SPA calls for an end to MEAA’s role in assessing visa applications

22 February, 2015 by Don Groves

The federal Arts Minister should no longer have the power to approve the importing of foreign actors in Australian screen productions, according to Screen Producers Australia.

If adopted, that would mean the Minister is no longer obliged to consult with the MEAA as part of the visa process.

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Instead, the Arts Department would give the tick to visa applications unless importing actors has adverse consequences for the employment or training opportunities of Australians.

SPA also calls for the sponsorship and nomination requirements to be abolished or amended, bringing Australia into line with industry practices in New Zealand.

That’s the thrust of its submission to the departmental review of the Temporary Work (Entertainment) visa (Subclass 420) scheme.

The MEAA argues strongly against watering down the requirements for taxpayer-funded productions to employ Australian actors and crew in its submission.

Abolishing the requirements will undermine decades of work building a viable local entertainment industry, the union warns.

Actors Equity director Zoe Angus says: “The Abbott Government is trying to wind back visa requirements for overseas actors as part of its agenda to ‘cut red tape’ and deregulate overseas worker visas. If they succeed, opportunities for talented young Australian performers and crew will diminish."

Historically Equity's national performers' committee has adjudicated disputes on imported actors in taxpayer-funded film and TV productions but its decisions can be over-ruled by the Arts Ministry.

Producers must satisfy the Arts department that films subsidised by Australian taxpayers have at least 50% of lead roles and 75% of support roles filled by Australian performers and that reasonable efforts have been made to cast Australians for all roles

SPA says the 30-year-old system is cumbersome and unnecessary, is inhibiting the screen industry’s growth and that  its proposed reforms will increase investment and productivity in the screen sector.

“We are looking to government for sensible reforms that embrace simplicity in design and structural flexibility,” says SPA executive director Matthew Deaner. “This should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat. The local industry clearly benefits from the international engagement as our talented technicians, performers and creators are working globally as a result. In return, the Australian industry is significantly larger than it would be if we were purely domestically oriented. This is key to preserving wages and employment conditions.”

Deaner rejects any suggestions that these reforms would open the floodgates to non-Australian actors, He tells IF, "Producers are not going to hire foreign actors unnecessarily. That does not add up financially or with the need to engage with domestic audiences.”

Deaner contends these changes are widely supported across the screen industry, not simply a producers-led initiative.

“The regulation and guidelines must be clear, transparent and easily understood, responding to contemporary practice and accurately reflecting the crucial role of foreign investment in Australian screen content," he says.

"SPA believes that this can be achieved in film and television production by amendments to union consultation, the requirements for the Arts Certificate, the definition of Net Employment Benefit and the streamlining of sponsorship and nomination."

Its submission points out that the Subclass 420 visa is the only one that includes a legislative requirement for union consultation and argues the requirement to consult with the relevant union be removed.

The requirement for certification from the Arts Minister should be replaced with the requirement to "not intend to engage in activities that will have adverse consequences for employment or training opportunities, or conditions of employment, for Australian citizens or Australian permanent residents."

SPA says the regulatory requirement for sponsorship and nomination is excessive for a low risk cohort seeking entry for short periods of stay and recommends either removal or amendment of these provisions, bringing Australia into line with industry practices in New Zealand.

“These suggested reforms empower industry to expand levels of production with the public safe in the knowledge that there are a number of safeguards in other legislation and regulation – such as the Significant Australian Content test under the Producer Offset, the Australian Content Standard and Screen Australia’s investment processes – that protect the cultural importance of our screen content,”  Deaner says.

The deadline for submissions to the review is today. The Arts department has said the intention is to enact any amendments flowing from the review, subject to the government’s views and priorities, this year.
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