Aussie gov't tweaks funding package

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SYDNEY -- Australian Arts Minister George Brandis on Friday announced changes to the government's new film and TV production funding package of AUS$283 million ($244 million), but remained immovable on what independent production sector players say is one of its most critical aspects: giving broadcasters access to the producer rebate.

The package of reforms, first announced in May, did away with existing direct subsidies and tax concession schemes in favor of a series of rebates.

The additions to the package announced Friday include: a reduction in the thresholds for qualifying Australian TV productions to AUS$250,000 ($215,000) for documentaries and AUS$500,000 ($430,000) for series, miniseries or telefilms; a clause allowing Australian productions underway by July 1 to qualify for the producer rebate; and a clause stating that money spent on production outside Australia will qualify for the rebate if it is related to the production or is an offshore expenditure on an official co-production with Australia.

Film Finance Corp. CEO Brian Rosen said the program enhancements will "further assist the industry in creating business and increase investor confidence."

Daryl Carp CEO of Film Australia said that her government-backed documentary production organization "supported a lower threshold" that will allow for faster financing of low-budget documentaries, an area "increasingly squeezed by contemporary financing trends."

Brandis said that the government agreed to make the changes after extensive consultation with industry players raised a number of practical issues about how the rebates will work.

Also included in the announcement Friday was a clause that allows large-budget international productions that began principal photography by May 8 to qualify for the location rebate and an expansion of the definition of a TV series that can qualify for the producer rebate. That definition now includes series of between two and 65 episodes that run a minimum of 30 minutes each and have budgets of at least AUS$500,000 ($430,000) per hour and AUS$1 million ($860,000) in total.

The Screen Producers Association of Australia remains concerned about broadcasters accessing the producer rebate to minimize their license fees on a production.

SPAA Executive Director Geoff Brown said that broadcasters could theoretically move production in-house to access the producer rebates, "which goes against the spirit and intent of the package by giving them a 20% financial break on license conditions for Australian content quotas."

"The independent production sector would be potentially in a worse-off position than we would have been prior to the new package," Brown said.

SPAA will continue to lobby the government on the issue before legislation covering the new funding arrangements is introduced in parliament later this month, Brown said.

"Some mechanism is needed to redress the balance," he said, indicating that SPAA will push for the introduction of an independent production quota, ensuring that 75% of commercial broadcasters' drama production is done by independent producers.

Brandis said that the government did not consider it "appropriate to prevent broadcasters from accessing the producer rebate."

However, he said that the government "would not view favorably evidence that broadcasters or other distributors of a production are structuring arrangements that would simply use the offset to reduce their own contribution to the costs of a production."

"The government will monitor the operation of the producer offset and may, if appropriate, take measures to ensure that the policy objective of increasing the level of high quality domestic film and television production is not undermined," Brandis said in a letter to the industry.
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