Thursday, 25 February 2021
National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
I value and have enormous time for Australian museums, and the people of Reid love our museums also, so today I stand in support of the National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. Australia's national collecting institutions play an incredibly important role in preserving, promoting and shaping Australia's intellectual and cultural landscape. Museums and galleries are places that allow our nation's history and culture to be accessible to everyone. Whether through history, culture or art, these institutions preserve and cultivate the soul of our nation. I love taking my children to our national museums during school holidays to immerse them in Australian history and culture. These visits are always interesting for them and often stimulate incredible conversation while we're there and also on the way home. So, museums have an important place and play an important role for our future generations.
Whether it be through Indigenous Australian or through international collections, museums provide a forum for new perspectives and world views to be shared and to shape the conversation about our nation's future. As a parliamentarian I have of course spent a great deal of my year down in Canberra, and here we're fortunate to be surrounded by a number of incredible museums and exhibitions. One of my favourite memories from this time last year was getting to visit the National Gallery of Australia during a sitting week, after parliament had risen, to enjoy the Picasso exhibition. While it is wonderful to see the work of such renowned artists, it was the most beautiful portraits by Australian painter Hugh Ramsay that really transfixed my attention. While I came for an international exhibit, it was Indigenous and Australian art collections that delayed my departure by several hours. These collections and exhibitions challenge and inspire Australians and international visitors alike. They share our talent and tell our stories—and they are powerful, powerful stories.
The National Gallery of Australia is home to the National Indigenous Art Triennial, Australia's first large-scale re-occurring exhibition dedicated to contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and artists. Our Indigenous Australians have one of the oldest living traditions of art in the world, and we all have the privilege of being able to learn and understand this culture through the art displayed in these spaces.
Currently, the National Gallery of Australia is holding an exhibition titled Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now. Drawn from the National Gallery's collection as well as loans from across Australia, it is the most comprehensive display of art by women that has ever been assembled in this country. It not only places the focus on Australian female talent in the arts but also plays an important role in offering alternative histories, challenging stereotypes and sharing the stories of all women artists. The National Gallery is just one example of how Australia's national collecting institutions shape meaning and culture in our country. They preserve our history but also offer powerful perspectives and diverse world views that shape our understanding of the past and the future. Many donors, patrons and supporters play a significant part in investing in these institutions, and it is important—particularly as we bounce back from the COVID-19 recession—that these institutions have greater freedom in how they invest funds raised from donations.
This is what the National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill sets out to do. The bill reforms and modernises legislative arrangements for six iconic national collecting institutions in the arts portfolio: the Australian National Maritime Museum, the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia, the National Museum of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery. The bill was developed in consultation with these institutions and responds to concerns that they have raised over a period of time.
The bill enables them, for the first time, to direct 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. By ensuring that value for donated money is enhanced, national collecting institutions are able to honour private benefaction and build foundations to nurture ongoing partnerships and encourage new ones with the philanthropic sector. These institutions have noted that their donors are concerned about the current constraints that limit the way donations are invested, with little opportunity to deliver returns. One institution noted that donors had been horrified when they realised how little could be earned from their money. This bill will put the national collecting institutions on a level playing field with other sectors. These new reforms will enable them to attract greater support in the highly competitive realm of philanthropic giving, and they recognise the role that donors already play in investing in these institutions. The bill establishes provisions to ensure transparency and risk management, through processes that include the development and publication of an institution's investments policy.
From major philanthropic gifts through to individual contributions, donations enable audiences and patrons to express support for our cultural institutions. However, we know that these institutions cannot rely on donations alone. These institutions add significant economic, social and intellectual value to our nation, and it is important that we invest in them. Government support is necessary to ensure that these institutions thrive, and this bill in no way diminishes the level of support being delivered to these institutions. In the last year alone, the government has provided these institutions with over $250 million, collectively, to enable all Australians to engage with and understand the diverse and significant collections.
The bill will also improve administrative consistency across the enabling legislation of each of the institutions. It will enhance efficiency; align governance obligations with the recent Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act; and rightfully place responsibility for day-to-day collection related transactions with 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.
The institutions themselves have unanimously welcomed the proposed changes both to their investment powers and to other administrative arrangements. It was through their contribution that this bill was developed, and I am confident that these reforms will strengthen our national collecting institutions. I recommend that the House pass this bill.