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Playing games for 411 days

Speeches in Parliament
Scott Ludlam 14 Jun 2017

I move: That the Senate take note, specifically, I wish to take note of the absence of a response by the Minister for Communications, Senator Fifield, to the request of the Senate for the government's response to our inquiry into the future of Australia's video game development industry. This is something we tabled 411 days ago.

This was a unanimous report. All I can do, really, is commend it to the chamber. I do not know that any of the coalition senators who sat on it are actually in here at the moment, but I was really pleasantly surprised. We had a mix of people on this inquiry into what could be an incredibly important and vital part of the Australian economy—the kind of new economy Prime Minister Turnbull used to go on about so much. We had a variety of senators on that committee and by the end of it, no matter how much information they had or how much experience they had with the industry before they started on the inquiry, everybody was of one view: that this is an industry worth supporting, either purely for the economic arguments, which I will go into in a moment, or, to my mind, more importantly, the artistic elements of entire new art forms that are coming into being before our eyes.

So, 411 days ago, we tabled a unanimous report. There were eight recommendations. They were fairly simple and straightforward things, stuff that you would probably expect—I will go into them in a bit of detail in a moment—and we have heard absolutely nothing. So last month I put up a motion, which the Senate supported, to require the government to produce its response. It is the normal practice in here that, when a Senate committees goes away, does a report, tables it and comes up with recommendations, as a courtesy—even if the government disagrees with the recommendations—you get a report back from the government, saying: 'Thank you for your work. Here is what we are going to do with your proposals.' Then, 411 days later, that document still does not exist. We are wondering how much longer Senator Fifield expects it is going to take to respond to the eight recommendations. 

In his comment yesterday, Senator McGrath, his voice dripping with his usual contempt, basically said: 'We're busy. We have to consult with a bunch of ministers. We'll get back to you.' We have a letter today from Senator Fifield—and I get that he is busy; he is dealing with the unfolding catastrophe of the NBN and the defunding of the ABC and SBS and the demands of the commercial media sector. I know he has a lot on his plate, but this is a good-news story. These are creative people who are trying to make an economic and artistic contribution to our country. The scale of the industry they are trying to play into is something that I think has gone over the heads of everybody in here except those who participated in the committee. 

It has been more than three years now since the coalition government announced that it would cancel the Australian Interactive Games Fund. It is nice that Senator Brandis is in here with us at the moment, because it was one of his more casual and destructive acts for the 2014 budget. He basically elbowed a sector in the face; he scratched the line item of the Australian Interactive Games Fund halfway through its three-year funding round. 
We thought it might be interesting to see what has happened in the games industry since that budget line item was so casually wiped out by Senator Brandis during his short and not-at-all-missed tenure as arts minister. But, while Senator Fifield—who I think does bring a more technically and certainly artistically literate point of view to bear on this sector—has been considering the committee report, a couple of things have happened, and I would like to draw the chamber's attention to a couple of predictions the committee got wrong in that time. 

While Senator Fifield has been juggling his portfolios, the global games industry has grown to more than $100 billion in annual revenues. That is 'billion' with a 'b'. It is bigger than the global film industry. That exceeds the expectations the committee set down in the report, which was $96 billion by 2018. It has come in at least 12 months ahead of the projections that we thought of. Even if all you are interested in and all you care about are the revenues that can be gained from the global industry, you would have thought that there was an important story here. 

I think the problem is that we have ministers and expenditure review committees who want to know: 'How many tonnes of software does this industry export every year?' There is a measure of illiteracy there. We only wish that more government MPs had been able to participate and see firsthand what it is these incredibly talented and creative people are trying to do. So, while Senator Fifield has been off consulting his colleagues, the first round of recipients of the $10 million or thereabouts that Screen Australia was able to get out the door—before Senator Brandis kicked them in the face—produced several outstanding products, which I would say far exceeded the government's investment in terms of taxes paid, jobs created, global exports and continued reinvestment back into the industry. It was not a giveaway fund. It was not a slush fund. It was a loan. It was a development fund. At the end of the three-year funding cycle, there is still $21 million bucks in there because it has been paid back. That is a tiny investment to support the really important potential of this industry. 

What we saw in part through the Commonwealth contribution in kickstarting this projects are games like Framed, Bean Dreams, Gems of War, Submerged, Hand of Fate and Crossy Road. Some of these things probably exist on some of the phones carried around by senators in this place, and they are some of the creative, outstanding and—if you are interested—lucrative games produced by the recipients of the first round of the council fund. 

These are people who have been able to stay in Australia and build a career rather than going to California, Europe or Asia. Surely that is what the Prime Minister is on about when he talks about agility and innovation.

I do not want to hold this process up any further, but we do have some more questions for Senator Fifield to consider while he consults his colleagues. How much revenue has the Australian government lost by pulling out too soon and failing to fully recoup its investment in the projects funded in the first round? I would love to know, as part of the government's response, whether they have calculated the opportunity of capping this thing off halfway through and depriving these studios large and small of the ability to do what it was they were trying to do. So how much have we lost?

How much has this lack of vision cost the industry and the Australian economy? There will be a number there if they can be bothered to calculate it. How much damage has been done to the industry in terms of talented and experienced developers leaving the country? Does the government have any idea how many people have left the country because of the economic opportunities that have been squandered by this government? How many young Australians have graduated from games, technology and arts degrees to find no prospects of employment where there could be and there still could be a flourishing industry right here? How many opportunities has Australia missed out on to contribute to the next big hit which drives the industry and the economy onwards and upwards?

I know I am focusing mainly on the economic aspects here, and maybe some in the industry will wish that I would not emphasise that so hard, because it is not all the report covered and, as I said before, I think that, in a way, the incredible artistic developments that are occurring here are, if anything, more important than the economic indicators. But I would have thought it would be interesting to a government trying to balance a precarious budget to know that, if Prime Minister Turnbull just looked up the meaning of some of the buzzwords that he spools out at every opportunity, he would realise there are people right here who actually want to give some substance to that vision.

The government has been pretty well informed by the people who contributed to the inquiry, and I want to thank all of them. I want to thank colleagues on the crossbench, on the government side and on the opposition side for bringing a lot of goodwill to bear and being willing to listen to what the sector had to say. It is clear, though, that every day that the government continues to consider and consult without taking action on the recommendations that we made is actually incurring real costs, not just economic but personal, to people who want to be able to get out there and get a job.

We are up to day 411. I suspect there is something good happening behind the scenes. I suspect Senator Fifield is working on something. Maybe there is going to be something in the winds. I cannot imagine that we could go through all this work and have it come to nothing. But, for heaven's sake, give us a sign. There is a lot of goodwill out there in the industry, and the industry is not asking for much. These people are not asking for a great deal. We are still holding out for some good news—some sign that the government is ready to start making maybe even an apology for the damage that it did to a scheme that was set down when Mr Crean was arts minister under the previous government and to come good, to make right as Senator Fifield did with the disastrous catalyst imposition on the Australia Council funding. He fixed that, and it takes courage to fix stuff that your predecessors have buggered up, but I think this is one really easy thing that could be fixed without too much of an effort, not only with no impact on the budget but with a major net positive to the Australian economy.

This is an industry that is ready to get on its feet if the government is ready to listen. We look forward to getting more than just a letter in the mail from the minister saying, 'We need more time.' I thank the chamber.

 

Read the committee recommendations here: http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/articles/its-time-government-get-game

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