Harnessing Telecommunications, Media and Technology to make our own luck
***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY*** Good evening, thank you for joining me, it is a pleasure to be here.
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, and I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
To Chris Chapman, the President of the IIC, and the Australian Chapter of the International Institute of Communications, thank you for the invitation to address this esteemed platform in the 50th anniversary year of the IIC’s founding in London in 1969.
And to Danny Gilbert, co-founder and Managing Partner of Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers, thank you for hosting this event, and for your 30+ years of relentless commitment to innovation.
Both the IIC and G+T are focussed on the influence of technology on industry at the cutting edge of the digital dimension, so it is fitting that they come together to explore an all-encompassing issue at the cusp of telecommunications, media and technology today: Australia’s Creative Economy.
Thank you also to the expert industry panel who will join me for a Q&A session after this address:
- Debra Richards, CEO of Ausfilm and soon to be of Netflix;
- Matthew Deaner, CEO of Screen Producers Australia;
- Edward Fong, Chair of Interactive Games and Entertainment Association as well as Managing Director of Ubisoft Australia and New Zealand; and
- Bill Spain, Partner at Gilbert + Tobin.
But before I get to the topic of the Creative Economy, I want to open by talking about perceptions.
Perceptions are at the core of my pitch to you this evening.
But they are also fundamental to what the creative industries are about.
The output of the creative industries affects what we see, hear, experience, feel, understand or even think.
These industries shape our perceptions of the world and are, in turn, are shaped by the world around us.
Perceptions – then and now
Over half a century ago, Donald Horne wrote his book, The Lucky Country, which suggested a new way of looking at, and understanding Australia.
Commonly misquoted since, Horne’s idea of ‘The Lucky Country’ was not an affirmation of praise.
It was an ironic dig, intended to shake Australians out of their complacency and start a national conversation.
As Horne wrote:
“Australia is a lucky country, run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck”.
As ANU Professor of History Frank Bongiorno put it:
“Horne’s message was that while Australia had been lucky, he was doubtful whether it deserved its luck and was worried that, unless it lifted its game, its good run would not last”.
Horne criticised Australians for their “limited view of the possible” and overreliance on the impulse “to give it a go”.
Similar to our Prime Minister’s slogans, ‘How good is Australia’, or ‘If you have a go, you get a go’, Horne’s notion of ‘The Lucky Country’ is ambiguous.
It can be taken as positive approval, or ironic criticism, depending on the context.
It can be used to justify inequality and inaction, or it can be used to warn against that inaction and call for change.
Either way, whatever your circumstances, your postcode or your prospects: your perception of how good Australia is now can affect your ideas of how good you think we’ll be in the future, and whether you think anything needs to change.
In Horne’s view, Australia needed to change.
So where are we now, fifty-five years later?
In the time since the federal election in May this year, a number of key reports and speeches have been released, warning that Australia needs to change.
Warning that, without leadership and action, Australia won’t reach its capacity, and may even decline.
And Australians will miss out.
In June, the Australian National Outlook 2019 was released by the CSIRO and National Australia Bank.
A landmark report, two years in the making that draws on latest scientific data and world-leading integrated modelling and research, including input from more than 50 senior leaders from across industry, non-profit and university sectors – including Danny Gilbert.
It states unequivocally that:
“Australia is at a crossroads – stride towards a more positive future outlook filled with growth, or face a slow decline”.
The ANO looks out to 2060 and signals that Australia may face a ‘Slow Decline’ if it takes no action on the most significant economic, social and environmental challenges.
It acknowledges that Australia has enjoyed nearly three decades of uninterrupted economic growth, but that
“there is no guarantee that this good fortune will continue into the future. The world is changing rapidly and Australia will need to adapt to keep up.”
In July, Telstra CEO Andy Penn addressed the National Press Club to outline ‘The Future of telecommunications and its criticality to Australia’.
He made the point that ‘the success of our telecommunications networks in Australia over the next decade will significantly influence the success of our economy and our nation’ and that “telecommunications is arguably the single most important infrastructure in every company, in every community, in every state and in every country in the world”.
However, he notes that there is a substantial gap between richer and poor Australians and the ‘digital divide’ is particularly acute in regional areas, with “too many Australians – and particularly regional and low income Australians – simply missing out on the opportunities in the digital age”.
In August, Reserve Bank Governor, Philip Lowe made an Opening Statement to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics.
Addressing the slowdown of Australia’s economy, he said there were signs that the economy may have reached a “gentle turning point” but that “if further stimulus to demand growth is required to get us to full employment and closer to the economy's capacity, monetary policy is not the country's only option”.
One option he mentioned is spending on infrastructure to add to demand in the economy and, if done properly, to boost productivity.
Another option, he said, “is structural policies that support firms expanding, investing, innovating and employing people”.
He stated that:
“We will all do better if Australia is viewed as a great place to expand, invest, innovate and employ people. A program of structural reform would help move us in this direction. It would also help boost productivity growth, which over recent times has slowed noticeably. If this slowing is maintained, it will become a serious issue and as a society we will have to make some difficult adjustments. So it is important that we think about the possibilities here, not just from a short-term perspective but from a long-term perspective as well”.
In August, Infrastructure Australia released the 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit.
It states that: “Opportunities are emerging in telecommunications, with generational leaps in fixed line and mobile networks. But to be effective in meeting user needs, our networks must be fit for purpose. We lead the world in mobile telecommunications, but our broadband speeds lag far behind.”
The report explores how technology will support productive growth, particularly NBN and 5G mobile networks, and states that “by focusing on end users and spreading the benefits widely we can ensure no Australian is left behind”.
I contend that each of these theses has implications for the Creative Economy – increasingly a technology-enabled growth area that requires strategic policy and investment if we are to realise its potential.
Not only is Australia’s Creative Economy a potential answer to some of these calls for action, it is also a potential lost opportunity should the calls go unheeded.
The opportunity – Global and local
So what is the Creative Economy, and what opportunities does it present for Australia?
Labor is a party of the Arts, and will always support art for art’s sake – free from any obsession with metrics –for the intrinsic value of cultural expression, including for our national identity and social cohesion.
Labor also recognises that our creative industries have huge potential to deliver significant economic, social and cultural benefits to Australia and the world.
In recent years, there has been focus and improvements in measuring the economic contribution of the creative industries, including understanding the significance of digital technologies within it.
On the employment side, the creative economy is understood to encompass employment in the creative industries – in film, television and radio, music and performing arts, publishing and visual arts; as well as advertising and marketing, architecture and design, and software and digital content.
But not only that, it includes workers in creative occupations that are embedded in other seemingly disparate industries altogether, such as finance, government, hospitality, education and manufacturing.
Take a look at any corporate, government or not for profit entity today – no matter what field from mining companies to airlines and you’ll likely find an in-house comms team capable of producing videos, publications, media releases and web content for internal and external communications.
And I am fascinated by the growth and popularity of Australian YouTubers as well as the shift that has occurred in the advertising and marketing sector, which nowadays employs innovative, tech and AI-based solutions to address client briefs, as much as artistic treatment.
According to ‘The Creative Economy in Australia’, an output of an ARC Linkage project led by Queensland University of Technology, employment in the creative economy represented 5.5 per cent of the Australian workforce in 2016 – well over half a million people.
This research also found that creative employment is growing at nearly twice the rate of the Australian workforce, with Victoria leading the charge at a 2.9 per cent average growth rate.
What’s more, the income that go with jobs in the creative industry are, on average, higher than those in other industries.
All in all, this is a very promising data set and I look forward to the update following the next Census.
But it’s not just the rapid growth in creative occupations that makes the creative industries of particular interest.
It is the very nature of creative skills in the context of automation.
In January this year, the Department’s Bureau of Communications and Arts Research released a report on ‘Creative skills for the future economy’ which finds that:
‘Creative skills, requiring original thought and innovation, are resistant to mechanisation and are likely to face relatively higher demand in future’.
That is – the demand for creative skills is expected to increase as the trend to the automation of goods and services continues.
In Australia, it is the Information, Media and Telecommunications sector that has the highest share of employees with creative qualifications (27.9%), has one of the lowest automation susceptibilities, and is one of the fastest-growing industries (3.5%).
What’s more, the creative industries are increasingly perceived as playing an integral role in the digitisation of the economy, and vice versa.
It is increasingly apparent that understanding the role and influence of the creative industries will be critical to positioning Australia to benefit fully from new technologies and sources of growth.
Globally, the creative industries are being identified as a key strategic growth area.
Governments around the world are recognising the creative industries as a key strategic area for development on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution being ushered in by superfast broadband, 5G, Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things.
China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), adopted by the People's National Assembly, refers to the digital creative industries as one of the five strategic emerging industries, along with next generation information technology, new-energy vehicles, biotechnology, green and low-carbon technology, and high-end equipment and materials.
Last year, the UK Government identified the Creative Industries as one of eight key sectors, along-side Automative, Life Sciences and Artificial Intelligence, up for a ‘Sector Deal’ as part of its Industrial Strategy.
The UK Government’s 2017 Independent Review of the Creative Industries found that looking 15-20 years into the future, in every scenario the creative industries are of central importance to the UK’s productivity and global success.
There is good reason to feel optimistic about the potential of the Creative Economy in Australia.
Australia has brilliant creatives who punch above their weight, win swags of awards and are highly sought-after around the globe.
But there are worrying signs that we are not realising that potential – that we’re not effectively harnessing the global expansion in creative industries, which are projected to grow exponentially.
As I see it, while other countries are putting the creative industries at the forefront, the Australian Government has actively undermined and stalled Australia’s progress as a Creative Economy.
This has occurred on three key fronts.
First of all, there is a vacuum when it comes to coherent strategic policy.
Secondly there is almost complete inertia when it comes to long-term structural reform.
And thirdly, there is under-investment and cuts to programs and services designed to support the creative economy.
To put it simply, from this Government, we’ve seen the opposite to what industry, the CSIRO’s Australian National Outlook and the Reserve Bank Governor are calling for.
Taking each in turn.
Strategic policy void
First up, without strategic policy focussed on driving the Digital Economy, as well as the Creative Economy, Australia risks falling behind.
This Government is now in its third term and does not have a strong track record when it comes to innovation, the digital economy or the creative industries.
While many of our regional and global counterparts are benefiting from investment in world class digital infrastructure, Australia has regrettably gone down the path of investing in ageing copper and HFC infrastructure which is costing more to build, will cost more to run, but does not deliver the same benefits.
The Government didn’t deliver its long-anticipated Digital Economy Strategy until late into its second term, in December last year and, even then, the document they now call ‘Australia’s Tech Future’ merely describes initiatives already in train and is vague on any real targets or outcomes to drive growth in the digital economy – to foster digital infrastructure, skills and inclusion.
A number of States recognise the creative industries and have already formulated strategic policy.
The Victorian Government launched its ‘Creative State’ strategy in 2016, which it is now updating and which includes 40 targeted actions against which progress is tracked and reported.
Similarly, the Queensland Government has identified the Screen Industry as a priority sector with global growth potential, and released a 10-Year Roadmap and Action Plan.
Labor took a credible plan for Australia’s Creative Economy to the recent federal election.
This was a joined-up strategic vision across a range of Portfolios: Arts, Communications, Regional Communications, the Digital Economy, Innovation, the Future of Work and Indigenous Affairs with input from Treasury, Trade and Investment, Education, and Skills and Training.
This Government should do the same – and go beyond usual initiatives that focus on creative industries to provide creative outputs, and recognise creative skills in the context of technological change.
Who knows, with a bit of long-term thinking, perhaps the short-sighted cuts would stop, and the long-overdue reform work would start.
Structural reform inertia
Turning now to the reform agenda.
The policy and regulatory framework for Australia’s media and communications sector is out of date, over 25 years old, and barely recognises online service delivery by traditional media platforms, let alone new media platforms.
Not only does this mean an uneven playing field for industry, and gaps in consumer and citizen safeguards, it means Australia is missing out on the cultural and industrial benefits that broader investment would bring, were new entrants, such as Netflix, to be brought within the policy and regulatory framework.
The need for its reform has long been acknowledged.
Eight years ago this month, the ACMA first released its Broken Concepts paper.
Seven years ago, the report of the Convergence Review commissioned by a Labor Government was released and recommended far-reaching reforms, along with staged implementation.
In the years since, Labor has called for holistic reform of the framework time and time again.
More recently, in July this year, the ACCC became the latest voice to recommend reform of the media law framework with the release of its 18-month Inquiry into Digital Platforms.
The Government is now consulting on its response to the ACCC’s recommendations but did, finally, state it accepts the need to develop a harmonised media regulatory framework in its initial media release last month.
What is concerning however, is that the Government’s heart was never in the Digital Platforms Inquiry or the reform agenda.
First, the Government initially rejected Labor’s calls for an Inquiry of this nature, back in 2016.
Second, they only commissioned it in 2017 as part of a desperate crossbench deal.
Third, in six years, the Government has failed to address the genuine reform agenda.
The Government did get its highly selective and piecemeal media reforms through Parliament which, contrary to the public interest, permits Australia’s already highly concentrated media market to get even more concentrated.
But they’ve left the balance of regulation in its broken state.
Indeed, before the public consultation on the ACCC report even concludes in late October this year, both the Alston Determination, a stop-gap measure to ensure broadcast regulation didn’t apply to live streaming services, as well as the Children’s Television Standards, are due to sunset.
The Government commenced its own Review of Australian and Children’s Screen Content well over two years ago, but still has not articulated what it plans to do with the Children’s Television Standards.
The tweaks they made to the Location and PDV offsets at the eleventh hour of the last Parliament should serve to encourage production in Australia, but such incentives don’t mandate the production of Australian or children’s content.
It is always encouraging to see decisions to invest in Australian content and production in Australia.
Recent announcements from Ausfilm that Thor is returning and that Shantaram is on its way; from Stan that The Gloaming is in production; and from Amazon Prime Video that its first Australian Amazon Original series LOL: Last One Laughing will premiere next year are all welcome news.
But these don’t guarantee a consistency of Australian and children’s content for all Australians, nor do they necessarily signal an increase in overall production, or the harnessing of what is a growing pie.
To the contrary, there is a $1.5 billion trade deficit in the Australian screen industry.
We export less today than we did 10 years ago.
Australia produces only seven official co-productions on average per year, by comparison with countries such as China, France and Canada which each produce approximately 60 co-productions on average per year.
Europe already has the jump on Australia when it comes to driving investment in European content by applying the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive framework to over-the-top, video-on-demand services, including Netflix and YouTube Premium.
Canada is well into a holistic review of its Telecommunications and Broadcasting Acts to modernise the legislative framework and support the creation, production and distribution of Canadian content, among other things.
As the Minister of Canadian heritage put it:
“The principle guiding this review is clear: if you profit, you contribute—there is no free ride” -The Honourable Melanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage
In Australia, it remains to be seen whether this logic will extend our own content regulation, or whether the Government will simply devolve all requirements.
Our culture and industry production capacity is too important and not something that can be left to chance.
Labor took a policy to the 2019 federal election, committing to modernise the settings that support Australian and children’s screen content.
To adapt and evolve local content obligations and incentives, to bring all players of scale into a consistent framework to contribute to the sustainability and diversity of Australia stories.
It’s time the Government did the same, to ensure we continue to see Australian stories on our screens – whether on linear broadcast services or video-on-demand services like Netflix.
The Minister should guarantee Australians, including Australian children, that things will not go backwards as a result of any planned reform.
Australian children deserve well-produced content, made for them, over the platforms they access.
With more players in the content ecosystem, there should be capability to sustain the production of a diversity of Australian content.
And the potential of our screen sector to foster the Creative Economy should be front of mind as the settings are modernised.
Cuts and underinvestment
My third point goes to under-investment and cuts to programs and services designed to support the creative economy.
In the last six years, the Government has slashed funding to key cultural institutions, including the ABC, SBS and Screen Australia, done nothing to update funding for First Nations Media and has cut out the Australian Interactive Games Fund entirely.
The ABC is Australia’s largest creative employer and a key platform in our creative ecosystem, yet its funding is 34 per cent lower than the average of 18 comparable public broadcasters from other nations.
Reducing the ABC’s capacity to foster our creatives with commissions and recordings is incredibly short-sighted, and has repercussions throughout the ecosystem.
As just one example, at the APRA AMCOS Art Music awards this week, the winner of the Award for Best Orchestral Work, Carl Vine, said without an ABC recording, two national broadcasts and a podcast for his work, Implacable Gifts, “no-one would know the work exists”.
And in accepting the Richard Gill Award for Distinguished Services to Australian Music, experimental jazz trio The Necks singled out the ABC and thanked them for playing one of their early albums in full, which helped them on their way to eventual worldwide acclaim.
First Nations Media form an important part of the Australian screen production ecosystem and creative industries and offer a strategic opportunity for Indigenous job creation, as well as ensuring that cultures, languages, laws and stories are represented in Indigenous ways.
Federal and State governments have supported Indigenous media for over 30 years, however government policy and funding has not kept up with changes in the sector.
Funding has declined significantly in real terms over the last ten years, creating challenges for the sector to move forward in a convergent era and compromising the sector’s ability to upgrade equipment, expand employment for our young people and tell the stories that are so vital to the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples and communities.
First Nations Media have identified 9 Calls for Action to address these challenges, and there is a real opportunity for Government to support and partner with First Nations Media to help Close the Gap, create the jobs of the future as well as address the digital divide in Indigenous communities.
Turning to the interactive games sector, which is one of the largest and fastest growing entertainment and media industries in the world, estimated to be worth $200 billion globally and growing.
This industry has the potential to provide thousands of highly skilled and high paying jobs in Australia and add significantly to our GDP.
In addition to high entertainment and cultural value, the global ‘serious games’ market, which includes virtual reality and augmented reality as well as applications in education, training, and health, is expected to grow at a compound rate of 37 per cent per year, and already Australian games have been used to train NASA astronauts and teach kids to manage Type 1 Diabetes.
Yet, according to a report launched by the New Zealand Game Developers Association this week, while Finland has a games sector worth $3.6 billion, Canada’s is worth $3.5 billion and the UK’s is worth $3.2 billion, Australia’s is worth only $118 million.
And yes, with an industry worth $143 million, New Zealand is already outpacing us.
With under 1,000 employees, Australia’s interactive game development sector is vibrant but small, and far too susceptible to cyclical ups and downs.
And while Australia has some of the best tertiary games courses in the world, in which around 5,000 young Australians enrol each year, there are not enough jobs to keep these graduates in Australia, and many of our young creatives are moving offshore in search of skilled work.
In recognition of this potential sleeping giant, it was a Labor Government which introduced the Australian Interactive Games Fund in 2013 to provide an effective way for game developers to access finance to help them develop products and grow as businesses.
Yet, this Government cut the fund in 2014 without explanation.
Labor took a policy to the 2019 federal election to reverse the cuts to the ABC, advance First Nations Media 9 Calls for Action and reinstate the Australian Interactive Games Fund.
This Government should now do the same.
Making our own luck
So how do we make our own luck by harnessing telecommunications, media and technology in the 21st century?
What do we need to do to catch up, and get ahead when it comes to the Creative Economy?
Well, there is a long list of ideas, including the ones Labor pitched in before the election, which the Government should now take up.
But I think the key thing is – and this is my key pitch:
We need to change the way we think about the creative industries.
There needs to be a shift in perception in Canberra, within Treasury and across Portfolios, to recognise the Creative Economy: What it is, why it’s of strategic importance and how best to harness this opportunity.
Treasury hears arguments about why certain industries should be supported every day.
But the perceptual shift I am advancing is that the creative industries are different.
It’s not simply about sustaining a sector, or ensuring base capacity for cultural output, as governments have done so for decades.
It’s about growth.
It’s about being strategic about our strengths as a nation and fostering the industries that are resistant to automation as technology and telecommunications transform the economy.
And it’s about realising benefits in everything from strengthening our culture, to fostering digital skills and capabilities, to improving outcomes and wellbeing across entertainment, education, work and health.
Australia has one of the most sophisticated creative sectors in the world and an international reputation for designing, building and successfully managing world-leading cultural institutions and production facilities.
We are known as being a country of early technology adopters.
But we can’t leave it to chance – not as investment stalls, our talent moves offshore and our neighbours outpace us, and not when Australia’s policy and regulation has fallen so far out of step.
The creative industries are of strategic importance and we must accelerate Australia’s progress as a creative nation if we are to ride the next wave of growth in the global digital economy.
This surely is still within our reach.
But we have to make it happen.
We can’t just luck this one in.
The Creative Economy isn’t just sitting in the earth, waiting to be dug up.
It isn’t growing on the back of sheep.
We have to build the Creative Economy, in the cities and in regional and remote areas.
In The Lucky Country Donald Horne ultimately ended on an optimistic note. He said:
“Many problems threaten the future of Australia. But we might have good luck. It’s worth giving it a go”.
Australia is well-placed to make our own luck with the Creative Economy, but we need a strategy and the policy will to make it happen.