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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13646

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (09:27): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The introduction of this bill comes at an exciting time for arts and culture in Australia.

In line with the government's Australia in the Asian Century white paper, we are deepening our arts and cultural ties with Asia.

And the government is finalising the first National Cultural Policy in 20 years, which will bring the vast array of stakeholders, art forms, opportunities and investment needs together in a comprehensive policy.

This bill will further develop our cultural wealth by encouraging loans of significant cultural objects from overseas for temporary public exhibition in Australia.

Every year millions of Australians visit our major national, state and territory cultural institutions. These audiences expect to see the best Australia and the world can offer.

This year alone has seen works of old Spanish masters at the Queensland Art Gallery, Handwritten: ten centuries of manuscripts at the National Library of Australia and the genius of Picasso at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and soon we will see Toulouse-Lautrec's view of Parisian life at the National Gallery of Australia and ancient treasures from Afghanistan at four museums around the country, including Museum Victoria and the Western Australian Museum.

The ability to borrow these objects enriches the cultural experience for Australian audiences, draws visitors from far and wide, and delivers significant economic benefits.

The resounding success of the Renaissance exhibition, held at the National Gallery of Australia last summer, shows the scale of this economic dividend. It attracted almost 213,000 visitors and brought an estimated $75 million to the local economy.

But, despite the popularity of these exhibitions, in the past 10 years it has become increasingly difficult for Australia's major galleries, libraries and museums to secure overseas loans.

Australia, unlike numerous other countries, does not have comprehensive legislation providing protection for cultural objects on loan from overseas.

Under existing Commonwealth legislation, protection for cultural objects on loan only applies in specific and limited circumstances. That happens under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.

Although the risk of legal claims being made on cultural objects while they are on loan in Australia is low, foreign lenders are increasingly reluctant to loan to Australia's major cultural institutions in the absence of national legislation. As a result, loan negotiations between Australian cultural institutions and foreign lenders have become protracted and in some cases loans have been denied.

This legislation sets out to address these concerns.

It will protect cultural objects on loan by limiting the circumstances in which ownership or physical possession, custody or control of the objects can be affected whilst they are here in Australia.

Objects will be protected if they are imported into Australia for temporary public exhibition under arrangements involving an institution approved by the minister.

This scheme does not abrogate cultural institutions from the need to undertake rigorous due diligence and provenance research.

On the contrary, in order to be approved, institutions will be required to demonstrate that they have the necessary expertise, rigour, capacity and resources to meet the demands established by the scheme, including exercising appropriate due diligence.

The inclusion of these requirements supports Australia's continued ability to meet its international obligations under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The bill only limits the legal action that can be taken while the objects are in Australia on loan. It does not affect the ability of a potential claimant to take legal action in the jurisdiction where the object is usually held.

To encourage the loan of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects to Australia, the bill will apply to most of those objects held in foreign collections.

This will provide opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reconnect with their culture and facilitate further engagement and relationships between overseas institutions and Indigenous communities. It will also enable all Australians to engage with and be invigorated by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage.

However, in recognition that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material is particularly sensitive and culturally important, the bill will not apply to significant Australian heritage objects that are identified as class A objects under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material in that category includes human remains, bark and log coffins, secret sacred ritual material, rock art and dendroglyphs (carved trees).

This legislation is also consistent with the Australian government's commitment to facilitating the unconditional repatriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and secret sacred objects to their communities of origin.

Consultation is an important element of the scheme and requirements will be included in the regulations. There will be specific consultation requirements for proposed loans of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and groups to be actively involved in discussions about proposed loans before objects come to Australia.

Further transparency will be built into the scheme through regulations requiring the publication of information on objects proposed for loan prior to their importation. This is an important mechanism to assist persons who may be seeking to locate objects they believe were unlawfully taken.

The introduction of this legislation will align Australia with an emerging international standard of providing protection for cultural objects on loan from overseas.

It will reassure foreign lenders that Australia is a secure destination for loans and enable our great cultural institutions to successfully compete for world-class exhibitions.

Broad consultation, including many submissions in response to a 2011 discussion paper, demonstrate strong support for Commonwealth legislation on this issue.

This support extends from the collections sector to state and territory cultural ministers and to the tourism and hospitality sectors. It reflects an acknowledgment of the direct benefits that major international exhibitions deliver to the Australian economy.

I would like to acknowledge the role that former Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales Ed Capon played in this regard, doing so on behalf of the directors of the collecting institutions in this country, in bringing the issue to the attention of state, territory and federal government ministers at the inaugural meeting of cultural ministers held last August. It was as a result of that representation and discussion at that first meeting of the cultural ministers that agreement was reached amongst ministers not just to recognise the problem but to address it. I do acknowledge the effective collaboration not just of the ministers present and their departments but of the museums and galleries and the agencies that were associated that have led to this solution.

Many of Australia's leading museums and galleries are now planning ambitious future exhibition programs beyond those already locked in. This bill will provide vital support for those activities.

Governments must invest in the arts. A vibrant arts sector delivers a social dividend of creativity, communication, respect, inclusion and teamwork—values this nation cherishes.

There is also an economic dividend, because the evidence shows that creative nations are productive and resilient nations.

This bill directly supports the future of international cultural exhibitions. It will benefit our cultural institutions, our economy and ensure Australians continue to have access to the world's riches of art and culture. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.