9 April 2001
Speech delivered by Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM
George Street Cinema Complex, Sydney
Sev Ozdowski

Good evening. Welcome to the launch of captioned movies in Australia.

I would like to acknowledge some guests here:

  • The Hon. Janelle Saffin MLC and Brad Hazzard MP, Shadow Minister for Community Services;
  • Alan Finney, President of the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia
  • Peter Cody, Group Film Manager, Greater Union, on behalf of Greater Union, Hoyts and Village Cinemas
  • Carol-Lee Aquiline, Secretary-General of the World Federation of the Deaf
  • Robert Adam, President of the Australian Association of the Deaf
  • Other representatives of the Deaf and hearing impaired community and their families, and in particular Dr John Byrne
  • Stepan Kerkyasharian AM, Chair, Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW.

A picture paints a thousand words, but most Australians gave up watching silent movies in the first half of the last century. However, for 1.7 million Australians who are Deaf or hearing impaired this is a historic day. For them it marks the beginning of access to the soundtracks of movies - access that most of us have enjoyed for all of our lives.

I think it is important to understand a little of the history of the event that is being launched today. Late in 1999 Dr John Byrne, who is with us tonight, lodged a complaint under the Disability Discrimination Act against a cinema. Dr Byrne said he could not enjoy movies with his family because he could not hear the soundtrack.

When we received this complaint at the Commission we realised John was raising an issue that applied to film exhibiters across Australia, not just to John's local cinema. We therefore decided, after talking to the parties to the complaint, to deal with this matter as a public inquiry.

After we published a notice of inquiry, we received numerous submissions from people and organisations in the film industry and throughout the Deaf and hearing impairment communities.

Following receipt of these submissions we established the Captioned Movies Forum, which brought together representatives of film distributors and exhibiters, the Deaf and hearing impaired communities and the Australian Caption Centre.

The result of these meetings was the trial of open-captioned movies run in Sydney and Melbourne in the middle of last year.

Following further negotiations, the three major movie exhibiters in Australia - Greater Union, Hoyts and Village - agreed to show open captioned movies at selected cinemas throughout Australia.

And now, I would like to extend my best congratulatiosn to the industry and community representatives on their achievement. They have approached this issue with good will and shown a willingness to work together to address a major area of systemic discrimination. They found a practical solution to a practical problem.

So, how will the program work?

The captions - detailing the spoken words and other features of the soundtrack - are "burned" on to the print of a film. At present this work is only done by one organisation in the US called Tripod.

Film distributors have agreed to import prints of major movies and to screen them in five mainland capitals of Australia three times a week for at least a two week run. The films to be shown and session times will be advertised in all regular movie advertising media.

After these two week runs the prints will be available for screening in other cinemas including independent cinemas in other cities, suburban and regional areas.

I urge you to take your family and friends and enjoy together the movies that are on offer.

Open captioned movies will also benefit people who are learning English. Every effort will be made to ensure community groups representing people of non-English speaking background are made aware of the program.

To take open captioned movies into the future we have set up a committee of industry and community representatives and the Australian Caption Centre to promote and co-ordinate the program. The Committee met this morning and has begun the process of establishing an ongoing program which will begin in early May.

I won't talk about the benefits of this initiative for Australians who are deaf or have a hearing impairment, as speakers following me will do this. Nor will I comment further on industry's role, as this will be covered as well.

I would, however, like to read a message from the Hon. Daryl Williams, Australia's Attorney-General, who was unable to be with us tonight, but who has certainly been following this and other public inquiries which the Commission is conducting with great interest and genuine support.

He says

Dr Ozdowski, members of the Captioned Movies Forum, ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry that I cannot be with you at this historic event, the launch of regular captioned movies in Australia. I warmly congratulate all those who have worked so successfully to achieve what is undoubtedly an important milestone for Australians who are deaf and hearing impaired.

The Government is committed to policies that support and facilitate the full participation in society of people with disabilities. The process that has led to this occasion is one which demonstrates one of the very important roles played by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission - that of informing and educating, so that action results from understanding.

This agreement to show captioned movies followed a complaint under the Disability Discrimination Act lodged by a man who was deaf and who could not enjoy movies with his family. The Commission, recognising that the complaint raised broad policy issues, dealt with the complaint as a public inquiry, allowing input from other areas of the movie industry and the disability field. I applaud this innovative use of the legislation to achieve positive partnerships working towards systemic change.

I have been greatly impressed by how the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has forged such a productive relationship with the film industry and consumer representative bodies in the Captioned Movies Forum. This is an example of how industry can work together with consumer representatives and Australians with disabilities to achieve outcomes that benefit everybody.

This must be a particularly exciting evening for the 1.7 million Australians who are deaf or hearing impaired. They will now be able to attend mainstream movies with their families and friends. Many Australians who do not speak English as their first language will also benefit from this initiative. I wish you all a very enjoyable evening.

I am very pleased, as Disability Discrimination Commissioner, to launch the initiative tonight and invite you to enjoy the first of Australia's captioned movies, Men Of Honour.