There are further twists in the debate over the terms and conditions for Australian crews on the $150 million US production. 
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23 Apr 2013 - 12:44 PM  UPDATED 23 Apr 2013 - 12:44 PM

The Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance is reviewing a contentious agreement with the Walt Disney Studios to employ an Australian crew on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Caption Nemo.

“We have sent a letter to our legal adviser to check the validity of the agreement and whether it conforms with Australian industrial relations laws,” Mal Tulloch (pictured), director of the Entertainment Crew and Sport section of the Alliance, tells SBS Film.

Some technicians criticised the terms demanded by Disney which were narrowly accepted by members of the MEAA. The concessions include paying crews double time after a 12-hour day instead of the standard 10 hours for Australian productions; triple time after 15 hours (usually 12 hours); on-set crew forgoing all night loadings; and non-shooting crew accepting a 10-20 percent night loading. The Hollywood studio refused the union's plea to provide journey insurance for workers engaged on the production.

Other technicians contend that it's worth making concessions on overtime to attract a large-scale Hollywood film at a time when offshore productions are bypassing Australia due to the high dollar and uncompetitive 16.5 percent location offset. Compounding the lack of work, Australian film production has slackened after Screen Australia exhausted its 2012-2013 drama production budget last December.

Producer Tony Buckley wrote to Arts Minister Tony Burke following the government's decision to pay Disney $21.6 million as an inducement to shoot the David Fincher-directed remake of the 1954 film based on Jules Verne's novel in Australia. Buckley asked the Minister to make the funding conditional on Disney complying with Australian award rates and conditions.

When SBS Film sought comment on Buckley's submission, the Minister's office responded that the Disney Studios will be required to comply with relevant Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation in relation to workplace relations and work health and safety.

Disney can say as the MEAA voted to accept its terms, albeit narrowly, it is complying with Australian rates, but the union's decision to review the agreement may mean the issue is far from settled.

In his letter Buckley says, “The sad thing is, Minister, the Americans know damn well that the productivity levels of Australian crews are way ahead of foreign crews, and union rules here allow co-operation between department personnel which is forbidden in Hollywood. In other words, they are now getting a crew for a bargain. Personally, even as a producer (employer), I think what they have demanded is unforgivable with or without government money.

“I and my peers are not opposed to Disney or anyone else making films in Australia, whether it is with government money or not, but they must be obliged surely by law to comply with Australian award conditions and salaries.

“I appeal to you to reconsider your decision and make the funds conditional on Disney paying these award rates and adhering to those conditions. $21 million would help Screen Australia top up a lot of budgets of Australian films struggling to get made.”

Burke's office told SBS Film all correspondence to the Minister will be responded to accordingly. The studio has not yet decided on locations or announced a start date, pending the finalisation of casting. Channing Tatum is reported to be in contention for the lead role. SBS Film has heard that a number of technicians who hoped to work on the film are getting antsy about the delay in the project getting the greenlight.

The government's decision to make a one-off payment has been questioned by Tony Crook, the West Australian Nationals MP. "My question to the Prime Minister and the Arts Minister is whether this investment is worth over $20m, when Kambalda, a town of nearly 3,000 people, has had no doctor for months now,” said Crook, the member for O'Connor, who has announced he's quitting politics.

"According to Rural Health West there are 90 vacancies across regional WA right now. That $20m would go a long way to alleviating some of the pressure on our health system, but
what is the government doing about it? Nothing."