The MEAA has asked its members to lobby Senators to oppose legislation deregulating the importation of actors and crew by sending them “selfies.”

The union made that call during protest meetings in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth on Monday night as part of its “Save Our Stories” (SOS) campaign.

The MEAA has warned that scrapping visa controls would lead to the large-scale hiring of overseas performers and crew in Australian taxpayer funded screen productions.

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 union is organising a mass “visual petition,” with actors and crew holding up their SOS posters and taking “selfies,” to present to parliament in June before the findings of a government review of the 420 visa scheme are announced.

About 120 actors and technicians attended the meeting at the NSW Teachers Federation Conference Centre in Surry Hills. Members were asked to approach Senators individually and to take “selfies” of people holding SOS posters and send them to #SAVE OUR STORIES.

Equity director Zoe Angus told the meeting the union has met with most of the crossbench senators and has their support along with that of Labor and the Greens.  The MEAA is counting on sufficient Senators to vote for a motion of disallowance if legislation ensues from the review.

Actor Roy Billing, who initiated calls to reform the via process which led to the government inquiry, attended the meeting. Billing told IF, “It struck me that no one at MEAA seems to realise Screen Australia has strict rules in place to ensure films subsidised by the Australian taxpayer meet cultural objectives and that the Significant Australian Content test for the producer offset ensures that subsidised films benefit Australian workers.

“This test was the subject of wide industry consultation and was signed off by MEAA and other industry stakeholders but MEAA seems to have forgotten that."

In an email to friends and colleagues, he said, "MEAA’s claim that 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 is preposterous. For a start how could a production company afford to pay for these actors, given the relatively low budgets of Australian subsidised productions and what producer in their right minds would want to import an entire crew?

“Applications for temporary visas for overseas actors should be something the Immigration Department considers, as it does for every other industry in the country. A union representing a minority of the workers in an industry should not be able to make decisions which could potentially affect thousands of jobs.

“The union’s claims that Australian international careers are forged by actors having lead roles in Aust films is also bunkum. As everyone knows Aussie actors are now so renowned that they go straight to Hollywood and audition with remarkable success. A recent list compiled by Ausfilm showing Oz actors who have worked/are working in the US runs to four pages.

“It’s time we looked past our own selfish interests and embraced policies to help the Australian screen industry grow, develop and be sustainable with a global outlook. This means more work for everyone, not just actors.”