By Richard Jinman
The Sydney Morning Herald
May 25, 1998
Surrounded by members of the music industry in an inner-Sydney rock venue yesterday a sombre-suited Kim Beazley felt like "the most out-of-place person in the room". Yet the leader of the Federal Opposition can seldom have faced a more welcoming crowd.
Unveiling Labor's contemporary music policy, a document affirming Labor's opposition to Coalition plans to lift restrictions on the parallel importation of CDs, Mr Beazley won more cheers than many of the bands who normally occupy the stage.
The assembly of musicians, managers and record company executives in Newtown - Sydney's "headquarters of independent music" - also applauded Labor's plans for a $6 million industry fund to support tours by local artists and moves to increase the level of fresh Australian music played on commercial radio.
Besides raising the air-play quota from 25 to 30 per cent, Australian songs released in the previous two years would have 1.5 times the value of a "golden oldie" under Labor's revised quota system. The change would be tied to "identified increases in production and promotional expenditure" on local artists by major record companies.
Tim Freedman, leader of appropriately named band The Whitlams, said: "It's a very good policy. They've actually consulted the various sectors of the music industry rather than just telling us how it should be from up on high".
John Watson, manager of the four million album-selling band silverchair, said Labor had "supported our argument that it [parallel imports] would reduce Australian jobs, reduce export earnings and threaten an important part of the country's culture. They [the Coalition] prefer to see the whole issue through the blinkers of an inappropriate economic theory."
At present a CD can only be imported by a distributor who holds its copyright. The Government's plan would allow CD imports without the local copyright owner's permission.
The Government hit back yesterday with the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Alston, branding Labor's policy a betrayal of consumers.
"Australians pay too much for their CDs because these foreigh record companies have a monopoly on imports, which allow them to keep prices too high," Senator Alston said.
Senator Bob McMullan, the shadow minister for industrial relations, finance and the arts, said Labor was taking a "slightly different path" to its previous attempts to make the music industry invest $270 million in local artists as a trade-off for maintaining the ban on parallel imports.
"We're saying 'you show us you're producing more and we'll make sure the radio stations play more'," he said.