Producers body hammers Screen Australia over Federal Court ruling

The Screen Producers Association of Australia has questioned Screen Australia’s ability to administer the key tax rebate for encouraging local film production after it was defeated in a Federal Court test case today.

The comments came after production company Essential Media and Entertainment won a Federal Court appeal against Screen Australia regarding what constitutes a documentary, in regards to Essential’s ten-part doco-series Lush House.

The win entitles Lush House to a 20% tax rebate. It had originally been determined by Screen Australia to be infotainment, not a documentary, discounting it from eligibility for the producer offset. Essential Media and Entertainment took the matter to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which determined the series within the parameters of Screen Australia’s guideline of a documentary.

SPAA stated it was extremely concerned that Screen Australia has wasted valuable taxpayers’ funds in prosecuting this case into the Federal Court rather than accepting the earlier decision made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that also ruled in favour of the production company.

Geoff Brown, executive director of SPAA said: “We had requested both management and the board of Screen Australia not to take this to the Federal Court and to reach industry agreement as to what qualified for the Producer Offset. Unfortunately our request fell on deaf ears. These actions by Screen Australia, as administrator of the Producer Offset, once again brings into question whether Screen Australia is the appropriate entity to administer this incentive on behalf of the Government.”

“In its bureaucratic zeal Screen Australia seems to have forgotten that the Government’s introduction of the Producer Offset was to encourage greater production potential, not to hinder it.”

Chris Hilton, CEO of Essential Media and Entertainment said:”Essential Media and Entertainment is pleased with the outcome of the Federal Court judgment today and that this matter has finally been put to rest. It represents a win for the Australian production industry as a whole and should provide more certainty to producers who are seeking to invest the Producers Offset as part of their project finance.  The factual production industry can now move forward with the hope that Screen Australia will consult closely with it on clearer definitions for eligibility for the producer offset program.

At the time of the AAT’s earlier decision, Hilton said: “The reason we thought we’d get it was because we had a very similar format with SBS’s Is Your House Killing You that did get the offset. We thought it was inconsistent so we appealed at the AAT and the decision was that Lush House did fit in the category of ‘documentary’.”

SPAA called on the agency to work with the ABC, SBS, Free to air commercial network body FreeTV and ASTRA to come to an agreed position on what constitutes a qualification for the producer offset to create certainty for the industry.

According to the ACMA’s guidelines, a documentary is a creative treatment of actuality other than a news, current affairs, sports coverage, magazine, infotainment or light entertainment program.” The subject matter must exist independently of the program, but does make exception for productions with a contrived premise such as Super Size Me.

The guidelines see infotainment as having a series of distinct or loosely connect segments rather than an overall story arc with little engagement or analysis of the subject matter despite highlighting goods or services available to the viewer.

Hilton said: “Essential continues to partner directly with Screen Australia on an exciting slate of films and television programs over a range of genres.”

The production company is currently working on a new series of Rake starring Richard Roxbrough and the forthcoming Jack Irish telemovies starring Guy Pearce.

Encore contacted Screen Australia for a comment but had not heard back at time of publish.


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