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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7389

Senator RIDGEWAY (2:52 PM) —My question is to Senator Alston, representing the Minister for the Arts and Sport, Senator Kemp. Minister, could you confirm whether media reports last week were correct in that the government is undertaking a review into the funding and efficiency of national arts institutions, including the National Museum, the National Gallery of Australia and many others? If so, could you outline what the government is investigating, whether it is intending to cut the budget allocations to these public arts and cultural institutions in the May budget and whether we can expect to be paying entry fees in the next financial year? How would an outcome of this sort further the government's vision for the arts of encouraging excellence in artistic endeavour and access to Australia's rich cultural heritage?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I can confirm for Senator Ridgeway that the government is reviewing cultural agencies in order to examine the potential for achieving efficiencies whilst, of course, maintaining the ability of those agencies to achieve the government's cultural objectives. There should be no concern about that.

Senator ALSTON —It might be slash and burn if you were in government but under us it is not; it is about trying to ensure that scarce government resources are used in the most effective manner possible. You can either spend an arm and a leg on a project or you can do your homework and get it for a respectable price but nonetheless a very good quality outcome—as we did with the National Museum, for example, where the price was probably less than might have been paid in other countries but where the end result, certainly in terms of the structure of the building, was very good indeed.

We have asked for the review to be jointly undertaken by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, the Department of Finance and Administration, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Of course, it would not be appropriate to speculate about the outcomes of the review, but quite clearly that review will have wide-ranging coverage, as it should. I can recall some years ago we got Mr David Gonski to do a review of the various film bodies to see whether it was appropriate to have three, four or five bodies all in that general area, whether they all served a useful purpose on a stand-alone basis or whether there was some scope for rationalisation. That is a legitimate exercise. That is what estimates committees, for example, should probe but, as we know, estimates committees are used for other purposes these days—

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator ALSTON —Yes, basically for trawling and fishing—

Senator Carr —At least we go! How would you know? You're never there!

Senator ALSTON —I am there whenever I need to be. Senator Ridgeway, I can therefore say to you that I hope the outcome will be beneficial for all concerned, certainly for those agencies that might gain some additional insights into how they might be able to more efficiently conduct their operations, and of course for the taxpayers, who always have a keen interest in ensuring that they are getting value for money.

Senator RIDGEWAY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. I presume from that that he is flagging that there will be entry fees charged in the year 2003. In view of the signal that is being sent, can you at least provide some indication to the 20,000 practising professional visual artists across the country that your government will support and implement the recommendations of the Myer inquiry into that sector? Isn't it also true that the Myer inquiry and the Guldberg report show that, for every $1 invested, there is a $3 return and that so far that sector alone is contributing $160 million to the Australian economy? Are you prepared to provide additional funding to the sector, particularly in terms of non-budgetary measures, a public ruling from the ATO regarding the definition of who is a professional arts practitioner and the introduction of a resale royalty rights scheme?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Just on your first point, can I tell you that I was a keen advocate of the National Gallery of Australia dropping entrance fees and I think that has been shown to be a very successful outcome, so I certainly do not take the view that you slavishly impose entrance fees. There are other ways of skinning a cat. Once you have people inside the building there are very many opportunities to persuade them to buy merchandise, use the cafeteria or whatever else. On the Myer inquiry, I think Senator Ridgeway would well know that we have a very impressive track record—$92 million for the film industry and $45 million for the major performing arts. The Myer inquiry report, which we received I think on 6 September, is one that many people in the industry have wholeheartedly supported. A number of them have been to see me already, urging its implementation. It will, of course, require cooperation from all of the states, not on a go-it-alone basis, as we have recently seen in Victoria, so I hope that, if you have some specific views, particularly as chairman of Bangarra, you might like to—(Time expired)