It also follows the release of a long-awaited Options Paper outlining four possible models for the future of film and television in Australia, ranging from no change to complete deregulation, and a raft of funding cuts announced by the Australia Council.
Mr Wiliams’ assessment is supported by a number of senior figures in the creative arts.
“The most important thing about the arts is that they tell stories about ourselves to ourselves, and that art can ask questions, art can move, art can confront and art can offer solace,” says Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap and Barracuda.
“I doubt there is a person in Australia who isn’t experiencing that aspect of the arts at this very moment, even if they’re not necessarily aware of it. It might be a book they are reading, a CD or a YouTube video they are watching, it might be watching Home & Away or MasterChef or Mystery Road on TV or streaming.”
Because of the size of the Australian market, making quality content is simply not possible without government support. Filmmaker Jocelyn Moorhouse says her career wouldn’t have happened without it.
“I’ve benefited my entire career from government funding. My first feature film, Proof, was fully funded by Film Victoria and the Film Finance Corporation [the precursor to Screen Australia],” she says. “The Dressmaker had a lot of Screen Australia and Film Victoria money in it. So many people’s favourites – Nicole Kidman, Heath Ledger, Hugh Jackman – all started in little Aussie productions that wouldn’t have happened without government support.”
Shane Brennan, president of the Australian Writers’ Guild, has plied much of his career in Hollywood, where he created the series NCIS: Los Angeles. But he, too, benefited from government support early in his career, and believes “now is not the time to turn your back on this industry because of the economic downturn.
“Government support is critical, it always has been,” he says. “The reality is if the government were to reduce or stop funding, we won’t have an industry.”
Debra Oswald, the creator of Offspring and now primarily a novelist, said supporting the Australian culture industries is not just about supporting jobs. “It’s also about the value of what this sector provides to the whole population,” she says.
“If we as a country want to have our own storytelling we need to have frameworks to make sure that happens.”
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest Australians do want to hear, read and watch Australian stories, but they are inevitably more expensive than imported stories.
“It makes no sense for the networks to invest in it unless they’re required to by the law,” Ms Oswald says. “It’s the same with the streamers. But culture is not like socks or building materials. If it goes offshore it’s a massive loss to the soul of the country.”
If all agreed on the need for government support of the arts in this country, there is also consensus that the existing system needs to change.
“The industry worldwide has changed dramatically in the past 10 years with the rise of streamers and the effects on broadcast television and the demise of local theatrical releases,” says Liz Watts, producer of Animal Kingdom, The King and True History of the Kelly Gang. “But the government has stuck by old systematic thinking.
“The creative industries are worth a great deal as both economic and cultural sectors of the country. There is a clear economic case for the continuation of funding in the screen sector,” she says. “But there has been a clear and consistent erosion of funding to bodies including Screen Australia and the Australia Council.
“This is effectively an erosion to our ability to tell stories.”
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.