House debates

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Questions without Notice

National Collecting Institutions

3:40 pm

Photo of Alicia PayneAlicia Payne (Canberra, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for the Arts. How has the Albanese Labor government changed previous approaches in order to recognise the importance of the national collecting institutions to Australia?

3:41 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Canberra for the question and acknowledge her strong advocacy for the national collecting institutions. All of those national collecting institutions, whether it be the Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, the Archives, the National Museum, Bundanon or the Maritime Museum, have the same essential job, which is to tell the story of Australia.

Because of the way they've been mismanaged over the last decade, they also tell a story about economic management. It's not a story you would want to tell. The first concept of economic management with respect to these institutions should be that, if you start with the concept that they hold our most valuable items, you probably want to protect them. You probably don't want, in the National Gallery, our most valuable artworks to be in a building that leaks. If you're talking about the National Library, you think, 'What do you have to do to look after a book?' A starting principle is that you don't put it in the water. But for the National Library, it wasn't just the roof that was leaking; it was the windows that were leaking as well. But, to go one better, at the National Maritime Museum the pontoons were sinking. So it wasn't enough for them to have the water coming down from above; at the National Maritime Museum they were trying to get the museum itself to fall right down to sea level. That's the way they left it. Why was it left this way? Because each of these organisations—already underfunded—was facing a funding cliff.

When the Prime Minister went out to announce the new funding, with the Minister for Finance, out at the National Gallery, the member of staff who took us through the National Gallery was their director of First Nations. You would think this was an essential position at the National Gallery. But, under their funding, that position had to be funded through donations. This was not an add-on position at the National Gallery. This was the director of First Nations. That's what the person was in charge of, and even that position was not funded.

As of this year, the funding cliff has gone. These organisations now will be funded, for the workers to now know they still have a job and for the organisations to know that they now can plan for the future for the first time. Finally, these organisations will know that we will no longer have a situation where the items in the museum are in a place with silica dust flying into it—that now our national institutions will be protected as they always should have been.