Foxtel advocates limited role for MEAA in visa process

24 February, 2015 by Don Groves

Foxtel has proposed the government would consult with the MEAA on visa applications for foreign actors and crew in taxpayer-funded Australian screen productions as infrequently as every three years.

Aligning itself with Screen Producers Australia, Free TV Australia and the Australian Subscription and Radio Association (ASTRA), the pay-TV platform advocates removing the 30-year-old requirement for the Arts Minister to approve visas for foreign personnel and to consult with the union.


"Foxtel’s position is that it is not appropriate for government to be involved in private business and creative decisions,” the company asserts in its submission to the review of the Temporary Work (Entertainment) visa (Subclass 420) scheme.

“Producers and broadcasters should have control over the productions in which they invest significant capital rather than being subject to regulation related to work visas that, for example, prescribes proportions of the cast that must be made up of Australian actors and which limits the number of foreign actors that can be used by reference to the level of foreign investment in a project.”

Foxtel emphasises its burgeoning slate of drama commissions including Wentworth, Devil’s Playground, Deadline Gallipoli, The Kettering Incident and A Place To Call Home as well as lifestyle, documentary and reality programs such as River Cottage Australia, Coast Australia and Australia’s Next Top Model.

In common with the producers and broadcasters, Foxtel calls for the removal of the sponsorship requirement for Subclass 420 visas, regardless of the length of stay.

“Foxtel has found the administrative burden of sponsorship requirements to be very onerous, especially as they relate to the requirement for rolling updates of visa holders’ daily schedules,” it says.

It recommends the government design a process for more strategic input from the MEAA and any other key stakeholders. It suggests the union could be involved in periodic reviews (perhaps every three years) of the use of overseas talent in Australian productions, stating, “Moving to this model would reduce delay introduced by current case-by-case MEAA consultation.”

In its submission, ASTRA rejects the MEAA’s warning that changing the visa application process will lead to an unacceptable increase in the engagement of foreign cast and crew.

ASTRA says, “There are a number of naturally occurring factors which ensure local employment is favoured in Australian productions and these factors exist regardless of the particulars of the Subclass 420 visa system.

“In those discreet instances in which overseas cast and/or crew are engaged, there are substantial benefits which accrue to the local production industry, and hence Australian audiences, which in ASTRA’s view clearly outweigh the small impact on local employment levels.

“Firstly, there are substantial financial incentives towards the engagement of Australians in Australian productions – it would simply be uneconomic to import a substantially foreign crew or cast for an Australian production. Australian productions are always going to principally hire locally and this substantially reduces the risk of a significant change to the balance of foreign and local employment.

“We also note there is a preference in the market for Australian content for the employment of local cast. Australian audiences place great value in hearing Australian stories told in Australian voices and this ensures that the majority of roles in local productions will continue to be filled locally.

“Further limiting the impact of overseas hiring is the fact that in many cases, the production demands that a foreign actor is best suited to the role. In these cases, there is no net detriment to local employment levels as the role would never have been offered locally and hence no local actors or talent are displaced.”