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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 576

Senator PUPLICK(3.08) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The annual report of the Department of Home Affairs and Environment 1983-84 is a very complicated report with which to deal in just a couple of minutes because the Department covered so many aspects of cultural and environmental life in Australia, now covered by the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment. Therefore, I pick out only a couple of matters which I think deserve at least passing comment. First, I congratulate the Department and those associated with the establishment of the Film and Sound Archive in Canberra. It is a long overdue and most worthwhile project. Those like yourself, Mr Deputy President, who have some commitment and understanding in this area will appreciate the significance of the archives. People such as Mr Ray Edmondson of the National Library have been very active in this regard. Those who have had the opportunity to see the new facilities will appreciate the contribution they will make in the long term to the preservation of an important part of our cultural heritage. The next point I make is that I believe the Government must undertake a serious review of the fire safety standards in a number of the institutions for which this Department is responsible. The tragic fire at the National Library which could, of course, have been a great deal worse, serves to draw attention to this.

The Department is also responsible for the operation of the Australian Film Commission. Undoubtedly we will have a chance at some later stage to discuss in the Parliament the activities of the Film Commission. However, I simply say now that most people would share some degree of concern about the way in which the Commission is currently being operated by its incumbent Chairman. I hope that an opportunity will present itself at some stage to discuss what I think will prove to be Mr Adams's long term weakening of the viability of the Australian film industry, something which undoubtedly he will carry over into making an equal mess of the Commission for the Future, to which he has also been appointed as Chairman.

The Department also has some responsibility for the national conservation strategy. I am glad to see that some progress is being made with further development of this strategy. I am also glad to note that the Liberal Party, at a recent Federal Council meeting, became the first political party to give a formal endorsement in its party policy to the conservation strategy laid out and supported by successive governments.

I wish to make only two other points: First, I draw attention to reports in the media recently about the perilous financial plight of the Australian Opera. I indicate that in large measure this is due to the deliberate policy of the New South Wales State Labor Government in withholding from the Opera the $901,000 refund to which the Opera is entitled over payroll tax deductions. The New South Wales Labor Government has effectively confiscated that money from the Opera and has refused to return it. The Australian Opera's perilous state is due also to the deliberate policy of the Victorian State Labor Government in reneging on the $397,000 which it really owes to the Opera. It is worth noting that the Queensland Government alone, in spite of the many accusations made against it, has consistently fulfilled its obligation to the Australian Opera. It has consistently provided the degree of financial support necessary for the Australian Opera to perform in Brisbane. Without that support from the Queensland Government, the Opera would be in an even more perilous position, reduced as it is to the brink of financial ruin by the recent loss of an amount in the vicinity of $100,000 due entirely to the union disruption of its Melbourne season, in particular, the cancellation of its performance of The Tales of Hoffmann.

Secondly, the failure of the Government in its wildlife policy-particularly its failure to extend the Whale Protection Act to include coastal waters, its failure to provide the resources for wildlife protection, the operation of the Wildlife (Prohibited Import-Export) legislation and its failure to support the campaign by the Fund for Animals for research into terrible diseases currently decimating our koala population-is a national disgrace. It is no surprise that the Canberra Times on 18 March reports:

The Australian Conservation Foundation will write to the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, expressing its 'serious concern about the unsatisfactory performance' of the Federal Government toward conservation.

This report will undoubtedly give many opportunities to expose the failure of the Government in a number of cultural, artistic, heritage and conservation matters. All these stand as complete condemnation of the failure of the Government for its betrayal of a constituency which it once claimed to represent.

Question resolved in the affirmative.