House debates

Thursday, 25 February 2021


National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:39 am

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make a brief contribution on the National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. It's a great pleasure to talk about our national collecting institutions. To digress slightly: when I think of our national institutions, I am reminded of how lucky we are to have this purpose-built national capital city, Canberra. The great thing about our national collecting institutions is that they are situated in such a beautifully designed city. I think it's appropriate to acknowledge Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, the co-designers of this city. On the eve of International Women's Day, it's one of the great wrongs that Marion Mahony Griffin is not equally credited with her contribution to designing the city of Canberra alongside her husband. They were genuinely a team, and I think we need to do a better job of making that point going forward. I know that some corrections of historical records have been occurring, but I still think that we could do much more in that regard.

I actually spent a few years growing up in Canberra, and it was a great pleasure as a young child to have all the natural and built-form attributes of this capital city at that point in my childhood. At the time of Federation, of course, there was a debate between the two great cities of this continent, as they would describe themselves—Sydney and Melbourne—about where the capital might be. I think it was a very sensible compromise of the founders of the federation of Australia to determine that we should build a new city to be our capital. When we're talking about our great collecting institutions, I don't think they would be the same if they were crammed into the existing footprints of Melbourne or Sydney. I can't imagine where a national library would've been built or a national gallery would've been built. We are so blessed to have this great 'Rome of the South' that is Canberra thanks to the way it's been planned and designed, with the opportunities for those institutions to grow, spread their wings and achieve their full potential on the dedicated footprint that the Griffin husband and wife team designed.

That, of course, means that we have this beautiful parliamentary triangle and we have a city that was designed and intended to have these great institutions. There are the collecting institutions, of course. There are other ones, like this very beautiful building we're in right now and the other major institutions of a modern nation. Nonetheless, the collecting institutions are a part of that, and this legislation is very important for giving them the opportunity to continue to seek out support from beyond the taxpayer.

Philanthropy is something I think we could do a much better job of encouraging in this country. There are some great philanthropists who make spectacular contributions across a wide range of areas. The member for Higgins talked about her own history and experiences when it comes to people philanthropically supporting medical research in this country. I think we have a reasonably good culture of that. We probably don't have as good a culture as some nations when it comes to other institutions, particularly those that people might instinctively feel should be funded by the taxpayer. That's one of the challenges with institutions like our galleries, the library et cetera: there's probably an assumption that supporting them is not necessary, because the taxpayer provides them support, and that should be enough. Of course we proudly provide taxpayer support to these institutions, but it would be great, obviously, to encourage more private citizens with the capacity to add to that taxpayer contribution.

So one element of this bill is to give these institutions a better ability to explain to potential philanthropists that they will achieve maximum value from the contributions that might be potentially made to them. Clearly, when the boards of these collecting institutions are given more latitude around how they will be investing funds they might receive—which, of course, is relevant to the person making the donation; they want to see the money that they contribute achieve maximum value for the institution—if there is a decision between these institutions being contributed to versus others, an issue for the philanthropist or potential philanthropist is worry that the conservatism of the way their funds will be invested is going to mean the money they give is not going to go as far as it might by donating to another institution that doesn't have those restrictions. So, it seems completely logical that we remove that factor in the decision-making process. People will make a decision to contribute to our national collecting institutions purely on the strength that that's where they see the maximum value for the money they are wanting to contribute being achieved, not because they've got these concerns in place.

This is a largely administrative correction. It's nice to have the other harmonies created across the institutions. I think that's very sensible. They've all got a common purpose. They perform different functions from a collections point of view, but there's no logical reason why their governance structure need be different. So the harmonisation there is sensible. Restricting the length of service for board directors et cetera is, frankly, just bringing them into line with the way in which best practice occurs with any board across this country and around the world.

The adoption of this bill will be good for these collecting institutions. It is a good demonstration from this government that we want to encourage philanthropy in this country not only in the other very worthy places where people choose to donate their funds; we also put a focus on seeking philanthropic support for our institutions that, yes, receive government support and are taxpayer funded but could do so much more if they are equally able to supplement that support with further financial support from private citizens in this country. I therefore commend the bill to the House.


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