Thursday, 25 February 2021
National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
The National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 has been presented by the government as innocuous, a simple tidying-up job that will make the legislation which governs six of the national collecting institutions more consistent and allow them to attract more private philanthropy. But you can forgive me for treating anything this government does in the arts portfolio with a healthy dose of scepticism.
The national institutions have not escaped damage wreaked by this government's years-long campaign to undermine and underfund the arts in Australia. The worst impact on the national institutions came in the 2015-16 financial year, when the government imposed a three per cent efficiency target on some institutions, in addition to the existing efficiency dividend, which resulted in an estimated $20 million loss of funding across the board. It threw many of these institutions into turmoil, including the National Library, which, for a time, had to stop adding new content to its popular online archive service, Trove. Although the situation has slightly improved now, we are still seeing job cuts and a reduction in services at the national collecting institutions.
We've seen this over and again with this government and the arts: they put a wrecking ball through important institutions, as they did with the Australia Council and the Catalyst fund under George Brandis, and then they paper over the damage and pretend that nothing's happened: 'Nothing to see here.' Well, lasting damage has been done. The arts in this country, including the national institutions, were hit hard by COVID, but the truth is that the sector was already very fragile before that, with repeated funding cuts and endless rounds of applications proving too much for many in the sector. Many people who had been in the industry for decades left it. So, when this government tries to say that the arts is in a worse state because of COVID, it's true, but it's not the full story. The damage had already been done by a series of Liberal ministers, and they didn't do enough to help when COVID hit.
This bill, although portrayed by the government as simple, is actually quite complex in terms of the many different changes it makes to the legislation which governs the national collecting institutions. Schedule 1 of this bill contains a major change which affects all of the institutions. It's a change to the investment mandate of the institutions, so that they may invest donated funds in higher-risk, higher-return instruments and assets. Currently, under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, the institutions can only invest any funds in excess of their operating costs in very conservative ways, which limit the return they can obtain. According to the bill's explanatory memorandum, this is a problem in attracting private philanthropy.
Representatives from all six of the national institutions were called to a short Senate inquiry into this bill and were asked what their views were on this part of the bill. According to those present, this flexibility was at the request of the institutions themselves, many of whom have to kept their donated funds in cash due to the restrictions of the PGPA Act. In the ultra-low interest rate environment that we currently find ourselves in, you can appreciate that this would be a source of frustration both to the institutions and to their donors.
Australia's national collecting institutions have never had the same kind of culture of private philanthropy as their peers in the United States and the United Kingdom, and it is appropriate that they be given the means to attract more donated funds. Labor could never and would never stand in the way of more funding for our national collecting institutions, and we're reassured that the request for this change in investment mandate came from the institutions themselves. Of course, it's important that this flexibility comes with a high level of oversight and prudence in terms of the investments chosen, so it's good to hear that some of the institutions have already started putting together investment plans to be approved by their boards.
I do, however, want to strike one note of caution. This line from the explanatory memorandum, explaining why the government wants this change to happen, should give us pause:
This focus of actively seeking philanthropic support aligns with the Government’s broader position of encouraging NCIs to increase their financial sustainability through non-government sources of funding.
Now, let me tell you what that sounds like to me. The government wants the institutions to attract more private money so it can give them even less. That's the first I've heard of this government's 'broader position', and it doesn't give me any confidence that this government won't use the bill, once passed, to say to the institutions, 'Oh, well, you can go and attract more private philanthropy now, so don't come to us asking for more public funds.' To me, that sounds like exactly the kind of thing this government would do.
At the Senate inquiry hearing, the Office for the Arts denied that this was an objective of the bill and said no modelling had been done to predict what the private-public funding mix would look like once this bill was passed. But it remains a concern to me. Why do I worry about this? Because we've already seen it happen in other parts of the arts sector. As we see a systemic withdrawal of public funds for the arts by the federal government, private philanthropists are asked again and again to step into the breach—and they do. I expect they will continue to do so, but it is not their role to support the entire national arts ecosystem; nor could they afford to do that.
That's the government's role, and never more so than when it comes to our national collecting institutions. These institutions—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—are the keepers and promoters of Australian stories. With the exception of the Maritime Museum, they're based in Canberra, the home of our federal parliament. They're a big part of Canberra's tourism economy and local employment. The role for the federal government in supporting these institutions is clear, and the passage of this bill must not be seen as a green light to the government to withdraw even more public funding.
Schedule 2 of the bill is where things get pretty complex. Its stated intent is to standardise the legislation that governs the national collecting institutions so that everyone has the same legislative framework. It makes sense—except it means that some of the institutions will be subject to rules and ministerial powers they've never had before. I'm going to pull out the most important of these and then discuss them in turn. The biggest example is in the case of the National Gallery and the National Library. For the first time, these two institutions will be subject to ministerial direction. While it is true that all the other collecting institutions are already subject to ministerial directions, this expansion is not a small thing. Consider the National Gallery, for example. We all remember Blue Poles, which caused tremendous controversy when purchased in 1973 for A$1.3 million. That purchase, which had to be ticked off by then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, was seen as outlandish and overpriced. That painting, considered a master work of American abstract expressionism, is now worth up to $350 million—a pretty good return for the taxpayer.
Art is meant to challenge us, and that's not always popular. Sometimes, in fact, it can be very unpopular. That's why we should always tread carefully when talking about politicians having a say in deciding what is and what is not good art and how galleries or indeed libraries should run. Importantly, this bill states that these ministerial directions must be of a general nature only. This is an important safeguard, ensuring that the minister cannot issue a direction—for example, that this or that artist should not be in the national collection. Nevertheless, the ministerial direction power should be used very infrequently and with extreme caution.
Labor is reassured somewhat by evidence given by Stephen Arnott, First Assistant Secretary of the Office of the Arts, that not a single ministerial direction has been issued to any national collecting institution since the current government came to power in 2013. It is worth noting, though, that such a direction would not be disallowable by parliament were one to be made. That gives the minister quite a lot of power, and it should be used very, very sparingly.
The second part of this schedule worth drawing attention to is the financial thresholds for acquisitions that trigger a need for ministerial approval. Such thresholds already exist—for example, for the National Gallery it's $10 million—so that in itself is not controversial. What this bill does though is shift the thresholds that apply to each of the institutions from legislation to regulation. This lowers the bar for changes to be made to the thresholds, as they do not have to be passed through parliament. It was welcome though, as part of the Senate inquiry process, to have confirmation from the department that such regulations would be disallowable by the parliament should they be remade—for example, if the $10 million threshold for the National Gallery were reduced to an unacceptably low level as a way of increasing ministerial oversight of purchases.
The third part, which will be of interest to some of my Canberra colleagues, is that for the first time the National Gallery will be allowed to store its collection outside the ACT. It is the only institution that does not currently have this flexibility. The department gave evidence that this was purely to save on costs, as the availability of large storage facilities in the ACT is limited. As the legislation is written, it should not mean that there will be any change to the works on display at the Gallery's home in Canberra.
In the sum, after examining this legislation through the committee process, Labor is satisfied that it has been drafted with sufficient input from the institutions and is heartened that there are no parts of the bill that the institutions object to. Labor will be supporting this bill. In doing so, however, it's important to note that no amount of legislation can fix the longer term structural underfunding of our national collecting institutions that has been a feature of this current government. If you really want to make a difference, that's where you need to start. With that in mind, I move the second reading amendment circulated in my name:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House calls on the Government to address the structural underfunding of our national collecting institutions."
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.
We all know that the Liberal and National parties have a very poor record of supporting the arts and our nation's collecting institutions. Remember the furore that occurred in the 1970s when the Whitlam government purchased Jackson Pollock's artwork, Blue Poles? Remember the roar that came from the conservative side of politics and many conservative media commentators about it being a waste of money? Of course, it was one of Australia's best investments in the artistic space. It's a very, very important part of our cultural history, and it's there for all to see in the National Gallery of Australia.
The institutions that are subject to this bill, the National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020, have seen cuts under the coalition government that stretch back to the 2015 budget, resulting in job losses and a reduction of services. Most recently, the National Gallery of Australia announced 30 to 40 job losses. We all know that this government never really takes the arts seriously. It's been far too slow to respond to the queries from those in the arts industry, particularly their fears about the end of JobKeeper in a few weeks. Whether it's the independent cinemas or local arts organisations, they're facing a tough time when JobKeeper ends.
This legislation is important. It makes a number of changes to the governance of six of our national collecting institutions—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. The stated aim of this bill is to standardise the operating conditions of these six institutions. The key changes are as follows. For the first time, the governing bodies of the National Library and the National Gallery will be subject to ministerial written direction. The financial thresholds which trigger ministerial approval for the acquisition of works, land and other assets will be removed from the legislation and put into regulation, but we understand that those regulations will be disallowable. The investment mandates of the institutions will be made more flexible. There is a concern about that. Many see the investment-mandate changes as an opportunity for the coalition government to further reduce funding for these important institutions. I don't think it's unreasonable to say that it's probably the wish of the government that these organisations look more at investment as a means of generating income, rather than government support. Specific to the National Gallery, the bill removes the requirement for the national collection to be exclusively housed in the ACT. That's probably a positive development, particularly when we're talking about Indigenous artworks and cultural items. Properly, on the basis of consultation with Indigenous communities, these should be housed and displayed on country so that members of those communities can learn about and understand the significance of those important artworks.
This bill also allows those national collecting institutions to dispose of material without the need for ministerial approval, where an item is valued below a specific threshold. To date, there have been different thresholds across those collecting institutions, and this bill will introduce a consistent threshold of $2 million, except in the case of the National Gallery of Australia, where the threshold will be $10 million. An issue has been raised with this particular element of the bill, and I think it's a reasonable one. It's been raised by First Nations representatives, who submitted to the Senate inquiry that it's very important that, before asset disposal occurs, there is consultation with Indigenous communities and elders about the significance of those assets.
In her submission to the Senate inquiry, Elizabeth Pearson commented on the notion of a financial threshold for Indigenous cultural artefacts. She argued:
The value of Indigenous cultural heritage to Traditional Owners simply cannot be accurately measured or conveyed through monetary value thresholds.
It is important that statutory provisions relating to the disposal of NCI artefacts are culturally competent and provide appropriate recognition of and consultation with First Nations Peoples in considering disposing of items of Indigenous cultural heritage.
Ms Pearson also argued that the bill should contain provisions that require the national collecting institutions to consult with First Nations peoples when an NCI proposes to dispose of an Indigenous object in its collection. It's a point that I agree with and that Labor agrees with. There must be consultation with elders and with Indigenous community groups prior to the disposal of important cultural artefacts. I note that, in the evidence that he gave to the Senate inquiry, Mat Trinca from the National Museum said that the museum does have in place policies and procedures that are to be followed in instances of disposal of important cultural artefacts such as those. I would hope that all of these institutions would take a similar approach.
I must say, in respect of the National Museum and certain displays and exhibitions they have had, that there has been in the past a tradition of consultation with First Nations elders and communities. There's an exhibition in the museum at the moment about Captain Cook's Endeavour voyage. The exhibition is called Endeavour Voyage: The Untold Stories of Cook and the First Australians. The exhibition charts Cook's 126 days up the east coast of Australia when he arrived here, and the particular significance of this exhibition is the consultation that has occurred with First Nations people and its view of the Cook expedition from the shore. In much of history and much that's taught to Australians, the view is always from the journals of Cook and his expedition, with very little of the view from the shore. That's why this is an important exhibition. I know there was consultation with the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council, in the area I represent, and elders and representatives of that community in putting this exhibition together.
I think it is important to recognise that when Cook set foot on Kurnell in 1770 at Kamay, or Botany Bay as it's now known, to claim the east coast of Australia in the name of King George, it began the process of First Australians being dispossessed of their land, robbed of their culture and cut off from their language. When Cook's expedition left our shore, it took with it the sovereignty of the First Australians over the land they had nurtured and inhabited for tens of thousands of years. It also took many spears, shields and other cultural items and pieces that tell an important story about our nation's true history. These are deeply cherished and significant cultural relics that connect today's First Australians with their ancestors and traditions. Yet in 2021 these items are still predominantly housed in displays in museums throughout Europe.
It's my view and the view of many on the Labor side and indeed the view of many First Nations peoples that those cultural artefacts belong on country. They belong with the descendants of those who created them. They belong in Australia. A major symbol of this dispossession is an artefact known as the Gweagal shield and a series of spears that are actually on display at the moment in the Australian Museum as part of this Cook expedition. When that expedition left our shores, those items were stolen and taken from the Gweagal people who inhabited the shores of Botany Bay. The shield and those spears, which are on loan at the moment to the National Museum, are housed in British museums in a collection of some 6,000 Australian items, many of them questionably acquired. Most of them aren't even on display, and those that are on display are down the back and are not prominently displayed, particularly those in the British Museum.
The museum has refused repeated requests from descendants of the Kamay men and women for the return of these artefacts. There are a few cases where the requests have been agreed for other artefacts, but the practice is the exception. In 2015 the British Museum loaned the Gweagal shield and other artefacts to the National Museum of Australia for its Encounters exhibition but only after the federal government—the Labor government at the time—passed legislation, the Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act, rendering these items that were loaned back to Australia legally immune from Indigenous claims. I know that that was necessary to ensure that the British Museum would loan those artefacts to Australia for display here, but it shouldn't have had to happen. It simply should not have had to happen.
These are very, very important artefacts that tell the truth about Australian history, and, as a gesture of truth telling, as a gesture of recognition and as a gesture of reconciliation, these artefacts should be returned to their original owners, the First Nations peoples whose ancestors created them. These artefacts should be returned to country so that the descendants of those from whom they were taken can learn about their history and their culture and pass on this important heritage to their children—not only Indigenous children but other Australian children as well, so that we may learn more about the significance to Australia of history pre Cook. That may help us—and I believe it certainly will help us—to overcome this barrier that has existed in Australia, particularly on the conservative side of politics, to amending our constitution to finally recognise the First Australians and listening to what they have had to say to us for the past decade about what they would like to see and how they would like to see government work with First Nations communities through a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament.
If we can have these cultural artefacts returned and learn from First Nations people and their ancestors, to whom these remains and artefacts are important, maybe we can overcome some of the barrier that has existed not only on the conservative side of politics but in this parliament more generally and overcome the inability to put up a referendum and ask the Australian people whether or not they believe it's important that a voice to parliament is enshrined in our constitution and that we finally recognise that truth telling is important. There is precedent for this, and I ask the British government to take note that, this week, 2,000 Indigenous stone artefacts have been repatriated to Australia by the Israeli Museum with the support of the Israeli government. I thank the Israeli government for doing that. It's an important gesture and it will be important to truth telling in our nation. It proves to the British government and the British Museum that we can do the same, and that they should do the same and work with the Australian government and bodies like AIATSIS, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, who have been specifically mandated and allocated a budget to work with other foreign governments, organisations and museums to negotiate the return of these cultural artefacts.
This bill is important because it highlights the fact that our national collecting institutions are important in telling the stories of Australia and, most importantly, in telling the stories of the First Nations people. These institutions have a role to play in returning artefacts such as those I've mentioned so that those stories can be told.
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.
I would like to start today's contribution on this very important bill, the National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020, by acknowledging the fact that the minister in the chair, Minister Tudge, turned 50 this week. He has now obviously entered the age of wisdom, and because we are a generous government—
Opposition members interjecting—
Members opposite ask when I entered the age of wisdom! Of course it's not a matter of time on this planet, as they would know. The minister in the chair has been wise for many, many years. I too am 50 and I welcome him to my age bracket.
Opposition members interjecting—
You are quite right; it does not automatically convey wisdom upon you! But because we are a generous government that has been installed as government by the benefit of a generous people, we reward people once they have turned 50. The minister has this to look forward to: a free bowel cancer test. He can enjoy that process! I can tell him from personal experience, having just been through it, that it's not one of life's things to look forward to. Anyway, back to the bill.
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.
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.
I would like to thank those who have contributed to today's debate on the National Collecting Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. The bill provides for a range of measures to support the six national collecting institutions. The changes proposed by this bill will offer immediate opportunities and efficiencies for the national collecting institutions. The institutions themselves have unanimously welcomed both the proposed changes to the investment powers and the administrative amendments, and I thank them for their contribution to the development of the bill. I commend the bill to the House.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Macquarie has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
Question agreed to.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.