Op ed: Actors’ Equity on the issue of foreign actors

18 September, 2014 by Zoe Angus

The right for Australian actors to take lead roles in Australian film and television productions was hard won.

As the film and TV industry grew dramatically in the 1980s it became obvious that if actors were to secure lead roles in local productions some regulations would be required.


We had to balance what at the time were largely ineffective Department of Immigration rules that failed to see that producing cultural content was different to producing chocolate bars.

The producers and actors nutted out guidelines that were introduced in 1985 and renegotiated in 1988. In 1990 SPA withdrew from the guidelines.

Negotiations between the producers, actors and government followed and resulted in the import guidelines that are in place to this day.

Administered by the Department of the Arts, the guidelines balance the needs of producers with those of actors. They also reflect the role taxpayer funds play in underpinning Australia’s feature film industry and the responsibilities of broadcasters who use publicly owned spectrum. Importantly, Equity’s role is consultative, not determinative.

It is remarkable that a country with a comparatively small domestic market has the number of internationally recognised actors that we do. This is testimony to the skills and talent of our actors but the role of the guidelines in allowing them to establish their credentials at home should not be forgotten. These same guidelines will allow the Cates, Geoffreys and Russells of the future to first forge a career at home.

Some say the industry has changed so much that it is time the guidelines were relaxed, that it is very tough to finance productions, that our industry is part of a global industry.

It has never been easy to finance productions that are unlikely to recoup their budgets in their home market. We understand and sympathise with this, but allowing the importation of more foreign actors isn’t a magic bullet.

The guidelines have served the industry well and continue to do so. Of course, they should be reviewed from time to time and on that point I believe Roy Billing and I stand on common ground.