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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15389

Mr McGAURAN (Minister for Science) (9:21 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the amendment bill is to facilitate the integration of two major cultural agencies in accordance with the government's announcement in the 2003-04 budget. Following recommendations from the review of cultural agencies within the Communications, Information Technology and the Arts portfolio, the government has decided that ScreenSound Australia—the National Screen and Sound Archive—and the Australian Film Commission (AFC) should be integrated into a single statutory agency.

In taking this decision the government has taken into account the implications for the cultural objectives of the agencies, the need for appropriate governance arrangements and relationships with key stakeholders. Accordingly, the government considers that integrating the AFC and ScreenSound Australia, a current program of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, will provide real benefits and opportunities for both organisations and the combined constituencies that they represent and serve.

The AFC is the Commonwealth's primary agency for supporting film, television and interactive media production and distribution and their creators. The AFC also supports activities and events that provide the wider Australian community, including regional Australians, with access to Australian audiovisual product. ScreenSound Australia is the national institution responsible for preserving, documenting and interpreting the Australian experience in audiovisual media.

The proposed amendments will, for the first time, give clear recognition in Commonwealth legislation to the important work of collecting and preserving the nation's sound and visual heritage. Specifically, the amendments will articulate a broader cultural role for the AFC by conferring on it express functions and powers in relation to the development, maintenance and exhibition of a collection of film and/or sound recordings, supporting documentation such as scripts and artefacts such as original film posters.

This bill amends the Australian Film Commission Act 1975 to enable the transfer of administrative responsibility for ScreenSound Australia to the AFC. It will ensure that the AFC has the functions and powers that will enable it to properly manage, maintain and exhibit the national screen and sound collection and it facilitates the transfer of relevant Commonwealth assets, liabilities, contractual rights and obligations, and records to the AFC. ScreenSound Australia staff are currently employed under the Public Service Act 1999. To ensure no disadvantage to staff, the bill also provides the AFC with the power to employ staff under the Public Service Act. This bill establishes a chief executive officer position within the AFC to support these arrangements.

The synergies created by combining the resources of ScreenSound Australia and the AFC will expand the scope and focus of national screen culture activities and enhance coordination. Links between Australian audiovisual heritage resources and the broader sound, film and television industry will be improved as will educational and exhibition activities. Combining ScreenSound's extensive collection of screen and sound material with the AFC's ability to support national exhibition programs will ensure that more Australians than ever, particularly in regional areas, are able to enjoy the unique audiovisual resources in ScreenSound's collection. The combined agency will therefore be in a stronger position to provide national leadership in enhancing access to, and understanding of, audiovisual culture.

As a former arts minister with responsibility for the Australian Film Commission and ScreenSound Australia, I strongly endorse this very forward-looking reform which will benefit not just the two institutions and the people who constitute them but also the wider cultural sector and especially film, television and radio. I wish to congratulate one person in particular, Mr Peter Rush, who headed the cultural review of agencies and institutions within the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I have experience with Mr Rush, who was a former departmental liaison officer in my office. It was a difficult task that he and his colleagues within the department embraced with enthusiasm and imagination.

One of the results has been the transfer of Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, to my Department of Education, Science and Training. The review looked at the proper purpose of our valued and important cultural institutions and sought to reshape them in such a way that they will continue to better serve their objectives. Questacon's transfer to the Department of Education, Science and Training makes perfect sense because Questacon's major objective is to promote and educate on science and technology; it is not a collecting institution.

I wish to thank everybody within the department and within the AFC and ScreenSound for their cooperation with and input into the cultural review within the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. The review has led to what I believe will be a consolidation and an enhancement of the AFC and ScreenSound well into the future to the benefit of Australia's artistic and cultural objectives. I commend this bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Edwards) adjourned.