House debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019


National Capital and External Territories Committee; Report

4:20 pm

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, I present the committee's report on the inquiry into Canberra's national institutions, entitled Telling Australia's story—and why it's important.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

by leave—This report is tabled without dissent or additional comment and in doing so demonstrates the support across the political spectrum for its conclusions and recommendations.

Canberra is the heart of our nation, and home to many of our national institutions.

They tell a unique and compelling story—a story about our history, our culture, our arts, our science and, importantly, our democracy.

The committee believes, however, that institutions should do more to recognise and articulate their combined value.

The committee has made 20 recommendations. A number focus on strengthening how national institutions engage with the public.

Many call for greater collaboration between those institutions.

Importantly, we believe that Canberra's national institutions must develop and articulate a shared narrative about their purpose and value that directly connects them with Australia's national story and underpins everything they do. Their failure to do so hampers their ability to make their case for further resources.

Consistent with this, we have made other recommendations for better collaboration, including:

          The committee heard that Australians are genuinely interested in being informed about their democracy.

          The National Electoral Educational Centre, run by the Australian Electoral Commission for school students, is one great example of success in educating, inspiring and empowering our next generation of voters. It may come as no surprise to you that I still retain my workbook from when I visited that centre as a student.

          Likewise the Parliamentary Education Office provides successful programs for students to learn about the operation of our parliament.

          The committee would like to see these programs made more accessible to the general public.

          However, the committee is concerned that relevant institutions may not be presenting a shared and consistent vision about Australian democracy.

          Some roles and functions are duplicated and some important aspects of the story of Australian democracy are missed.

          This report recommends a review of the objectives, roles and functions of those institutions that facilitate engagement with civics and democracy.

          This may also provide an opportunity to return parts of Old Parliament House to being a working extension of Parliament House.

          2019 marks 10 years since the Museum of Australian Democracy was established.

          It is timely to assess its focus and effectiveness.

          The committee has concerns about the disconnect between MoAD's fundamental strategic role and the direction of some of its engagement with the public.

          Its current and emerging focus on critical debates about democracy is best left to academic, think tank or media analysis.

          Sadly, the present representation of Indigenous Australia within the precinct of the Parliamentary Zone is chiefly one of protest and does not provide for a broader acknowledgement and demonstration of Australia's rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, language, heritage and culture.

          The committee has recommended better recognition of Australia's rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture within the Parliamentary Zone through the relocation and expansion of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

          This would include public exhibition facilities to tell this important Australian story in a bigger way, to more people.

          It would also be home to a new national resting place for repatriated ancestral remains that cannot immediately return to country.

          This was a large inquiry and time does not permit me mentioning all of its recommendations. They include several relating to strengthening national institutions' governance, and addressing pressures on their budgets and resources.

          I would like to sincerely thank the many contributors to the committee's inquiry. I'd like to thank the staff of the secretariat as we finalise this report in this parliament—the present staff and the staff that have informed the committee so well through this entire parliament. I'd also like to thank the deputy chair. As chair of this committee, it has been a pleasure to work with the deputy chair on many of the issues contained within this report and the reports prior to this one.

          We've carefully considered all of the evidence we received, and we are convinced that Canberra's national institutions are excellent, invaluable and worthy of additional support and patronage.

          I hope this report will contribute to making them even more effective, vibrant and cohesive as the keepers and champions of Australia's national story.

          I commend this report to the House.

          4:25 pm

          Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security and Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

          by leave—As Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, I initiated this inquiry into Canberra's national institutions, and I initiated it because it had been 10 years since the committee had taken a close look at the national institutions that so beautifully tell our national story, our national history. They are our national memory. A lot had changed in those ten years, particularly on the social media front and on the digitisation of the national institutions—the way we engage with the sort of immersive technology that is now experienced at national institutions overseas.

          The terms of reference of the inquiry were deliberately broad to ensure we had a clear read on the issues actually facing our national institutions in 2018 and 2019 in terms of funding, in terms of staffing and in terms of completing their legislative mandates to collect, to maintain, to preserve, to exhibit, to share, to engage and to tell our national story. Out of all of the issues considered and the 20 recommendations made in the report, there are two areas that I particularly want to focus on, and the chair has outlined a number of others. I want to focus on paid parking on national land and the efficiency dividend.

          In my first term, the decision was made to apply paid parking to national land in Parkes, Barton, Russell and Acton from 1 July 2014. If paid parking was to apply in these areas, it was only right, I believed, that the public servants who worked there received some return in terms of amenity, because there were no retail services or banking, and public servants were getting into their cars and travelling to other areas—Kingston, Campbell and Civic—in their lunchbreaks to access just basic general services. So I fought hard to get the inquiry into amenity in the Parliamentary Triangle to ensure that the NCA's planning arrangements enabled and encouraged retail space in new developments. And I successfully campaigned to get a mini-mart in Barton.

          The anticipated revenue from paid parking—upwards of $73 million—was to go into consolidated revenue. There were a number of proposals at the time that paid parking was introduced, and also in regard to this inquiry, for the revenue to be redistributed to Canberra's national institutions. The idea is great—but it's great in theory, because the devil is actually in the detail here.

          The committee is sympathetic to this idea, but it noted in its report the absolute complexities in implementing this type of arrangement. There is the cost of setting it up, compared to the modest amounts that would be redistributed to each institution. There are different arrangements already in place. The High Court has a legislative framework in place to recover its parking fees. The Australian National Botanic Gardens has arrangements to recover its parking fees, and it reviews its charges on an annual basis. But should these institutions not receive any additional revenue, should we adopt that model of the paid parking money going to the national institutions? And there is the case of the National Museum of Australia and AIATSIS, who share a parking area—how would the revenue be split between these two institutions, which are of varying size and varying footprint? It could also result in disproportionate benefit, with the largest and best located institutions receiving the same—or more—revenue as other institutions which perhaps may require more money. As I said, it's a great idea in theory, and at first blush you'd think, 'Yes, that's absolutely sensible.' But the devil really is in the detail when it comes to its implementation, and the report of this inquiry acknowledges that.

          The efficiency dividend has had a significant and detrimental impact on Canberra's national institutions. The impact has been such that a number of national institutions have struggled to fulfil their legislated mandate, within the funding envelope. They are struggling to record, they are struggling to maintain and they are struggling to tell our national story.

          In 2008, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit considered the impact of the efficiency dividend on small government agencies in its report The efficiency dividend and small agencies: size does matter and recommended either that an exemption from the efficiency dividend apply to the first $50 million of all agencies' appropriations or that there be an exemption for the first $50 million of all agencies' appropriations where departmental expenses totalled less than $150 million. These options were also discussed in this inquiry, and I am pleased that, based on the evidence we heard, we have reconfirmed the JCPAA's recommendation.

          Recommendation 14 of the report into Canberra's national institutions urges the government to revisit the JCPAA's recommendation, with a view to adopting measures to offset the disproportionate impact of the efficiencies dividend on small agencies, including the national institutions. I strongly encourage the government to seriously consider the proposal in the report to set a threshold amount for institutions' annual expenditure, below which the efficiency dividend would be excluded or reduced.

          Throughout my time here, I have been a strong advocate for Canberra's national institutions. I have continually called out the government on the impacts the efficiency dividend and the ongoing funding cuts have on these institutions and on our national collections. We should not pretend that these funding cuts to our national institutions are about cutting fat; we should not pretend that they're about cutting bone. These cuts run so deep that they are now cutting into vital organs, which is why this inquiry and this report are so timely.

          Finally, I want to thank the committee secretariat for their work. This was a very complex inquiry and it covered a lot of ground, because it has been over a decade since these institutions have been reviewed. Well done to the committee for this report. Thank you to the chair of the committee, the member for Tangney. The chair is a friend and colleague, and we work very well together in a bipartisan way; it has been an honour. I love the fact that the member for Tangney is so invested in ensuring our national institutions are sustainable and well resourced. Thank you to all of those groups, individuals and institutions that contributed to the inquiry. Your submissions were gratefully accepted and we are grateful for the time that you've spent putting them together.