The federal government will finally deliver its response to the “zombie” report on the Australian games development industry by the end of the year, more than 20 months after it was received.
The Senate on Tuesday agreed to a motion pushed for by new Greens senator Jordon Steele-John ordering Communications Minister Mitch Fifield to table the response by 3pm the next day.
On Wednesday, Senator Fifield told the Senate that this would not be possible, but the response would be tabled by the end of the year.
“I am unable to table the response today but wish to advise that it is being finalised and will be tabled imminently,” Senator Fifield said.
“My reasons for not being in a position to comply with this order is that the Senate inquiry report made recommendations that impact a number of portfolios.
“As such, the recommendations required careful consideration and coordination across government. The government response will be tabled prior to the end of 2017.”
Interactive Games and Entertainment Association chief executive Ron Curry said the government’s response has been long-awaited.
“Now that 587 days have passed since the unanimous report was released, I guess we could say it was a relief to find out yesterday that we will hear something by the close of the year,” Mr Curry said.
“Games are an important part of the screen conversation and the industry is tired of being pushed out.”
The Senate inquiry into the future of Australia’s video game development industry was pushed for by former Greens senator Scott Ludlam following the “horror” 2014 budget, in which the $20 million Australian Interactive Games Fund was axed.
The inquiry reported back in April 2016, recommending that the funding be restored, that refundable tax offsets be introduced, and for financial support for co-working spaces and the government to “commit to rolling out 21st century broadband infrastructure”.
But the Senate report has been ignored by the government since then. Nearly 20 months later, it is only now tabling its formal response to the recommendations.
Mr Ludlam continued to hound the government on the issue, and questioned Senator Fifield on the issues in Senate estimates in May this year, leading the Minister to confirm that a finalised draft of the report had already been submitted to government for consideration.
New Senator Steele-John has now taken over the mantle from Mr Ludlam on the issue, and has questioned why it has taken so long for the government to table the response after receiving the draft.
It has now been more than six months since Senator Fifield had on his desk the finalised response, and once again the Senate has requested this this response be tabled.
“Six months is a long time in game development. It is a long time for the Australian games industry to wait on a response that they have been told already exists. It is a long time to wait to hear about whether this government has any care, investment or intention to support the future of their industry,” Senator Steele-John said.
The development industry has been struggling since 2014, and has been in limbo waiting for the government’s response to the “zombie” report, he said, which has been much longer than six months.
“Of course, it is not as long as the 586 days since the Senate inquiry tabled a unanimous report with eight clear recommendations on how the government could begin the undo some of the damage that it has inflicted on this industry,” Senator Steele-John said.
“And it is nowhere near as long as the three and a half years since the Coalition government announced that it would cancel the Australian Interactive Games Fund halfway through its three-year funding round, ignorantly blowing away support for the industry and ‘extracting savings’ for their 2014 budget without consultation or consideration of future implications.”
“The act of cancelling this fund, along with the subsequent acts of refusing to respond to the unanimous inquiry, are further attacks by this government on the future of a potentially booming and blooming, not just digital but also creative, industry in Australia.”
The long wait may be due to the government being concerned with some of the recommendations in the report, senator Steele-John said, especially in relation to the NBN.
“I can see why this government might be terrified by the recommendations of this inquiry. It suggests that they might need to roll out 21st century broadband infrastructure, invest in the digital economy and work towards supporting diverse and fair workplaces,” he said.
He added that video games are important to Australia, culturally, artistically and economically.
“The Australian Greens once again call on the government to make some attempt to haul itself into the 21st century and support this amazing industry, which bridges art, culture and technology, and presents so many opportunities for Australia,” Senator Steele-John said.