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Tuesday, 11 September 2012
Page: 10245

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (18:51): I rise to speak on the National Portrait Gallery of Australia Bill 2012 and the associated bill. On behalf of the coalition, can I say how proud we are today to have played a significant role in helping the gallery to reach many of those milestones and how proud we are today to play our part in helping the gallery sever perhaps the final apron string to government to become its own authority.

The National Portrait Gallery of Australia is one of the many national collecting institutions that the coalition is proud to support. We support these institutions not only because they are entrusted with protecting, for all time, our memories, our stories and our shared history but because they reflect and exhibit the best aspects of ourselves, of our national character, of our hopes and aspirations for the future and of what it means to be Australian.

The bill and its associated bill continue the vision the Howard government had for the gallery when it established it many years ago. It has been quite a journey—a journey that the coalition has shared with the gallery, and continues to share by supporting this bill today. It is appropriate therefore for me to acknowledge today the coalition's arts ministers over those formative years, ministers like Senator George Brandis, who is the coalition's current arts spokesman, Rod Kemp, Helen Coonan and Richard Alston. Those ministers worked with the gallery to establish it as a permanent part of the Australian cultural landscape.

It was ministers of the Howard government who in 2004 took the decision to provide funding for a permanent home for the gallery—a decision to provide $87.7 million to construct a state-of-the-art home for the gallery within the Parliamentary Triangle. In 2007, as Minister for the Arts and Sport, Senator Brandis began his address to the National Press Club by speaking of the gallery:

On the southern shore of Lake Burley Griffin, there is rising what will become one of Australia’s great public buildings—the new National Portrait Gallery. The Gallery … will complete the national collecting institutions in the Parliamentary triangle, and tell the nation’s story through the accessible genre of portraiture in a magnificent contemporary building.

The National Portrait Gallery could almost serve as a metaphor for the Howard Government’s contribution to the arts—characterized by a commitment to uncompromising artistic standards, strong financial support and accessibility to the broader public, yet little remarked and seldom acknowledged.

The coalition continues to hold those values, and continues to work with the gallery, through supporting this bill and the associated bill, to further cement the gallery's place as an essential part of Australia's cultural heritage.

While the coalition supports this bill, and sees a bright future ahead for the gallery under these new arrangements, the future for the arts and collecting institutions in Australia under this government is under a cloud of uncertainty. From the future of the Australia Council for the Arts to the security of funding for Australia's major performing arts companies, all is uncertain under this government and under this minister. After two ministers and two elections, and three years after it was promised, Labor have delivered funding cuts, efficiency dividends and staff reductions but have still not delivered the national cultural policy they promised back in 2009. The only thing the minister has to show for these wasted years is a discussion paper that, apart from rhetorical motherhood statements, reveals only a preoccupation and obsession with the National Broadband Network. This is exactly what Senator Brandis was warning of in 2007 when in his address to the National Press Club he said:

… the problem about parties of the Left is that their attitude to the arts is defined by instrumentalism. What artists do is not valued for its own sake. Art is not seen as a creative activity justified by the talent or genius of the artist alone. Rather, the arts are seen as a means to some other end: an appendix to social policy, a vehicle for social change, an instrument for political causes, a propaganda tool. Art is not seen as an end in itself.

The coalition has a proud record of supporting the arts in Australia, and in particular those institutions that promote excellence, like our collecting institutions, elite arts-training institutions and major performing arts companies. We will continue to value our national collecting institutions and continue our strong record of support for institutions like the National Portrait Gallery of Australia. We are therefore proud to support this bill and the associated legislation.