Screen Australia boss warns further government budget cuts could impact cash for projects

Graeme_Mason_150_hard_edgeScreen Australia boss Graeme Mason has insisted a series of sweeping cuts announced yesterday have been designed to affect the structure of the organisation rather than the amount of funding it is able to give out to projects.

Speaking to Mumbrella today Mason, who took over as CEO of the publicly-funded body 12 months ago, said whilst the cuts which will save around $6m this year will not impact any screen projects “any future reductions would begin to hit programming”.

Yesterday the organisation announced it was shedding 12 staff and cutting support for training and marketing of projects in what Mason described as the agency “returning to our core business”.

Admitting some of the changes were already on his agenda Mason added: “This hasn’t been a knee-jerk reaction, we’ve had a look at how the business looks in two to five years, which is the period of time most people in this industry work to. Some of these things in a perfect world would not necessarily have happened, like laying off a lot of staff and moving us out of support for training, but we have to find savings.”The cuts have come after Screen Australia had $25m of funding cuts over four years handed down in May’s federal budget, with marketing support for projects one of the other areas to be scrapped.

Explaining why they had taken this decision Mason said: “We’re looking to focus much more clearly on the core areas of business development, whether that’s a company or individual. We have to look at how we support companies and individuals like freelancers in terms of the promotion to find new jobs, as opposed to pure marketing which would be a nice function to have.”

One controversial area of funding which has been handed out by the organisation in recent years is cash to get producers and talent to international film festivals to help promote their work. Mason said whilst it was “good to celebrate” Australian work at festivals the “primary role is how we can help people benefit off their profile”.

He added: “We’re a cultural agency, and Australia’s screen stars are actually our most high profile export, we have actors who are much bigger than our sports stars. People in Australia, the UK and the Indian subcontinent might know Michael Clarke is the Australian cricket captain, but a lot more people know Hugh Jackman is an Australian.

“We supported Justin Kurzel to make Snowtown, and now he’s one of the hottest properties in Hollywood, and that’s promoting the Australian film sector around the world.”

Whilst the agency faces further reductions in funding over the next four years Mason said he believed yesterday’s measures would bear the brunt of most of the future reductions.

“What we are hoping is a lot of the measures we’ve put in place mean there won’t be a need for more later on, but we will have to manage any additional reductions,” he added. “There’s also the efficiency dividend the government has put on all public departments on top of this.  If there are any increases, say in staff wages for example, that has to be managed, there’s not going to be any additional cash.”

Mason also noted the government had cut Screen Australia’s funding to support video game development, meaning the agency could no longer support that industry.

Alex Hayes


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