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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 124

Senator WONG (8:49 PM) —I rise tonight in support of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra of which we in South Australia are very proud. I rise in support of that orchestra because of the recommendations contained within the orchestras review report, which was chaired by James Strong and released on Monday, 14 March. I want to respond to the recommendations contained in that report as they relate to our Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Minister Kemp’s press release stated:

The purpose of the review was to examine a range of operational, marketplace, financial and governance issues which are confronting Australia’s symphony and pit orchestras. The report makes a number of important recommendations to improve the sustainability of these orchestras.

It is interesting to note that the Minister for the Arts and Sport appears to be saying that some reduction in the size of the orchestras is an improvement in their sustainability. There are some recommendations that will deliver benefits to the orchestras, such as the scrapping of the efficiency dividend, which is purely a device for extracting money from a sector which needs increased, not decreased, support.

I make it quite clear that I am opposed to the staffing reductions at the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and also at the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, about which Senator O’Brien has spoken tonight, and the Queensland Orchestra. Those cuts, totalling nearly 40 professional musicians, will severely compromise the capacity of these orchestras to deliver the world-class performances for which they have become renowned. It is difficult to see how a reduction of artistic standards will improve the sustainability of our orchestras. In particular, the report recommends that the number of permanent musicians in the ASO be reduced from 74 to 56, a reduction of some 25 per cent. Such a reduction will severely compromise the artistic ability of the ASO and limit its capacity to perform the level of repertoire that defines its performance standards.

One of the crowning achievements of the ASO’s history has been its performance of Wagner’s epic opera the Ring Cycle. Firstly in 1998 and most recently in November and December 2004, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra performed at a standard which saw it become the recipient of the highest international acclaim. Such international recognition brings immeasurable benefit to my state of South Australia and ensures that the high artistic regard in which Adelaide and South Australia are held is maintained. We are, after all, the festival state, and we are very proud of that title. The report itself recognises the fact that many of the ASO’s recent performances have attracted critical acclaim.

The Adelaide symphony’s ability to perform a musical masterpiece of such difficulty and complexity as the Ring Cycle and to achieve such high praise is the result of the artistic strength of a permanent ensemble the size of the current orchestra. This strength of ensemble allows the ASO to deliver at the highest artistic levels. To reduce the size of the ASO, as is proposed in the report, would also severely compromise the future of opera and ballet in South Australia, as the ASO is also engaged by State Opera South Australia and the Australian Ballet for their performances in Adelaide.

Also compromised would be the future of many young musicians in South Australia. Many of the current members of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra teach at the Elder School of Music at the University of Adelaide—the university where I studied—and in other forums. The mentoring provided to Adelaide students by these musicians is invaluable. By reducing the strength of the orchestra, the calibre of teaching staff would also be reduced. The future of many of these young musicians would also be placed in jeopardy, with many having to look interstate if they wish to pursue a career in music. Indeed, many will probably be discouraged from pursuing a career in the first place in the knowledge that their future prospects in Adelaide would be limited, leading to a long-term decline in South Australia’s artistic outlook. And, as I said earlier, we are very proud of our title and our reputation as the festival state and of the strong arts tradition which our state enjoys—of course, that was begun in a great sense by former Labor premier Don Dunstan.

A reduction in the size of the orchestra could also compromise the availability of repertoire for other orchestras around the country. At present, a touring conductor or soloist may perform the same work with a number of orchestras around the country. If the capacity of orchestras like the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to perform a certain level of repertoire is reduced, this could have a multiplying effect on the other orchestras if soloists and conductors decide it is no longer viable to tour. In any event, the loss of international musicians to South Australian audiences would be significant.

These are some of the reasons why the report has received such a negative response in South Australia. They are also reasons why I, like other senators and members in this and the other place, have received so much correspondence and so many telephone calls and other messages from South Australian residents protesting any possible reduction in the size of the orchestra.

I note that, of the $44.3 million total pool of Commonwealth funding to orchestras, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra received $4.5 million for 2004. I also make the point that the report’s recommendations have been made despite some strong figures and potential for the ASO. For example, on page 30 of the report it can be seen that the ASO’s income from subscription concerts nearly doubled in the space of two years, from $844,000 in 2001 to more than $1.6 million in 2003.

Attendance by subscription ticket holders grew from 17,400 in 2001 to 22,700 in 2003, a rate of growth incomparable with that of any other orchestra. Indeed, subscription audiences declined for all other orchestras with the exception of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. Single ticket attendances for the ASO grew from 9,700 to 16,700, which is also highly significant. Perhaps even more notably, the ASO also recorded a 318 per cent increase in income from corporate sponsorship and donations between 1998 and 2003. In 2003, such donations represented 11.4 per cent of its total revenue. By watering down the ASO, as is proposed in the report, these revenues would surely also decrease as a smaller orchestra could not match the calibre of a larger one and thus would have diminished appeal.

I call on the Howard government and Minister Kemp to reject the recommendations of the report that call for the slashing of musicians from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, the TSO and the Queensland Orchestra. I note that in question time today Senator Kemp attempted to allay some of the fears which have been quite justifiably raised by the public and, of course, by some of his backbench, who understand the regard in which these orchestras are held in our home communities. For the record, I note that the minister has not ruled out accepting or implementing the recommendations of the report, despite the opportunity he had to do that today in answering a question from a government backbencher.

I will finish on this note: the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra has a long and justifiably proud history. Indeed, it is a history that is close to home in terms of my office. A member of my staff is the grandson of the legendary Professor Henry Krips, who was the resident conductor of the ASO from 1949 to 1972. During his 23-year association with the orchestra, Professor Krips achieved the highest level of musical performance and established the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s current reputation as an orchestra of world standard. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra must not become the victim of a lack of support by the Howard government for high quality symphony orchestras in Australia.