In December last year the Morrison Government announced it would commence a staged approach to reform media regulation towards an end state of a platform-neutral regulatory framework, covering both online and offline delivery of media content to Australian consumers.

As part of that process, we said that in early 2020 the Government would release an options paper, co-authored by Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), looking at how to best support Australian stories on our screens in a modern, multi-platform environment.

Screen Australia and ACMA delivered their paper, Supporting Australian Stories on our Screens: Options Paper, to me on 19 March 2020.

It is a detailed, evidence-based study of the state of the Australian screen sector, and it carefully considers the cultural and economic importance of screen stories, the regulatory framework, and the support the Government provides to the screen sector through a range of mechanisms and policy settings.

Of course Screen Australia and ACMA could not have predicted COVID-19 and the immediate impact this pandemic has had on the sector, and the Australian economy more broadly.

In the last few weeks we have seen very sharp drops in advertising revenue for broadcasters; film and television productions suspending operations due to social distancing requirements; and businesses throughout these sectors facing very difficult trading conditions.  It is an exceptionally difficult time for the broadcasting and production sectors—although we know that a time will come when productions can resume.

Some have argued that this is not the time to consider what our future policy framework should be to support Australian stories on screens. I respectfully disagree. In my view, there has never been a more important time for us to consider this issue—looking at both the immediate pressures, and the longer term.

COVID-19 has only reinforced the economic trends described in this options paper.  Broadcast television is under greater pressure than before; streaming services are expanding further.  This only accentuates the disparity in regulatory treatment they receive.

The Australian Government recognises the importance to our nation of the Australian broadcasting and production sectors, both culturally and economically.  We therefore have to do two things: address the immediate pressures and use this time constructively to plan for the recovery period. The broadcasting and production sectors will play an important role in the recovery of our nation, so we need these sectors to be in the strongest position possible. The technology may change, the industry structure may change, but our goal is constant: great Australian stories are seen by viewers in Australia and around the world.

Over coming weeks, I will be working with my office and Department to engage with interested stakeholders as we discuss the various options put forward by Screen Australia and ACMA in this Options Paper.  Please take the chance to join a roundtable discussion or lodge a submission.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Paul Fletcher
Minister for Communications, CyberSafety and the Arts
14 April 2020