication between the States without the farcical detour down through Victoria. I do not believe that, in the long run, Victoria will lose anything as a result of the building of this line. Eventually, both Victoria and Tasmania will benefit by the fact that the carrying on of business has thus been facilitated, and that the continent is being more rapidly developed.
– The honorable senator is drawing on his imagination when he says that Tasmania will benefit.
– Anything that benefits the Commonwealth as a whole must necessarily benefit Tasmania.
– This is a New South Wales matter.
– If we have a large continent being rapidly developed, and all its sections prospering, we shall be able to render assistance to Tasmania to a greater extent than we are able to do now.
Debate (on motion by Senator Carroll) adjourned.
– Speaking before the dinner adjournment, I was dealing with the low standard of. some of the films that unfortunately have been allowed to come into this country, and I am very glad to see that the commission, in its report, has completely substantiated my contention. On page 8 of the report there appears a paragraph in which it is stated that repeated representations have been made to America -
Regarding the unsuitable nature of some of the films exported to Australia from that country. The practice, as revealed by the censor’s reports, nevertheless continues. . . . Your commissioners realize that the action which they propose is an indirect method of securing the object desired, viz., the prevention of the exportation to Australia of films of an objectionable or undesirable nature, but something drastic must be done to put an end to such practices. The producing exporters in the country of origin must be brought to realize that Australia will not permit the moraltone of its community to be in any way undermined by these low type films. Presumably they are sent here because it is profitable for the exporting companies to do so. . . . If these companies will not conform to our Australian standards then they must be prevented from forcing upon the Australian public films which, from any aspect, are undesirable.
It has been said that the films are not of an anti-British character ; I admit, certainly, that they are first of all proAmerican, but I have seen some which are either directly, or cunningly and cleverly, of anti-British sentiment. I have received a letter from four Englishmen in Chicago referring to a very objectionable film being shown there. This film depicted English officers shooting private soldiers at the front for not saluting properly. It showed also English officers running away from the enemy, and English soldiers violating women. These Englishmen said that they went to the authorities in Chicago ‘ and protested, but received no satisfaction whatever. I have also received a letter from a gentleman who held a high position in the British Diplomatic Service in China. In the course of his letter he drew attention to similar types of films being exhibited in the East, and stated that many of the American pictures shown there were very detrimental to the prestige of the British Empire, and of the white races generally. I have myself seen cuts from American films in Melbourne, which were almost too disgraceful to refer to. They depicted white women very scantily clad being sold at auction to Chinese and Indians. These things injure the prestige of our white races in the eyes of colored peoples.
– The commission made strong representations on this subject to Mr. Amery when he was in Australia.
– That is so. In the case of another film I had difficulty, when giving evidence before the commission, in proving my authority. I had read about a film which depicted the surrender of the German Navy to the American Fleet at Scapa Flow. I put a returned “ Digger” on the job of searching through the files of American newspapers, and he found the advertisement of that picture, and a description of it. The Americans have exhibited another film showing how they sunk the Emden. As the Emden was sunk in 1916, and America did not declare war until 1917, that was rather ridiculous. Honorable senators must admit that most of the American pictures, excellent as they are from the point of view of art, always show Americans in the roles of heroes and heroines. One cannot altogether blame them for that, but in many of their pictures, if there is a fool, or a rogue, or a degenerate, or a coward, he is almost invariably an Englishman. I have seen any number of these pictures.
– The honorable senator made that statement before the commission, but he was not able to give us one instance. Let him name one film in which that sort of thing occurs.
– The British war and sea pictures are much superior to any pictures produced by America, and they are true to history, whereas I think it is admitted that American pictures dealing withy naval and military matters are not historically accurate. Senator Reid, ! think, said that the British had not the necessary imagination.
– I referred to the writing of sub-titles.
– Let me point out to Senator Reid that most of the best American pictures are founded on British fiction. Our writers and artists are at least equal, if not superior, to those of any other country. Has not the British Empire done more than any other country in the way of exploration and colonization ? ‘ Have not our people pioneered the great air journeys such as that made by Ross Smith?
– That has nothing to do with pictures.
– Our Empire has the greatest variety of scenery and the best climatic conditions for the production of pictures. It is humiliating to suggest that the people of the British Empire cannot do what the people of other nations do. I am glad to know that, as a result of the commission’s recommendation, British films will receive better treatment in Australia in the future than hitherto has been the case.
On page 18 of the report the commission, dealing with the effect of certain films on the child ‘mind, states: -
Many children are susceptible to whatever influence visual entertainment might exert.
Unfortunately . . .it frequently happens that the pictures shown to the children in the afternoons are the same films as are shown at the ordinary evening screening. Many of these films, dealing as they do with sex problems, and with excesses of one kind or another, can, by accustoming the child mind to such matters, exercise to a greater or lesser degree a certain demoralizing influence. A great deal of evidence in support of these views was placed before your commission and a. widespread feeling of uneasiness was manifested as to the possible cumulative effect of such exhibitions upon future generations……. The frequent attendance of school children at night picture performances is found by school teachers to militate against their educational progress, for it is noticed on the days following nightly picture show attendances that the children are listless, inattentive, and unable to concentrate…….. It has been stated that the mis-spellings and the slang used in sub-titles of pictures are being absorbed by children . . . Censorship should not allow mis-spellings, Americanized spellings or words offensive to Australians.
As regards blind booking, to which I have always been opposed, the commissionhas made a number of recommendations which are to be found on page 10. I extract the following from them : - …… Where a contract is entered into whereby the exhibitor agrees to take the product of a certain organization and he is not aware of the pictures he will receive, owing to the pictures not having been made or the production plans of the producing unit not having been finalized, such hooking is called “blind-booking.” ….. Many exhibitors have stated their willingness to continue block and blind booking….. The insertion in the contracts of a clause allowing the exhibitor to reject a percentage of the films without financial prejudice is recommended…… Some exhibitors contract to the extent of 100 per cent. of their programmes.
Prior to the dinner adjournment when I was dealing with this aspect of the moving picture business, one honorable senator stated by way of interjection that exhibitors did not contract to the extent of 100 per cent. of their programmes. It has also been suggested that my references to the difficulty experienced by British producers in obtaining screenings in Australia were incorrect. On this point I find the following statement in the commission’s report : -
It is apparent that in the case of an exhibitor who has fully booked his programmes for a period with foreign pictures he has no room to screen any British or Australian picture of merit that may be released during the currency of his contract unless he is prepared to place a contract picture aside and screen the British or Australian picture in its place. He will, of course, have to pay for the contract picture if screened or not and all exhibitors arc not prepared to make such a sacrifice. Booking to the extent of 100 per cent., therefore, narrows the market for British and Australian productions.
That is exactly what has been my contention all along. Dealing with this matter and having particular reference to the “Know Your Own Country” series of Australian pictures, the commission states : -
When, later, it was decided that these pictures of typical Australian scenery, industries and cities should be exhibited within Australia, the department endeavoured to arrange for screenings but was unsuccessful.
I have on more than one occasion referred to the existence of combines in the moving picture industry in Australia. Again I find confirmation of my view in the commission’s report. On page 11 there appears the following: -
One company in Australia has interests in 8!) theatres while another is concerned in 42. The majority of the city and suburban picture theatres are controlled by the two companies referred to……
– Those are purely Australian companies dealing with the exhibition end of the business.
– I omitted to state, when referring just now to the harmful effects of certain pictures on the child mind, that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) in another place, endorsed my view-point. The Minister said -
The report of the commission gives prominence to the indirect, but still gravely demoralising influence which is exercised over children by some films. We have no more important duty than rightly to direct the character and cultivate high ideals in the childhood of the nation and theGovernment welcomes this opportunity of taking immediately a step to bring about this desirable reform.
On the same subject the chairman of the commission in another place stated -
Hundreds of youngsters who attend picture shows on week nights are unfit for school next day because they then were suffering from watery eyes, were listless and their brains were tired.
– That criticism might be applied to any night picture show attended by children.
– Exactly. As honorable senators are aware I have always advocated the adoption of the quota system and I am glad to know that the commission gives prominence to this matter in its recommendations. I regret, however, that there is to be no provision for an Australian quota, but I suppose the time is not yet ripe for that reform. The commission recommends that as from 1st January, 1929, the Empire quota in all programmes shall be 5 per cent. during the first year, 10 per cent. in the second year, and 15 per cent. in the third year. I am disappointed that the initial quota is not higher.
– Is it lower than the British quota in Great Britain?
– I understand the British quota is 5 per cent., but the number of theatres in the Mother Country is, of course, very much greater than in Australia.
I have always advocated the imposition of higher duties with the object of encouraging the developmentof the moving picture industry within the Empire. The commission’s recommendation that the duty on foreign films be increased from l1/2d. a foot to 2d. a foot, has already been given effect by the Government. The threat made in certain quarters that the extra duty will be passed on to the public appears to be ridiculous in view of the fact that the gross takings at all Australian picture theatres is approximately £5,500,000 a year. Assuming that the higher duty will return £45,000 a year, this works out at only 3s. 4d. for each entertainment.
– The question is: Will the extra duty be taken out of profits or be passed on to the public?
SenatorGUTHRIE. - In view of the huge amount of the gross takings in Australia it might very well come out of profits. Surely it is possible for exhibitors to make a better renting arrangement with the American producers who, I understand secure from 50 per cent. to 65 per cent. of the gross takings of all picture theatres in Australia.
– That percentage is taken only for special pictures or roadside attractions. Exhibitors pay on the average only about £4 10s. for each programme.
– I was under the impression that the position was as I have stated, butI stand corrected. .
Dealing with the financial aspect of the industry, and referring to the arrangements made by the Australian companies for the handling of American films in this country, the commission states -
The agreements provide that a certain percentage of the earnings are to go to the credit of the American company, the balance to be retained in Australia. This percentage varies, 50 per cent. to65 per cent. being transmitted to America.
– That is for rentals. It has nothing to do with the ordinary gross takings of exhibitors.
– Reference is then made to the high salaries paid. Paragraph 154 states -
Most of the registered capital of the companies is held in America, and, in the majority of instances, the share capital of the Australian company has little or no bearing upon its operations. The working capital is provided by America, and the organization of the Australian companies is such that no capital need be provided in Australia at all.
Their main interest, therefore, lies more in maintaining a large turn-over than in securing a surplus over expenses. The commission found against the distributors in their claim that they were purely Australian companies, and expressed the opinion that they were virtually distributing branches of American concerns. Broadly speaking, the report of the commission substantiates what I have previously said in the Senate, and in my evidence before the commission concerning the operations of the film industry. I am sure that the exhibition of films can be a power for good or evil, and that the Americans, largely due to the intervention of the war, have a stranglehold on the world’s film industry, including Australia, where over 90 per cent. of those shown are of American production. The report of the commission substantiates practically everything I have said.
– I do not think so.
– I do. I am convinced that prestige and trade follows the film; that America uses the cinema for national and trade propaganda, and that some of the American films are directly and others subtly anti-British in character. I am also convinced that a large proportion of American films are of such a character as to be prejudicial to the moral well-being ofour people, especially children. Many of the American films shown throughout the world are damaging to British prestige, particularly amongst the coloured races.
In conclusion, I wish to say that I stand by every word of the evidence which I gave before the commission, and claim that its findings substantiate nearly everything for which I have been fighting. I believe that considerable good has. been done, and that beneficial results will accrue from the report of the commission. I am satisfied from the report that the so-called Australian companies are merely pup organizations of American concerns, and that huge profits are sent to America on which Commonwealth taxation is not paid. That is admitted in an article in Everyone’s Magazine, and also in the report of the commission. I am hopeful that the good sense of the States will result in their falling into line with the desire of the Commonwealth Government, and that the quota system, which has been recommended in the report, will be given effect to.
– I, like others who have spoken, wish to congratulate theRoyal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry upon having conducted its investigations in a thoroughly efficient manner, and upon its presentation of an extraordinarily interesting and informative report. . The Government is also to be commended for its adoption of most of the commission’s recommendations. This debate has, in a sense, created a pro-American and proBritish atmosphere; but I would not differentiate between the country of origin of any picture, provided it was a good one. I have seen some remarkably good pictures of French and Italian production, and, prior to returning from the war, I also viewed some excellent German productions. I have likewise seen some fine British films, including one entitled “ The Happy Ending,” which I viewed recently in Melbourne. I have taken strong exception, however, to a number of American productions which, without doubt, have been directly or subtly anti-British in sentiment, and in which historic facts have been distorted. I think all honorable senators, particularly those who have had an opportunity of viewing at 501 Swanston-street, Mel bourne, the cuts made in films by the Commonwealth censor, are agreed that there is an absolute necessity for a strong censorship. That is vital to the interests of the public. The censor has a thankless task to perform; it is impossible for him to please every one.
I am glad that the commission has recommended the appointment of a censorship board to consist of three members, one of whom is to be a woman. On the local censorship board in Tasmania, we have an estimable lady in the person of Mrs. E. A. Waterworth, and I know dozens of capable, broadminded and cultured women in Australia, who would willingly officiate on a Commonwealth Board of Censors, with advantage to all concerned. I am glad that the Government propose to accept the recommendation of the commission in that respect. I cannot, however, see the necessity to appoint an appeal board. It will mean appealing from one board to another board, and Gilbert would have delighted in producing a musical comedy dealing with the confusion arising from the operations of two such bodies.
– It will provide an appeal from the Censorship Board to another board.
– Yes, and the trade will probably appeal against the decision of the Censorship Board in the hope of scoring a point.
– Appeals can be made from the decision of an individual censor to the Appeal Board.
– What is the use of appointing a board of censors unless its decision is to be final? We already have sufficient boards, and if the Censor- . ship Board cannot do its work effectively, its personnel should be altered. Why not have a super-appeal board?
I am in entire agreement with the commission’s recommendations that the customs duty on foreign films should be increased by1/2d. a lineal foot. That is of interest to me, because I, with several other honorable senators, made an attempt two years ago to increase the duty to 21/2d. a lineal foot. We scored a win for the time being, but in the next round we were beaten. I should like to see a still higher duty on foreign films than that proposed, but every little helps. I trust that the censors working under the proposed new scheme will be broadminded, reasonable and strong, and that only films of the highest standard will be released for exhibition.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 27th April, (vide page 4434) on motion by Senator McLachlan -
That the bill be now read a second time
– Although only a few months have passed since the Government introduced a Commonwealth Housing Bill an amending measure is now before the Senate. The object of this bill is an attempt on the part of the Government to fulfil the promises it made during the election campaign of 1925, when the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Sir George Pearce), told the people that if the Government were returned it would place upon the statutebook a measure under which every person in this country who so desired, would be able to purchase a home of his own on reasonable terms. That promise was made during an election campaign the like of which had not previously been known in the Commonwealth. It was conducted when the people had been worked up to a state bordering on hysteria. Having regained the Treasury bench, the Government took two years to take the first step towards honouring that promise. It introduced a bill, which ostensibly provided for a housing scheme, but upon examination proved to be merely a money-lending scheme. Other authorities were to accept the responsibility connected with the construction of homes and to repay the money lent to them by the Commonwealth.
During the discussion of this bill in another place, one honorable member stated that had it not been for the opposition of the Labour party, legislation providing for a housing scheme would have been placed on the statute-book much earlier than was the case. That was a wild statement. All that the Labour party did was to point out the defects in the Government’s proposals, particularly those which had relation to the separation of the savings bank branch from the general business of the Commonwealth Bank. As a result of the criticism of the bill by the Labour party, the Government was forced to recede from the position it had taken up. The Government’s housing scheme provides for the setting aside of £20,000,000 for the erection of homes for the people; but because of its desire to dress the financial window in view of the approaching election, the Government has embarked on an economy campaign. After years of extravagance it is endeavouring to present a favorable budget to the people.. One would be fairly safe in prophesying that not one penny of that £20,000,000 will be expended, nor will one house be built under the scheme before the next appeal to the people. The Government prates continuously of its policy of preference to returned soldiers ; but it has not fulfilled its promise to provide them with homes. At the present time there are 1,041 deferred applications from returned soldiers throughout the Commonwealth for war service homes. Notwithstanding that large number of unsatisfied applicants, the amount provided in the Estimates for the erection of war service homes has been reduced by £19,500. It may be said that that amount is not large ; but any reduction of the amount provided in the Estimates suggests that the Government is not keenly desirous of fulfilling its promise to provide homes for returned soldiers.
The bill before us proposes to amend the principal act in order to permit of an advance being made for the enlargement of a home. That is a proper provision. A man who finds the existing accommodation insufficient for his requirements should be able to receive assistance under this scheme. But the bill goes further ; it provides that a person who has secured a home under this’ scheme and removes to another locality, may secure an advance to provide another home, provided that he has repaid the amount due on the first house obtained under the scheme. With that provision I do not agree. Before any person is assisted to purchase two homes, every citizen should he given the opportunity to secure one home. When every applicant for a home has been satisfied, it will be time enough for the Government to assist citizens to secure a second home.
The only other provision in the bill to which I propose briefly to refer - andI am compelled by a temporary vocal disability to be brief - is that contained in clause 4. That clause proposes to repeal sub-sections 3 and 4 of section 10 of the principal act, which read - ( 3. ) In respect of each loan by the Commonwealth Treasurer to the Savings Bank, the Savings Bank shall pay -
Under this bill, a certificate of the Auditor-General of the Commonwealth will not be required. That is a radical departure from the principle embodied in the original act, yet the Minister, in his second-reading speech, ad vanced no solid reason for the change. I hope that he will do so, either when concluding the second-reading debate or in committee. The Auditor-General is probably the only officer in the Commonwealth Public Service who is independent of Ministers. He is directly responsible to Parliament, and to Parliament alone. Without reflecting on the Treasurer, I maintain that in a scheme of this nature it is. well to have the safeguard provided by the certificate of the Auditor-General. I repeat that I am in agreement with the proposal to grant assistance to persons to enlarge their homes,but that I am opposed to the granting of advances to assist persons to obtain more than one home, and also to the elimination of the provision requiring that the rate of interest to be paid shall be certified by the Auditor-General.
Debate (on motion by Senator Andrew) adjourned.
The following paper was presented: -
Audit Act - Transfers of Amounts approved by the Governor-General in Council - Financial Year 1927.28- Dated 24th April, 1928;
Senate adjourned at 9.15 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 3 May 1928, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1928/19280503_senate_10_118/>.