MEAA objects to Brandis snub

18 June, 2015 by Don Groves

The MEAA has criticised the Arts Minister for refusing to accept a petition urging the government not to axe the process of approving visas for imported actors and crew.

A delegation of Australian actors and crew went to Canberra on Tuesday to present the petition, #saveourstories, which features photos of more 1,000 campaign supporters.


Senator George Brandis declined to meet the delegation despite repeated requests, the MEAA tells members in its latest bulletin.

Instead, actors Geoff Morrell, Nadine Garner and Jay Laga’aia plus key grip Dave Nichols and costume supervisor Robyn Elliott met with Labor shadow ministers and crossbenchers.

MEAA Actors Equity director Zoe Angus said: “The petition shows the faces of our industry. It sends a clear message to the Abbott government: Don’t scrap vital job opportunities for Australia’s creative talent and the chance to tell uniquely Australian stories.”

Morrell added: “Changing these laws would put us completely out of step with the world practice. Being able to import anyone, anytime, for any project would be disastrous for the Australian screen industry.”

The union held meetings in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth on May 11 to protest proposals to deregulate the visa process for foreign actors and crew to work in Australian taxpayer-subsidised screen productions.

Under the decades-old regime, foreign workers can be brought in to work temporarily in Australia after approval from the Arts Minister in consultation with the MEAA and confirmation the project will bring a net employment benefit to Australia.

The government ordered the review with a view to cutting what it describes as “reducing the burden and cost of unnecessary or inefficient regulation.”

The MEAA is hoping the Greens, Senator Nick Xenophon and other independents in the Senate will file a disallowance motion if the legislation gets through the lower house.

However actor Roy Billing, who initiated calls for reforms of the Temporary Work (Entertainment) visa (Subclass 420), which led to the government review, continues to rebut the MEAA’s arguments.

In an email to friends and colleagues, Billing describes the title of the MEAA’s campaign as disingenuous, observing, “What the visa review has to do with saving our stories is a puzzle to me.”

Billing says he doubts that Angus and the “handful of screen actors” on the 30-strong Equity National Performers’ Committee (which makes visa decisions under the current guidelines) “really appreciate the complexities of screen financing.”

The MEAA charges producers fees ranging from $110-$550 to assess each application and handles more than 2,000 applications per year, although in some cases fees are waived.

Last year the union collected just over $460,000 in fees. After direct processing costs, it said about $160,000 was directed into professional and industrial programs for performers and crew.

On that point Billing asks,"Why should this money be taken out of production budgets when the whole situation could be dealt with by the Immigration Department?"