House debates

Thursday, 25 February 2021


National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:12 am

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

The national collecting institutions are a key component of our cultural and creative economy. The national collecting institutions attracted more than 4.5 million onsite visitors in 2018-19 and comprise the following institutions: the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, and the Australian National Maritime Museum. Any Canberra visitor will know these intimately because they are the backbone of why you visit Canberra.

These institutions house some of this country's greatest treasures and finest works of art. They also preserve and maintain our most important historical documents, including films, photographs and everything in-between. The work of these museums, galleries and libraries is central to the telling of Australia's story. We invest in, preserve and cherish these institutions and their articles so future generations too can enrich themselves with an understanding of Australia's story. It is important that we work in this place to ensure that these institutions are sustained into the future and can continue to play an important and robust role in Australian society. That is why the Morrison government is bolstering the investment powers of the national collecting institutions and promoting efficiencies by harmonising administrative inconsistencies.

Alongside strong government funding, the national collecting institutions benefit greatly from public philanthropic partnerships. This includes donations from individuals, foundations, bequests and other entities that kindly and generously support the arts, culture and history that these institutions curate and maintain. In 2019-20 alone, the six institutions received approximately $14 million in donations. The National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 amends the six acts that govern the handling of donations for the national collecting institutions to provide them with greater investment powers in relation to their donated revenue.

This move is directly in line with feedback we have received from the philanthropic sector as to how they wish to see their donations handled. It will allow these institutions to develop a tailored investment policy which factors in the funds available to invest, the governing body's appetite for risk, and both internal and external financial expertise. Such investment policies are to be made publicly accessible via the institution's website. It is important to note that these investment changes apply only to private and philanthropic donations. They do not impact the ordinary appropriations of the national collecting institutions or alter their base funding. Likewise, this bill does not force national collecting institutions to invest, nor does it override current or future obligations attached to donations. The bill will instead allow the national collecting institutions the autonomy to better optimise their donations for their long-term benefit and sustainability.

This bill otherwise seeks to rectify inconsistencies between the enabling acts for each national collecting institution. Amongst other minor changes, this includes standardising delegation powers, term limits for members of governing bodies, and the removal of ministerial approval requirements related to routine financial transactions and asset disposal, such as utility contracts. These amendments are grounded in improving the efficiency and productivity of our national collecting institutions.

The Morrison government is attuned to the views of the philanthropic sector and keen to support the modernisation of our national collecting institutions. That is why we're proposing this important bill. As it currently stands, the national collecting institutions face legislative restrictions on their operations and governance, such as simple expenditure requiring ministerial approval, or blocks on how they invest donated funds. For example, the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 currently restricts national collecting institutions from investing donated funds in high-return investments, which greatly diminishes the impact of donation receipts. National collecting institutions are instead currently restricted to government backed securities like bonds and bank deposits. This disadvantages our national collecting institutions in the highly competitive market of philanthropic funds, with non-public institutions achieving greater returns and thus having more funds available to fund new programs. This can give the outward appearance to philanthropists that the national collecting institutions will achieve less impact with donations than their non-public counterparts. Indeed, the feedback from governing bodies is that current arrangements hamper their ability to realise the full financial potential of the philanthropic support they receive. This ultimately undermines many of the very successful fundraising strategies that these institutions have implemented.

As someone who is on the foundation board of an education not-for-profit, I know how important it is for an institution to make every donated dollar work hard for both the donor and the recipient institution. It's an incredibly competitive market out there. The generosity of donors is hotly contested, and it's important that donors feel their money is going to have a significant impact, for the values they care about and for the institutions they support. Allowing the national collecting institutions to set their own investment policies will ensure they're on an even footing with non-public institutions in the market for philanthropic funds.

This bill sits alongside the Morrison government's strong track record of supporting our national collecting institutions. In 2020-21 the government provided $249 million in funding to the six national collecting institutions. That's way more than their philanthropic support. The National Gallery of Australia, here in Canberra, which houses approximately 160,000 works of art, is one of the major beneficiaries. Please go and see the fantastic Know My Name exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, celebrating 100 years of Australian women artists. This is an important exhibition as we approach the celebration of International Women's Day on 8 March. On top of their annual Commonwealth funding, the NGA received an almost $22 million capital works package in the 2017-18 budget, along with an additional $14 million in ongoing funding in 2018-19. I'm pleased to say that, in December 2020, they received a further $20 million to upgrade lights and electrical systems, with aging halogen globes to be replaced by LEDs. It's fantastic to see a sustainable future emerging.

Another example is the National Film and Sound Archive, which has received $5.5 million over four years for the digitisation of at-risk audiovisual material. We all know those wedding videos that we want transformed into something that will be future-proofed are incredibly important for our own personal stories. So, too, it is for our collective stories that are stored at the National Film and Sound Archive. This is in line with the Morrison government's vision for our national collecting institutes to modernise.

Throughout COVID-19, these institutes have been supported with $19.5 million to weather the cost of lost revenue typically derived from ticket sales, gift shop sales and the like. During COVID-19, the national collecting institutes reached new audiences through social media and digitally accessible content, including online and virtual tours. It is so important to see creativity pivoting to the ways of having to manage through COVID. This creative rethink is a testament to the vitality of the institutions themselves. I hope to see remote and improved accessibility a legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic—always looking for opportunities and always open to changing the way they do things to be able to engage and deal with the public as it changes, too.

This bill fits neatly with the current inquiry of the Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts into Australia's creative and cultural industries and institutions. I'm proud to be one of those who called for this last year as a member of that committee in response to feedback from my constituents in my electorate of Higgins. Importantly, we're considering the following five issues. The first is the direct and indirect economic benefits and employment opportunities of creative and cultural industries and institutions and how to recognise, measure and grow them. We're also looking at the non-economic benefits that enhance community and social wellbeing and promote Australia's national identity. Who we are as Australians is reflected in our creative and cultural industries and institutions, and it's important to recognise, measure and grow them as well. This is the Australian story as we know it. We're also looking at the best mechanism for ensuring cooperation and delivery of policy between layers of government. So often I've heard how state, federal and even council funding mechanisms are not working together to make sure that they're supporting, in a cooperative way, these very important areas.

The fourth area of investigation is the impact of COVID-19 on the creative and cultural industries. As we know, there has been a great deal of pressure applied as lockdowns have had an impact on ticket sales. Lastly, we are also looking at avenues for increasing access and opportunities for Australia's creative and cultural industries through innovation and the digital environment. We know the world is transforming digitally and so, too, must our cultural and creative industries and institutions.

Last week, the committee heard that the creative and performing arts sector has been a major beneficiary of JobKeeper through the COVID-19 pandemic. This is contrary to what the members opposite would have you believe. I was actually astounded to hear the level of support from JobKeeper to the performing arts was $560 million across the sector. This was to 25,000 organisations and 122,000 people. That's an extraordinary level of support. We understand that the coverage for all employment of JobKeeper was around 30 per cent, but the approximate coverage of JobKeeper within the creative and performing arts was around 50 to 60 per cent. It was necessary because of the lockdown and because of the public health measures that were taken to keep all of us safe. But I'm glad to hear that JobKeeper was there to support this incredibly important sector as it had to deal with an incredible change to the way it operated in 2020.

The Morrison government's support for the creative and performing arts before, during and after the COVID pandemic remains unwavering. The Morrison government understands the cultural and creative value of our national collecting institutions, now and long into the future after we have all left this place. I'm proud that we've worked so closely with the philanthropic sector and the governing bodies of these institutions to develop this bill to ensure their long-term financial viability. Giving our national collecting institutions greater autonomy and modernising and streamlining their functions will mean they remain the cornerstone of our cultural society. I commend this bill to the House.


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