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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
REGIONAL AUSTRALIA, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, ARTS AND SPORT
Office for the Arts
- Committee Name
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Brandis, Sen George
Milne, Sen Christine
Arbib, Sen Mark
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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
(Senate-Tuesday, 14 February 2012)
INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT PORTFOLIO
Department of Infrastructure and Transport
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Australian Maritime Safety Authority
Office of Transport Security
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Gallacher)
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Australian Transport Safety Bureau
- Department of Infrastructure and Transport
REGIONAL AUSTRALIA, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, ARTS AND SPORT
Office for the Arts
Office for the Arts
National Gallery of Australia
National Film and Sound Archive
National Library of Australia
National Museum of Australia
Office for Sport
- Office for the Arts
- INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT PORTFOLIO
Content WindowRural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee - 14/02/2012 - Estimates - REGIONAL AUSTRALIA, LOCAL GOVERNMENT, ARTS AND SPORT - Office for the Arts
Office for the Arts
CHAIR: I welcome, for the first time from this side of the table, officers from the Office for the Arts, incorporating Screen Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Library of Australia, the National Museum of Australia and the Australia Council. It has been agreed among the committee that the National Gallery of Australia will appear after 9 pm.
Senator BRANDIS: I would prefer to start with the Australia Council.
CHAIR: We are entirely in your hands. You have the call.
Senator BRANDIS: I want to start with, if I may, your announcement of 16 December last year of a prize for works of art dealing with the National Broadband Network. Your press release says, if I may read a bit of it to you:
Through the Australia Council's Broadband Arts Initiative, visionary arts projects enabled by the NBN will be supported by an initial funding pool of $300,000, with funding of up to $100,000 available for individual projects.
… … …
The aim of the Broadband Arts Initiative is to provide significant grants for artistic teams to demonstrate the opportunities opened up by the NBN for Australian culture.
The NBN has not been built yet and you must know that the entire area or policy is intensely controversial. Why would the Australia Council be using taxpayers' money to, as it seems to me, promote a controversial government policy?
Ms Keele : The Australia Council has had a strategic priority that comes up as a common priority across all the art form boards around the digital world and how it is emerging as it relates to making art and accessing art in Australia. This is one of the programs in that. This has been going on for four years. The Broadband Network is up in some places. In fact, it is up in both rural and urban areas. This initiative is about artists who are interested in using broadband for making art and accessing audiences. We did not really consider whether it was controversial or not. It is one of the areas that has high demand by artists.
Senator BRANDIS: Ms Keele, you must understand, as I am sure you do, that there is a finite amount of resources in the arts budget and that every dollar spent on one artist is a dollar taken away from another. Why would the Australia Council, in distributing this finite pool of money, choose to spend money in a way that advances a controversial area of policy?
Ms Keele : Our intention was not anywhere around the politics of this; it was around the demand by artists to be able to develop this new innovation in art, which we have been involved in for four years. It is a limited amount of money, but we have over many years had strategic priorities where, when priorities are the same across art form boards, we scale them together to be able to make a grant across to all types of artists. This is an area in high demand by artists across the country.
Senator BRANDIS: I might be persuaded somewhat by what you say if the National Broadband Network were a feature of our national life, but the National Broadband Network is in operation in a very small number of areas of the country.
Ms Keele : This grant was not for the commercial NBN; this was for the use of broadband.
Senator BRANDIS: That is not what you say in your media release. You talk about the National Broadband Network.
Ms Keele : What I am getting at is digital and the digital side of things is of great interest to artists and great interest to communities. This is an area that, despite the controversy that is around, artists are interested in using to develop their art and to access their audiences.
Senator BRANDIS: I understand that digital technology has been used as a medium for a long time now in art. I am sure the Australia Council has, over the years, funded the use of that medium for visual art in particular. But that is not what your press release talks about. Your press release talks about one particular platform. In fact the heading of the press release is 'Artists Invited to Enrich our Future with the NBN'.
Senator Arbib: It would be useful for us to get a copy of the press release if it is possible.
Senator BRANDIS: It is your press release, Ms Keele. Presumably you have got a copy.
Senator Arbib: There are other officials at the table.
CHAIR: Senator Brandis, with your agreement and help, it would probably make it a little bit easier for us to get through if you could table that.
Senator BRANDIS: I do not want the proceedings be to delayed so by all means have a look at my photocopy of it. The passages I have quoted to you are highlighted.
Ms Keele : What was the question?
Senator BRANDIS: The point is this is not about the use of digital media. This is about the NBN, which is a very controversial platform. It is one of the great areas of political controversy in Australia today, as you must know. Why would the Australia Council take money away from other artists—
Ms Keele : Who is—
Senator BRANDIS: If I may finish my question—
CHAIR: If I could please—we do not know a lot about your area of expertise in this committee yet; some of us do. One thing I do insist on is, if ministers or senators or officers are asked a question, I afford them the decency to be heard in silence from both sides. Ms Keele, let me get that home because I will pull Senator Brandis up for the same behaviour if that happens. I am sure it will not. When Senator Brandis is finished, you will have all the time you need without being interrupted.
Senator BRANDIS: Ms Keele, you have agreed with me that there is a finite amount of money that is able to be distributed by the Australia Council for all purposes. I put it to you that by spending this money on artists who want to promote the National Broadband Network, you are taking it away from other artists. I do not think that is an unfair characterisation.
Senator Arbib: I have got the press release now. Senator Brandis has quoted from one paragraph but it is quite a detailed press release. Another one of the paragraphs, which I think explains this quite well, is the third last paragraph which says:
Now, with the Broadband Arts Initiative, the Australia Council is encouraging ambitious art proposals that are truly dependent on broadband infrastructure, particularly with its high-capacity bandwidth and ability to connect artists and audiences across regional, remote and metropolitan centres.
I think that explains what it is about. It does not say anything about NBN. It is about broadband. It is about connecting up regional centres, artists and communities. That is my reading of it.
Senator BRANDIS: Ms Keele, coming back to my question, why would the Australia Council choose to use its limited scarce funding allocation, or part of it, to promote the NBN? Why would you do that?
Senator Arbib: It is not promoting the NBN.
Senator BRANDIS: I think it is and I am putting that proposition to Ms Keele.
Senator Arbib: Ms Keele has already answered that question. She said it is not promoting the NBN.
Senator BRANDIS: That is not what the press release says and that is not what the title of the press release says.
Senator Arbib: With all due respect, that is your reading of one paragraph. I have read another paragraph which completely contradicts your reading of it.
Senator BRANDIS: Ms Keele, are you going to answer my question?
CHAIR: Ms Keele, for the purposes of the use of time, I cannot control what the questions will be. That is up to the senators around. The senators know themselves that they will explore every opportunity to ask the same question four or five times, maybe. But I would just remind everyone in the room that time is of the essence here.
Ms Keele : Senator Brandis, firstly, the purpose of this grant was not to promote the NBN per se. Secondly, in answer to your question, this actually did not take money away from anything; this was money that went to a consistent demand across council, so it actually took a very small amount of money, $300,000, and made it available to artists to be able to develop art and access audiences with this new innovation around the broadband. That is what it is meant to do. Every single year in our strategic planning process we identify strategic priorities. This has been a consistent strategic priority, so it actually is not taking money off any other art form board.
Senator BRANDIS: I do not quite understand that, since there is a finite amount of funds. Anyway, if you were to say to me, 'Digital media are an important platform for modern art and the purpose of this allocation is merely to satisfy the interest that a sector of the artistic community has in the use of digital media,' I could understand that. But that is not what you say and it is not what, according to your press release, this is for. This is for the use and promotion of the NBN, and I put it to you—
Senator Arbib: That is not what Ms Keele is saying.
Senator BRANDIS: Excuse me, Minister. Please do not interrupt me.
Senator Arbib: That is not what Ms Keele said.
Senator BRANDIS: You are not chairing this committee; Senator Sterle is.
Senator Arbib: No, I am not, but I am making the point—
Senator BRANDIS: I am entitled to put a proposition to the witness—
Senator Arbib: that that is not what Ms Keele said.
Senator BRANDIS: and I am entitled to have her answer it without being interrupted.
Senator Arbib: So you cannot mislead the committee, because that is not what Ms Keele said.
CHAIR: Minister and Senator Brandis, if I may. We have already used 10 minutes of Senator Brandis's required half-hour. I heard the answer very clearly. I am of the opinion that Ms Keele has answered, but it is the opposition's question time and, if Senator Brandis chooses to ask the same question until nine o'clock, that is entirely up to Senator Brandis. You have given a very in-depth answer to that question, Ms Keele, and all I can say is you have done a good job. Senator Brandis has the call. Keep going, you are doing well.
Senator BRANDIS: Thank you very much, Mr Chairman.
CHAIR: I was actually talking to Ms Keele.
Senator BRANDIS: I knew you were, but I think you were just throwing the call to me, so that is why I was thanking you. Ms Keele, what I am putting to you is that by allocating these funds in this way, not to digital media in general but to the NBN in particular, you are wittingly or unwittingly allowing the Australia Council to become a tool for the promotion of government propaganda. Would you like to comment on that?
Ms Keele : We are not promoting—
CHAIR: Senator Brandis, it has been brought to my attention that your question might have been asking for an opinion. I did not hear your question; would you mind repeating it.
Senator BRANDIS: I am putting it to you that, wittingly or unwittingly, you are allowing the Australia Council to be used as a tool for government propaganda and I am inviting you to comment on that assertion.
Senator Arbib: That is not a question the witness can answer.
CHAIR: I would have to say that I think you are asking for an opinion.
Senator BRANDIS: I am asking for a comment. Do you accept that, Ms Keele?
CHAIR: I understand that as an SC, Senator Brandis, and a wordsmith you will run rings around me—though I can back a road train—but I do think you may be bordering on asking for an opinion.
Senator BRANDIS: I am not asking for an opinion about government policy; I am asking for a comment—
CHAIR: You are asking for an opinion of the officer in terms of government policy.
Senator BRANDIS: All right, I will rephrase that: do you dispute that this is being—
Ms Keele : I do not accept that the Australia Council is unwittingly, or even wittingly, promoting the Broadband Network. We are an arms-length agency of government. We do this based on what the sector tell us they would like to have. So I disagree with your proposition.
Senator BRANDIS: That is fine. Do you accept that one of the principal roles of art is social criticism?
Ms Keele : I do not know if I would put it quite like that, but I suppose that is one of—
Senator Arbib: I think we are starting to get into opinion again, Chair, and well outside the—
Senator BRANDIS: The only prohibition, Minister, is opinions about the policies of the government. I am asking Ms Keele about the purpose of art.
Senator Arbib: It is an opinion of art.
Senator BRANDIS: Do you accept, Ms Keele, that one of the purposes of art is to challenge and criticise society and to criticise current social trends and conditions?
Ms Keele : Who could disagree with that?
Senator BRANDIS: So do you agree. It seems to me that if you wanted to do something about the NBN, rather than facilitating its promotion it would be much more faithful to the purpose of art to award a prize or an allocation for artists who want to criticise the NBN. That is what artists do. Artists challenge what societies and governments regard as the prevailing wisdom. The prevailing wisdom at the moment is that the NBN is a good idea. Why wouldn't you reward artists for challenging received wisdom rather than allow yourself to be used to promote received wisdom?
Senator Arbib: I am glad that you accept the opinion that broadband is a good idea.
Senator BRANDIS: It is the conventional wisdom of this government.
Senator Arbib: It is good to see. It is good that it is on record.
Senator BRANDIS: Ms Keele, why wouldn't you—
CHAIR: I am quite looking forward to Ms Keele's answers because I think that you are doing extremely well. Keep going. Where were you when DAFF was here?
Ms Keele : Demand from the sector was about having the ability to create art using digital and broadband technology and being able to experiment with accessing audiences, both rural and regional, using this. There was no request, no big demand, to be able to criticise. So that never came into our thinking, Senator, I am sorry.
Senator BRANDIS: How many individual artists came to the Australian Council and said, 'We would really like there to be an allocation for us to use the national broadband network—specifically that—to create art?'
Ms Keele : I can get you the input but I would have to go back and search out the specifics. But you would understand that we are in touch with artists across the country, rural, regional and remote—
Senator BRANDIS: I do not know, Ms Keele. My experiences of arts—
CHAIR: Senator Brandis, I will just pull you up there. You did ask Ms Keele a question and then you interrupted her halfway through. If I could transfer that look coming off Ms Keele's face, you are lucky you are not within whacking distance. Ms Keele, please continue with your answer.
Ms Keele : We have forums. We have access to artists all over the place. Last year at Parliament House there was a broadband forum where we got a lot of input from all kinds of players around what they wanted to see, and there was a lot of interest in broadband and how it works, how it could play into developing art, how it could play into accessing audience. So we have quite a little bit of input from a number of different sources on an ongoing basis. It is our job.
Senator BRANDIS: Coming back to my question, I asked you how many individual artists came to the Australia Council and specifically said, 'We want to use the NBN specifically for the purpose of creating art,' and you said that you would have to check. But given the assertion you made two answers ago, you must have a rough idea. Was it more than a dozen?
Ms Keele : No, I do not have a rough idea, Senator.
Senator BRANDIS: You don't have a rough idea? So the assertion you made before—was that the truth or was that just an impression?
Ms Keele : Excuse me, are you saying that I am lying?
Senator BRANDIS: No, I am asking you whether it was the truth or whether it was an impression. If you cannot respond in any way to the question—how many artists made the request that you have asserted artists across the sector have made—then I am going to challenge you on it.
Senator Arbib: Senator, I have to say here that you are constructing words that Ms Keele has not said. She did not talk about artist demand in terms of the NBN. She was talking in terms of broadband. She mentioned a number of the forums that have been undertaken by the Australia Council and I think that her answer is sufficient.
Senator BRANDIS: That is your opinion, Minister, but I am asking a different question. I am asking how many artists, if any—
Senator Arbib: And Ms Keele has answered that question. You are asking a completely different question now—
Senator BRANDIS: I am entitled to ask a different question.
CHAIR: I will assist, and I hear your concerns, Minister. As far as I can see it, I think that Ms Keele is doing wonderfully well, and if Senator Brandis chooses to use his allotted half-hour to ask whatever questions he may want, I would just say to you, Ms Keele, keep answering the same question the way you are. I cannot tell Senator Brandis how he will spend his half an hour asking his questions.
Ms Keele : I would be glad to take it away and provide you an answer on notice.
Senator BRANDIS: I hope you will, Ms Keele, but while we have you here I want you to focus on the specific question I am asking you and not engage in commentary on the question. Just provide the answer if you can and, if you cannot, tell us that you cannot. I want to know how many artists came to the Australian Council and specifically asked for funding for the use of the NBN to create art.
Senator Arbib: Ms Keele has said she will take the question on notice and Ms Keele will provide Senator Brandis with an answer on notice as per her previous statement.
Senator BRANDIS: I have asked the question of Ms Keele.
Senator Arbib: She has answered the question, Senator.
Ms Keele : I have just answered your question.
Senator BRANDIS: I did not understand your answer.
Senator Arbib: She said she is going to take it on notice.
Senator BRANDIS: Is your answer that you do not know?
Ms Keele : I said, in these exact words, I will take it on notice.
Senator BRANDIS: Are you able to—
Senator Arbib: Chair, this is badgering.
Senator BRANDIS: Are you able to offer us an estimate?
CHAIR: Senator Brandis, the minister is in his realm to be able to answer for and on behalf of the officer and the officer has continued to answer those questions for you. Senator Milne, do you have a very quick question on this?
Senator MILNE: On a specific matter in relation to this. As I understand it, the Australia Council has asked artists, groups and organisations to propose innovative arts projects that utilise next generation high-capacity broadband and then it simply says 'enabled by the NBN'. So it is a statement of a technology which is enabling the arts to use high-speed broadband. So aren't we talking about arts and new technology—that is, high-speed broadband—and the fact that it is enabled by the NBN is no different from saying it is enabled by a telephone line? Is that correct?
Ms Keele : Yes. Thank you for the clarification.
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Milne, and I have taken it that Ms Keele has answered that in that same way but maybe with some different words and on more than one occasion.
Senator BRANDIS: Let me just clarify in my own mind your previous answer, Ms Keele. You have told us that you are not sure and, therefore, you want to take the question on notice.
Ms Keele : I did not say I was not sure. I said I would take it on notice to be clear.
Senator BRANDIS: Are you able to tell us approximately how many?
Ms Keele : I would take the question on notice.
Senator BRANDIS: I asked you: are you able to tell us?
Ms Keele : My answer is I will take it on notice.
Senator Arbib: Chair, will you just—
Senator BRANDIS: A point of order, Mr Chairman: it is not the role of a minister at the table to overtake the chairman's role and direct opposition senators or any senators how they may ask their question. That is the first point. The second point is this: questions may only be taken on notice if they are unable to be answered to the committee at once. The question I just asked Ms Keele was whether she knows the answer to the question. If she does know the answer to the question, she has no entitlement to take it on notice. She must be responsive to a question to which she knows the answer.
CHAIR: On your first point of order, I do not agree with you. I think the minister has full right to be able to answer for and on behalf of the department and officers. On the second point, Ms Keele, I will ask you to answer Senator Brandis's question and, if you do not know, you know you can take that on notice. You are in your full right.
Senator BRANDIS: I will put it to you again, Ms Keele.
Ms Keele : I do not mean to be difficult, I am sorry.
CHAIR: You are not being difficult. You are doing very well. Just continue.
Senator BRANDIS: Ms Keele, I asked you a question about a number and you said—I am paraphrasing—'I don't know, I will take it on notice.'
Ms Keele : I did not say, 'I don't know.' I did say I would take it on notice.
Senator BRANDIS: That is my point. I thought, to give you the benefit of the doubt, that you gave a reason for taking it on notice. I then said, 'Did you know the approximate number?' and you said, 'I will take it on notice.' I then asked you—and this is the question before you—'Do you know the answer to my question?' because, if you do, it is an abuse of the process of this committee to decline to give an answer when you know.
Ms Keele : I do not know the answer.
CHAIR: Senator Brandis, I have been very relaxed and I do not think that this is in order. In all fairness, we are not in the Supreme Court or wherever it may be. When Ms Keele leaves this committee tonight, there will be a loving partner at home and probably some beautiful kids and nothing matters, because it is not a hanging offence if she does not answer your questions. So I do not think we have to take that line.
Senator Arbib: It is Valentine's Day.
CHAIR: It is Valentine's Day and obviously we will need to flick some of those roses from Senator Heffernan's office towards yours, Senator Brandis. It's nine o'clock. I know you have a role to perform, Senator Brandis. I just put it to you: please ask the questions that you want and I know Ms Keele will answer them to the best of her ability and, if you cannot, do not hang her on her line of words that she will take it on notice. I am sure she meant, 'I don't know and I will take it on notice.' Let's not split hairs.
Senator BRANDIS: I want to clarify: do you know the answer to my question, Ms Keele?
Ms Keele : No.
Senator BRANDIS: You do not?
Ms Keele : Not right offhand. I am not going to speculate. I will take your question on notice.
Senator Arbib: Senator, you are asking for a specific number—
Senator BRANDIS: You do not know the answer to my question about approximately how many artists?
Senator Arbib: Now you have changed your question.
Ms Keele : I do not know the answer to your question at all. All right?
Senator BRANDIS: All right. Do you understand the point of view of those who—like, for example, Mr Turnbull—in criticising this initiative, drew comparisons with the arts policy of the former Soviet Union in using artistic funding bodies in order to advance the political causes of the government? I am not expecting you to adopt that view, but do you understand that criticism?
Senator Arbib: You are now comparing the Australia Council to the old Soviet Union?
Senator BRANDIS: I am quoting something Mr Turnbull said. I am asking Ms Keele whether she understands the criticism.
Senator Arbib: It is ridiculous. You are being absolutely ridiculous. Please, Chair, it is offensive; it is ridiculous. Let's just move on.
Senator MILNE: Utterly ridiculous.
Senator BRANDIS: I am entitled to ask any question that I would like—
Senator Arbib: Yes, I know, and it reflects on you, Senator.
Senator MILNE: The Cold War is over.
Senator BRANDIS: The opposition spokesman on the Broadband Network, Mr Turnbull, made that observation. It was quoted in all of the main newspapers. I am sure you saw it, Ms Keele. I am not asking you to agree with it, but do you understand why the impression could be created in the mind of some that, by using a funding initiative of the Australia Council for the apparent purpose of promoting the government's very controversial policy, you are adopting what Mr Turnbull described as a Soviet style approach to arts policy?
Senator MILNE: This is embarrassing, actually.
CHAIR: Senator Brandis, it is starting to go a little bit off the rails. I cannot put words in Ms Keele's mouth and I am sure she will answer that with a simple yes or no.
Senator BRANDIS: Do you understand the criticism, Ms Keele, even if you do not share it?
Ms Keele : Actually, I do not.
Senator Arbib: The question has been answered.
Senator BRANDIS: Ms Keele, do you believe that it is very important for the Australia Council to protect its integrity?
Ms Keele : Absolutely, and we do that every day, all day.
Senator BRANDIS: Do you believe that one important aspect of the Australia Council protecting its integrity is to protect its independence from government?
Ms Keele : You are making an assumption here, Senator, that we were not independent in making that grant. That is a wrong assumption. That grant category came from the demand we received in the sector in conversations with artists and arts organisations and at the regional arts broadband committee. We have had a long engagement in this area. It was not a secret letter from the government or anything like that. Positing that is wrong.
Senator BRANDIS: By the way, the quote I was referring to—let me give it to you in full, in fairness—comes from Mr Turnbull. He said:
It reminds us of Soviet artists being recruited to glorify the heroic labour of the No.3 VI Lenin Missile Factory.
Coming back to my question: do you believe that it is a very important value of the Australia Council to preserve its independence from government? Do you believe that?
Ms Keele : Yes, Senator.
Senator BRANDIS: Then do you then accept that, if the Australia Council is to preserve its integrity and if an essential element of its integrity is to be independent of the government of the day, the Australia Council needs to be very careful, in the decisions it makes, about not being seen to promote or favour elements within the artistic community with programs which might be thought to be advancing the purposes of the government of the day?
Ms Keele : I got a little lost in that question, but I think the answer is: yes, I think that is important, and that is what we did.
Senator MILNE: Ms Keele, is it true that the arts community in general, in your collaboration with them, are recognising the incredible opportunity of high-speed internet broadband for creative content and services, for accessing national collections, for live performance and for online and real-time collaboration. Are they approaching the Australia Council to make sure that all aspects of the arts can engage in innovation with high-speed broadband?
Ms Keele : Yes, I think artists and audiences and arts organisations across the sector are having conversations with us, with Screen Australia, with the Office for the Arts—it is quite a live area of conversation.
Senator MILNE: Is that feeding into the convergence review?
Ms Keele : Yes, it is.
Senator MILNE: Now I will go on to some other questions in relation—
CHAIR: Sorry to interrupt you, Senator Milne, but it is nine o'clock and we had better take a break; otherwise, we will be in trouble with the staff. We shall take a 15 minute break.
Proceedings suspended from 21:02 to 21:14