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Wednesday, 19 November 1986
Page: 2538

Senator PUPLICK(9.20) —There are only a couple of matters which I wish to raise under the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment. The first point I make is that those of us who are concerned with the way in which arts policy and arts funding will be handled in the course of the next 12 months or so are concerned about the changes which are taking place within the Australia Council. At the end of this year Professor Yerbury retires as the Chairman of the Australia Council. Whatever disagreements members of the Opposition may have had with the way in which Professor Yerbury's stewardship has been discharged, I think it would be churlish not to indicate, on behalf of the Opposition, that Professor Yerbury has nevertheless done a sterling job of changing the way in which the Australia Council has operated, and to formally record some degree of congratulations to her for the way in which, in a very difficult period, she has attempted to accommodate a number of quite diverse opinions about the way in which art should be funded. The fact that she has not done so in a way which is to the satisfaction of the Opposition is only to be expected. Undoubtedly it would be precisely the same if the boot were on the other foot.

Nevertheless, the one thing I do want to record is that, during the Estimates committee hearings and during the discussions I have had in my capacity as Chairman of the Opposition's committee which deals with these matters, Professor Yerbury has been outstanding in the extent to which she has provided information and has attempted to ensure that the requests we made for information, for statistical material and all the rest were always met. I give very great credit to her and to the organisation that that material was provided and was always provided in a way commensurate with the requests we had made. I have no doubt that, when Mr Bourke takes over the administration of the Australia Council, this will continue. May I say on behalf of the Opposition that we look forward to working with him in that regard. I believe that he will have a very challenging time ahead in adjusting the operations of the Australia Council in the light of the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure, chaired by Mr Leo McLeay. We shall look forward not only to his response, but also to the Government's response to the McLeay report. I indicate the general endorsement which I certainly want to make of the thrust of the recommendations of that House of Representatives inquiry.

My second point is in regard to the Australian Opera. Mr Veitch has now departed the byzantine politics of the Australian Opera. It has always occurred to me that, although professional politics is occasionally fairly rugged and brutal, there are two forms of politics which are considerably lower than professional politics; one is the politics of the arts and the other is the politics of universities.

Senator Grimes —What about the medical profession?

Senator PUPLICK —I have never been sufficiently closely associated with the medical profession to make such a judgment, but I am quite prepared to defer to Senator Grimes's greater expertise in that matter. One of the things which undoubtedly the Estimates Committees, in considering either the Supplementary Estimates or the Estimates next year, will want to know is the precise details of the financial settlement made with Mr Veitch. I am sure that Senator Grimes would agree that it is properly within the realm of Estimate Committees and of Parliament to require and to know precisely where large sums of Commonwealth money end up. We shall now watch with great interest to see who is to be handed the poisoned chalice of the Australian Opera in the foreseeable future.

There is one other point I want to make in terms of puting on record the congratulations which I wish to extend to areas within this portfolio, and that is once again to record the work of the National Film and Sound Archive. I believe that this is a very important and significant investment of Commonwealth funds. I believe that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) is to be congratulated for the support which he has given to the Film and Sound Archive. I was very pleased to have the opportunity of attending the opening of its new branch office in Sydney. I am intrigued, in terms of the estimates, to note the acquisition program which it has been pursuing, in particular the acquisition of the very significant film entitled Showgirl's Luck, which was made in 1930 under the working title of Talkie Mad-which I presume is not necessarily to be taken as the appropriate title to be talking about in the Senate this evening-and was the first Australian film which actually used sound on film. I am delighted that the resources and expertise have been made available by the Film and Sound Archive to acquire this very valuable piece of cultural material for the national collection.

I refer to one other film. It is a matter which gives me some degree of concern. That is the film which is currently entitled Death of a Soldier. This film has had a very chequered career. It appeared under a number of titles during its making, including the title The Brown out Murders and The Leonski Affair. It concerns the story of a United States soldier who was hanged in Australia for murders committed by that soldier, Private Leonski. It has been put to me-I think there is some evidence for the claim-that there has been a degree of outside pressure to prevent the public screening of this film, for two reasons: The first is that the film touches upon a matter which may, in fact, still be covered by the official secrets Act; that is, an incident which took place in Townsville in which a shoot out occurred between Australian and US service personnel and in which it is alleged up to 30 persons were killed. This is a matter which is not recorded in any of the official war histories as far as I am aware. It is a matter which has not been referred to in any of the documentation about Australian-US relationships. It is an incident which, to the best of my knowledge, is not commonly known about or frequently referred to in histories of Australia's participation in the Second World War. There is some degree of concern that there may have been pressure brought to bear to prevent the screening of this film because it contains scenes of this particular incident which may or may not still be subject to some degree of censorship under the official secrets Act.

Another point about this film is-I have had the advantage, I might say, of seeing the film-that it certainly portrays the war time Australian Government in a particularly bad light in terms of its relationship with General Douglas MacArthur and the determination of General MacArthur to ensure the execution by way of example, as Admiral Byng found out, pour encourager les autres, despite the views of the Australian Government that executions should not take place, and in particular should not take place under the code of military justice which operated in the United States military at that time. The reason that this film is not available for public distribution is that it has been blackbanned by a number of Australian trade unions. Despite the fact that a very considerable amount of money has been invested in this enterprise-some of it public money through the operations of the Australian Film Commission, of course underwritten by taxpayers' funds in terms of the tax deductibility of investment in Australian films-the fact that the shooting of this film finished on 16 March 1985 and the fact that the company has had a great deal of trouble dealing with the Australian Film Commission, with Actors Equity of Australia and with various other theatrical and entertainment unions, the film has still not been released because there is a union black ban on it. Although the unions claim that in some ways this is related to a dispute about contract payments, I express a very great degree of concern that the Australian public is being denied the opportunity to see this film. It is a very good film, in my view. I believe that some explanations are required in that regard.

I mention only two other matters arising under this portfolio. I know the Deputy Secretary of the Department, Mr Kerr, has already responded in terms of Estimates Committee E, but if one looks at the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations entitled `Non-Statutory Bodies' one will see that the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment, by a long shot, takes the prize for the number of non-statutory bodies which operate within each ministerial portfolio. Of a total of 598 non-statutory bodies identified throughout the whole of the Australian Public Service, 71 operate within the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment. The next largest number is 56 for the Department of Primary Industry and the Department of Aviation. The explanation for this is that basically these bodies are sub-committees of various ministerial working parties. But an opportunity exists for some degree of rationalisation and consolidation of ministerial working parties and advisory groups. I do not in any sense seek to criticise the existing Commonwealth-State committees. I am sure that the Department, having had this matter brought to its attention, must be at least making some effort to make bring about a rationalisation. I cannot imagine why 71 separate non-statutory bodies are required within the Department. Grounds for the consolidation of those bodies must surely exist.

As far as other matters relating to this Department are concerned, I have had the opportunity of following the Department's estimates for a prolonged period. I formally go on the record as saying that the co-operation which the Estimates committees, and which I as Chairman of the relevant back bench committee, have received from the department, from its officers and from Mr Kerr, in particular, has always been extremely good. It has always been extremely good as far as Professor Ovington and the National Parks and Wildlife Service are concerned in terms of the provision of information. Although I have taken some time this evening to raise a number of matters, we have developed a system in the last couple of years of expediting the work of the Estimates committees by a fair amount of prior consultation between Opposition members and officers of the Department. Senator Reynolds, as Chairman of Estimates Committee D, will bear out the fact that a great deal of prior information has been provided by the Department which has been very helpful. I put those matters on record because I will be hoping to follow them up when the estimates of this Department are next before us or when the opportunity arises for any further ministerial information to be provided.