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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 9719

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (09:28): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time

Australians value a rich cultural life and more than 90 per cent of us participate in cultural activities. For this reason and for others, governments at all levels as well as private individuals and companies must invest in the arts in developing Australia's considerable creative talent.

Investment in the arts produces important social and economic dividends. Such an investment helps underpin respect for diversity and individual expression; it encourages team work; it supports the development of community cohesion; and it gives us pride in our culture and in the sharing of the exploration of our identity and our role internationally. The values that it underpins are those that we cherish as a nation—of inclusion, of expression and of freedom of expression—and they are values that we are respected for. In other words, the investment produces a social dividend. There is also an economic dividend—crucial as we face today's global challenges. Our comparative advantage and strengths are going to be determined by how innovative and creative we are in increasing our productivity.

Investment in the arts can also produce an economic dividend, because we know that more creative nations are also more productive ones.

It is for those reasons that we not only see the importance of continuing to invest in the arts but are developing a National Cultural Policy, the first in almost 20 years, to build the base for future growth in the arts, in our cultural heritage and the development of our creative industries. I look forward to delivering this policy later this year and setting out a strategic framework of support for individuals, organisations and communities, all of whom are involved in cultural expression. As Minister for the Arts I am also dedicated to finding every opportunity to tell our stories, educate and skill our workforce and enable our culture to connect with the rest of the world.

It is interesting that we had the opportunity last night not just to screen The Sapphires, which is going gang busters at the box office, but to welcome the great Indigenous talent that is acting in it, directing it and writing the story, as well as last night to announce an important training program to encourage further Indigenous involvement in the theatre industry. We also had a magnificent performance by Jessica Mauboy after the showing of the film—and she is some incredible talent.

This bill establishes the National Portrait Gallery of Australia as a statutory authority and supports and delivers on the goals of the National Cultural Policy. It will enable the home of the national portrait collection to develop and flourish as one of Australia's pre-eminent national cultural institutions.

The idea of creating a national portrait gallery for Australia is not new. In the early 1900s the painter Tom Roberts was the first to propose that Australia should have a national portrait gallery. But it was not until the 1990s, with the generous support of Gordon and Marilyn Darling, that the idea of a national portrait gallery began to take shape.

In 1998, when the Portrait Gallery was established, it was incorporated as part of the government department responsible for the arts. It was given the brief to develop a collection of quality portraits reflecting the breadth and energy of Australian culture and endeavour. The opening of displays and programs in the refurbished spaces of Old Parliament House in 1999 signalled the gallery's arrival as a national collecting institution. The dedicated home of the gallery was opened to the public in 2008 and since then the gallery, and its unique building, has won over 28 local, national and international awards.

Since 2008, the gallery has acquired an impressive collection of over 2,000 works of art. They encapsulate the essence of achievement and endeavour across Australia. It has become a place that brings history and art together, with the collection tracing our progress as a nation. It features portraits of the most famous Australians but also tells us about ourselves—who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be and who we will never forget.

The gallery has welcomed over 2.2 million visitors to view its collection in Canberra, with a similar number again participating in gallery exhibitions, virtual activities and community outreach and engagement programs across Australia and overseas. The popular appeal of the National Portrait Gallery is borne out in the high satisfaction levels expressed by visitors.

As part of the this year's budget, the Australian government announced that the National Portrait Gallery would be established as an independent statutory authority. This decision acknowledged the success and significance of the gallery and recognised that it should have a similar status to Australia's other great national collecting institutions, as a Commonwealth authority.

Establishing the gallery as a separate statutory authority subject to the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 will ensure it is able to establish governance arrangements appropriate for managing a significant national collection. It will ensure the gallery is overseen by a governing board. It will provide for greater financial certainty and independence. It will increase its public profile and position it, importantly, more effectively to attract corporate sponsorship and philanthropy.

Establishing the National Portrait Gallery of Australia as a separate statutory authority will enable its functions to be enshrined in legislation for the very first time. The functions of the National Portrait Gallery of Australia will be to develop, preserve, maintain, promote and provide access to a national collection including portraits that reflect the identity, history, diversity and culture of Australia. The gallery will continue to develop and engage a national audience by providing access to its collection, other artworks and related material through exhibitions, publications and online programs.

The national collection will hold a unique sample of quality portraits of subjects who have made a major impact on Australia and internationally. The gallery will be in position to foster inquiry, research, discussion, interpretation, participation and enjoyment of portraiture. The gallery's program will continue to develop and be diverse, energetic and dynamic with constantly changing collections and exhibitions. It will also involve formal and informal learning activities delivered on site and online.

The bill gives the gallery a strong mandate and a clear and coherent purpose reflecting its cultural role and importance. The gallery will be expected to be a national cultural leader, responsive to emerging national and international opportunities and challenges, including technological innovations and changing audience preferences.

From its Canberra hub, the National Portrait Gallery of Australia will provide a national portraiture collection to serve all Australians, reaching the widest possible audiences in places where future subjects for the collection make their extraordinary contributions to Australian life. It will be a source of great pride to all Australians as well as a fitting tribute to Canberra, our national capital, particularly in its centenary year. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.