Jon-Claire Lee is an actor and talent agent, known for Muriel's Wedding (1994), Nim's Island (2008), Liu Awaiting Spring (1999) and his role as Song Johnson on Home and Away.
In January 2015, the Ministry for the Arts, Attorney General’s Department and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) put out a Review Paper on Temporary Work (Entertainment) Visa (Subclass 420). It allows visa holders to work temporarily here in the entertainment industry in film, television or live productions in either a performance or behind-the-scenes role. It involves a 3 stage process: sponsorship, nomination and visa application.
At present, the sponsor must go through a series of hurdles to get a foreign actor approved, including the following: be granted a certificate (Arts Certificate) given by the Arts Minister) and have consulted with the MEAA (Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance – actors’ union) in relation to the proposed employment arrangements.
Under consideration in the discussion paper is the option of removing of the certification requirement from the Arts Minister and for it to be replaced by a requirement that the approval will bring a NEB (Net Employment Benefit) to the Australian entertainment industry. “Under policy, this is met if the total number of Australian citizens or permanent residents who would be employed as a result of the applicant undertaking the activity is more than the number who would be employed (in that industry) were an Australian resident to undertake the activity.” (Discussion Paper, p. 9) In relation to the required MEAA consultation, there are the options to remove totally the consultation requirement or to clearly outline the consultation guidelines.
Most Australian actors agree that having a major international star as part of a feature film or TV series project will definitely help get it made. The entertainment community has been supportive of this arrangement and it has provided much needed work for Australian actors, directors, technicians, caterers, etc. extending to the entire city or area where the project is being filmed. In such cases, many Australian actors have been able to take on major supporting roles, featured roles, extra roles, etc.
Now producers are pushing to make it easier for them to bring in more foreign “stars” to play leading roles in the film or TV projects shot in Australia. They also want the Minister of the Arts and the MEAA to be taken out of the loop or minimised in their roles in the approval of the work visas, and for the work visas to be in line with regular work visas necessary for any other profession in Australia.
MEAA has expressed that this will seriously reduce the opportunities of Australian performers/presenters of all cultural backgrounds to take on leading or major supporting roles in the film and TV projects. How will they get their breaks if all the major roles are filled by foreign performers? How will the next generation of Cate Blanchetts, Hugh Jackmans, Indira Naidoos, Toni Collettes, Anh Do, etc, get their break?
It is definitely a very complex situation with the producers wanting to put together the best international cast possible to make the most financially successful project while the MEAA tries to protect the interests of Australian performers. The battlelines are drawn for a very long and most probably very heated war of words.
Jon Claire was also interviewed by SBS on this matter and you can view the video broadcast here.