Thursday, 25 February 2021
National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
On the issue of wisdom, George Orwell once said, 'Those who control the present can control the past, and if you control the past you can control the future.' Our national collecting institutions are an incredibly important part of the institutional framework that Australia and any liberal democracy has, to ensure we know what happened in our past and that that is left not to the interpretation of ideologues but to the interpretation of the original documents which formed that part of our nation's history. This is critical, because, as Orwell pointed out, without that basis of truth you cannot find wisdom. Fifty-year-olds in this place cannot be wise unless they can access original documents that provide the truth to that wisdom.
This legislation is important because it further instils in our nation the critical elements of ensuring that our national collecting agencies allow for and provide for the collection of original documents that future generations can base decisions on. It was a wise man—Genghis Khan, I believe—who once said: 'We here will make enough mistakes on our own. We should ensure that they are different mistakes. We should learn from the mistakes that our elders made so that we have the opportunity to make new ones that we can pass on to future generations in order to make this planet a better place.' It is important that we ensure that our national collecting agencies do have all the resources and the buy-in from the Australian public to ensure that these documents are maintained and that they are critically available to as many people as possible, especially future generations.
This legislation modernises the arrangements for six national collecting institutions in the arts portfolio, and I would urge the government to look at other institutions outside the arts portfolio that could benefit from similar modernisation. The six that we're looking at today are the Australian National Maritime Museum, the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, and the National Portrait Gallery of Australia. These institutions are all critical to the future of our nation and the future of policy development in this nation. This bill that is before the parliament today did not come out of thin air. It did not sprout forth, as Nyx did, from the unavoidable void. It comes from consultation with these very same institutions. We have responded to their concerns raised over a long period of time. This government is acting.
The national collecting institutions are the caretakers of our shared stories. In a world where there is so much division, where there are so many people trying to pull us apart, it is important that we have institutions that remind us that our history is shared, that our purpose is common, that our goals and our visions move in the right direction—that is, the empowerment of the individual—to ensure this nation is left better by this generation for the next than it was when passed to us by previous generations.
This bill enables the institutions, for the first time, to invest donated funds in a range of investment options that attract a higher rate of return and which are not currently permitted under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. Who knew that government regulation could get in the way of good governance? But, as amazing as it may appear to this chamber, it has occurred once again.
The member for Sturt referred to Canberra as the 'Rome of the South'. Never have truer words been spoken in this chamber. Indeed, our greatness, the greatness of this city, is not in the treasures it possesses but in the wealth that it shares, and these collecting institutions are the collectors of great wealths of knowledge that need to be shared with so many of our people. From major philanthropic gifting through to individual contributions, financial donations enable audiences and patrons to express concrete support for our cultural institutions, but, more importantly, their appreciation—individual Australians showing their appreciation—for the work that these institutions do and the contributions they make to our nation. It does that by ensuring the value for donated money is optimised. National collecting institutions are able to honour private benefactors and build foundations to nurture ongoing partnerships and encourage new ones with the philanthropic sector. I would just make this important point: it is not just in the receipt of the money; it is in the partnership, it is in the skills, the knowledge and the connections that philanthropists bring to a partnership that we can further improve and advance the work of these collecting agencies.
As noted by the institutions themselves, donors have expressed concern at the constraints to usefully investing their money to deliver returns. Indeed, one institution noted that donors have been horrified when they've realised how little could be earned for their money. This bill will put the national collecting institutions on a level playing field with other sectors, enabling them to attract greater support in the highly competitive realm of philanthropic giving, and recognises the role donors already play in investing in these institutions.
This bill establishes provisions to ensure transparency in risk management through processes that include the development and publication of an institution's investment policy. The bill is not about diminishing the level of government support for these institutions; it is about enhancing that support. It is about allowing these institutions to become more agile and more nimble. In 2021 alone, the government is providing them collectively with over $250 million to enable all Australians to engage with and understand these institutions' diverse and significant collections.
The bill will also improve administrative consistency across the enabling legislation of each of these institutions. It will improve efficiency; align governance obligations with the more recent Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act; and, rightly, vest responsibility for day-to-day and collection related transactions to senior management of these institutions and their governing boards and councils as accountable authorities. This would include removing the requirement for agencies to seek the minister's approval prior to entering into arrangements for the supply of utilities, security and cleaning services. I note that the institutions themselves have unanimously welcomed the proposed changes to their investment powers and to other administrative arrangements, and I thank them for their contribution to the development of the bill.
If we are truly to rise to Rome during its great majesty, this is our time to do so. This chamber can make that happen. I commend this bill to the chamber.