AUSTRALIAN WRITERS’ GUILD
The Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG) was founded in 1962 when 17 radio writers met at the Australia Hotel in Sydney to form a body to protect their professional interests.
Work conditions at the time were dire due to the introduction of television, which had led to the axing of radio serials by nearly all commercial radio stations. English and American television programs were mass imported, leaving little work for local writers. In desperation, the AWG lobbied the British Writers’ Guild to impose a blacklist on Australian production companies using non-Australian writers to write offshore scripts. The attempt failed, but it marked the beginning of an ongoing campaign to establish local content quotas for television drama.
The 1970s and 1980s were a hectic period of political activity and industrial action. The AWG joined the ‘TV Make it Australian’ campaign, lobbied cinemas to screen Australian films, and in 1973 demonstrated against a visiting American film industry troubleshooter, Jack Valenti. The South Australian branch successfully went on strike against Channel 9 over payments to Here’s Humphrey writers in 1980–81, and the AWG helped ratify the first worldwide writers’ strike against American producers.
The 1990s saw the AWG’s focus shift to government policy and legislation. It lobbied for increases in government support for the film and television industries, the retention of tax incentives to fund film production and increases in local content quotas. The AWG signed a co-production accord with the Australian Film Commission to ensure the majority of scripts were written by Australian writers, and campaigned to enshrine moral rights in the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000. The Australian Writers’ Guild Authorship Collecting Society was also established to collect international royalties for its Australian and New Zealand members.
By 2000, the AWG had negotiated major agreements with the Screen Producers’ Association of Australia to establish minimum rates and residuals for television writers. It had also negotiated the Theatre Industry Agreement, the first collective agreement for theatre writers.
Since its humble beginnings, the AWG now stands as an undisputed force within the film, television, radio and theatre industries. Contracts and minimum rates have been established across the spectrum of film, documentary, television, radio and theatre, and the AWG acts as a powerful lobby group, influencing government policy and legislation. Its history is a story of an uncompromising determination to protect the rights of all writers for the screen, radio and theatre.