The MEAA is mobilising its members to attend meetings in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth on May 11 to protest proposals to deregulate the process of approving visas for imported actors and crew.

“Scrapping the visa controls would mean productions will have unfettered ability to fill all lead and major supporting roles with overseas performers and import entire teams of production crew,” the union says in a bulletin to members.

“Your industry needs your support to fight these changes. Current and future generations of performers and crew are depending on you.”

The MEAA has launched a campaign entitled Save Our Stories, which also taps into concerns by the AWG, ADG and others that the rise of Netflix, Stan and Presto could threaten Australian story telling since none of the streaming services is subject to local content rules.

In the visa review Screen Producers Australia, Foxtel, Free TV Australia and the Australian Subscription and Radio Association have urged the government to remove the 30-year-old requirement for the Arts Minister to approve visas for foreign personnel and to consult with the union.

The MEAA says, “The Foreign Actor Certification Scheme has done a good job, providing the industry enough flexibility while supporting Australian talent. If we don’t protect our local entertainment industry, it will become weaker over time. Then all Australians will lose out.

“The 420 visa requires employers to demonstrate that imported workers genuinely have skills that are not available locally, and must pass a 'net employment benefit test' to prove that their production will create jobs for local workers. The Abbott government wants to replace it with a ‘no adverse consequence’ test. This would add uncertainty to the visa process and be incredibly difficult to enforce.””

However actor Roy Billing, who initiated calls to reform the via process which led to the government inquiry, derides the MEAA campaign as "misinformation and deception.“

In an email to friends and colleagues Billing says, “It is not the Abbott government driving this, it is the  wider screen industry. No producer is going to fill all lead and major support roles with offshore actors. Why would they want to and where would the money come from? And what Australian producer in their right minds would want to import an entire production crew?

“I believe MEAA are convinced they have the numbers in the Senate to have a motion of disallowance approved should the majority of submissions from the visa review favour deregulation. No regard for a democratic process here…they are determined a minority group within the industry should have their way. MEAA represents most actors but only a fraction of crew.

“This latest step in the campaign seems designed to garner public supprt and to also further influence Senators. It is very serious stuff and unless our industry galvanises together and runs a similar campaign there will never be any changes and the Oz screen industry will not be able to grow and develop, and private finance for government- subsidised films will dry up.”

The MEAA claims Labor, the Greens and several crossbench Senators have publicly opposed the Government’s plans, saying local actors and crew would suffer.

But after meeting with Greens leader Christine Milne, Billing insists it is not certain that the Greens will oppose any changes. And he got a response from Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm, who, he says, supports deregulation.

May 11 MEAA meetings
6.30pm, Victorian College of the Arts

6.30pm, Teacher’s Federation, Surry Hills

6pm, United Voice, South Brisbane

6.30pm, SA Unions, Parkside