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Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Page: 3881

Senator EDWARDS (South Australia) (12:41): I rise to speak on the Australia Council Bill 2013 and the Australia Council (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013 in support of my Senate colleague Senator Brandis. In speaking to that I will also be speaking to his amendments. He has eloquently outlined why they should be supported wholeheartedly in this chamber.

I must reinforce a number of the points Senator Brandis made in relation to the contribution made by Senator Milne. I do share Senator Milne's sentiments on the importance of arts, but I point out that for nearly half a century this has been the area—the Australia Council—where it has been supported by Liberal and Labor governments, well before the formation of the Greens political movement.

I am not sure I understand why, Senator Milne, the level of emphasis is therefore brought to bear that this legislation has to pass this place in a rush, like the other 50-odd pieces of legislation, before we rise, heading towards a 14 September election. As to the threat to progressive thinking in Senator Brandis's proposed amendments, I find it somewhat hypocritical that you draw out the fact that you think that in these amendments progressive thinking is going to be somewhat impinged, when in actual fact at every opportunity you join with Senator Conroy in his march on freedom of the press in this country. Every day he is out there, and again this week we see where he is toying with the idea of bringing it in in a last-ditch effort to try to stem the flow of reporting on this arguably worst period of government in this nation's history.

Regarding the admonishment of the amendment, which, as you outlined, gives some ministerial control over funding, that is what a minister does. A minister administers funding. For far too long we have seen a 'rudderless' government with the bureaucracy looking for direction from their ministers, but unfortunately those ministers are not able to give the direction and leadership bureaucracies in Australia are looking for—the direction in how they spend their funds. They are bereft of any kind of inspiration, and now we are rudderless, heading to 14 September.

I thought ministerial control over funding was just implicit. We are not talking about Orwellian control over funding; we are talking about strong leadership. That is what our amendments hold, and that is what we should be thinking about. You did give some examples of an art show in Wagga, where apparently it was suggested that funding was to be withdrawn because an artist had portrayed three ministers with their lips sewn up. There has to be a level that is not acceptable in public life. I abhor the fact that the office of Prime Minister has had to endure sandwiches being thrown by schoolchildren. I think it is a sad indictment on where we have got to in this place—that that is something schoolchildren would think to do. That is why enough is enough when it comes to what you can do and say in this country. When does the diminishment stop? When is it enough? I abhor people who draw a line on sexuality or gender or any of those things. This creeps into all of society; in artistic expression, diminishment of people has to be an underlying fabric in which the society weaves itself. But that fabric should be credible, honest and full of integrity.

And then there is your criticism of having businesspeople on a board of management. I must say, it did make me laugh, because although I have no artistic ability I do have some skills in managing a balance sheet, and I have met a lot of artists who have no interest in how a balance sheet works or how funding is obtained. That is a generality. My side of the brain does not lend itself to landscape art, pottery, literature, opera or any of the things contained in the Australia Council gamut. But there has to be, as Senator Brandis quite rightly said, a representative from the community who can add to the Australia Council and ensure that the organisation, with its $164.5 million worth of funding, runs itself appropriately and with the level of skills expected of an organisation that is a recipient of such a large amount of money.

I now want to take the people who are listening to this contribution to how this is so important to me and my home state of South Australia. Our home state of South Australia has a real-life focus on the Australia Council and what it administers. The Australia Council provided support to the Music Board for composer Elena Kats-Chernin to create the new work incorporating 30 pianos and 60 pianists to be performed at the 2012 Soundstream: Adelaide New Music Festival. The Council also supported the State Opera of South Australia in staging its co-production of Jake Heggie's Moby Dick, with partners the Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, San Francisco Opera and Calgary Opera. It was received with great acclaim. The opera was conducted by Timothy Sexton, the newly appointed chief executive and artistic director of the State Opera of South Australia.

South Australia is represented on the governing board of the Australia Council by Ms Lee-Ann Buckskin and Mr Ken Lloyd AM. Ms Buckskin was appointed to the Australia Council as chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of South Australia for three years on 16 May 2012. She works for Carclew Youth Arts in South Australia and is a member of the South Australian Museum's Aboriginal Advisory Committee—all inclusive, and no-one is missed. Mr Lloyd was appointed to the Australia Council as a community interest representative and a member of the Council for three years from 16 June 2011. He is a member of the audit and finance committee. Mr Lloyd has held senior positions at Arts SA, the Art Gallery of South Australia and Country Arts SA. He had held the position of chief executive officer at Country Arts SA for almost 20 years when in 1996 he was appointed to the honorary position of national secretary of Regional Arts Australia. He is currently a board member of the Carrick Hill Trust.

The Council's mission is to enrich the lives of Australians and their communities by supporting the creation and enjoyment of the arts. That is why I draw the attention of people listening to this debate to what this bill is all about. The Council is committed to excellent and distinctive art, assisting Australian artists to create and present a body of distinctive cultural works characterised by the pursuit of excellence. It is to be accessed by all Australians, assisting Australian citizens and civic institutions to appreciate, understand, participate in, enjoy and celebrate the arts. Also, its charter is to promote a strong and vibrant arts sector, providing infrastructure development for Australia's creative arts.

South Australia, as the South Australians in the chamber—Senator Ruston and Senator Hanson-Young—know, is the Festival State. It is a slogan that appears on many of our car numberplates. It has been around for over 30 years. We pride ourselves on the fact that South Australia is the recipient of funding for many of the initiatives and has been for many, many years. We are known for the number and diversity of festivals that celebrate South Australian, Australian and international arts, music and culture, many of which are supported by the Australia Council.

It is poignant that this bill should be up for debate as the Adelaide Festival Centre, in my home state of South Australia, is celebrating its 40th birthday. While 2013 may be the 40th anniversary of the building, every year is a celebration of arts festivals across South Australia. Despite being a small state, we punch well above our weight when it comes to the arts, with my home state hosting internationally renowned events including the Adelaide Fringe, the Adelaide Festival, WOMADelaide, the Come Out Festival, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the SALA Festival, the Adelaide International Guitar Festival, the OzAsia Festival, the Australian Film Festival and the Feast festival. That is why we are known as the 'Festival State'.

I reinforce Senator Brandis's last point where he outlined that the amendments that we propose contain that equity for the smaller states and the regional centres. This includes my home town, where the Clare and Gilbert Valleys Art Show, a very well supported event, happens at the gourmet wine and food festival in May every year. These are all very interesting community events which engage the community and bring them in from all over Australia. Contained in Senator Brandis's amendments is that point which does protect the rights of the smaller regions and ensures that the Australia Council never loses sight of the importance of culture and the arts in these communities.

However, Adelaide's foremost festival is the Adelaide Festival of Arts, which became an annual event this year. I am very pleased to say that it is supported by the Australia Council. The cultural value of the Adelaide Festival is estimated to be about $85 million of revenue to that city. It is preceded in the calendar of events by WOMADelaide, our international music and arts celebration held over the long weekend, and then the Fringe festival, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. These events combine to contribute to what we in South Australia affectionately call 'mad March'.

The Adelaide Fringe has consolidated its status as the leading arts festival in Australia, delivering a massive economic expenditure within my home state of South Australia of $64.6 million. In a state of 1.5 million people which has been run by a Labor government now heading into its 12th year with a $13 billion debt looming and only one ever surplus delivered in its budget—which just happened to be in an election year—every contribution that the arts can make to the small businesses, the hotels and all the people who work in hospitality and retail is very important. That $64.6 million from the Adelaide Fringe is an increase of 34 per cent on the previous year, with over 1.8 million people attending this year's festivities. With a population of 1.5 to 1.6 million—as you well know, Senator Ruston, coming from the Riverland—that means that our state and people from around Australia are fully engaged in the festivals, which are supported by the Australia Council.

In my time, I have known the Adelaide Festival Centre—the iconic building—as much more than just a performing venue. It is impossible to imagine the city without the Festival Centre, which has come to symbolise the cultural heart of South Australia. It was officially opened on 2 June 1973. It was the brainchild of former Premier Steele Hall, and it was opened by the then Premier, Don Dunstan. It was Australia's first performing arts centre built in a capital city, beating the Sydney Opera House to completion by three months at about one-tenth of the cost.

We also cannot ignore the important role arts play in regional Australia. That is why I urge people across the other side of the chamber to support Senator Brandis's amendments. In my and Senator Ruston's home state, organisations such as Country Arts SA play a crucial role in making a real difference to the lives of people living and working in the regions of South Australia. Country Arts SA is one of South Australia's largest arts organisations, providing services across the regions through a range of arts programs and initiatives, the management of performing and visual arts venues, and the provision of grant funding which supports the creative endeavours of communities and individuals. Each year Country Arts SA tours world-class productions that entertain, challenge and stimulate a wide variety of audiences across the state, including those in the regional towns of Mount Gambier, Port Pirie, Renmark, Noarlunga and Whyalla. It is in ways such as this that the arts contribute greatly to regional South Australia's sense of community by reaching out to those who are not able to access or participate in the arts due to age, disability or financial hardship. I am blessed to have my parents, at the age of 85, still with me, and I know they do enjoy the arts in the regions. There would be something missing from their lives if these types of organisations did not get on the road.

But I will get back to the specifics of the bill we are debating. This bill began as a review of the Australia Council announced by Simon Crean in December 2011. The review was completed in May 2012, but nothing was done for a year. When this bill was introduced we had 12 sitting days left. We now have three sitting days left and the debate will be guillotined in 45 minutes, which will deny some six or eight colleagues, who I know feel strongly about the matter, the chance to contribute to the debate and support Senator Brandis's amendments.

There can be no better place for sustained support than an investment in the arts. Nurturing creativity and expression, especially in young people, demonstrably improves their chances of success in life and creates an awareness, tolerance and appreciation of diverse cultures. These are only the intrinsic values, and the intrinsic and intangible values of the arts touch the spirit, the heart and the mind of humankind and are the invaluable and priceless parts of what the Australia Council is all about.

In closing I urge the chamber to support Senator Brandis's amendments. I know of no other senator in this place with more depth of knowledge and commitment to the arts than Senator Brandis. Wherever I travel throughout the breadth and width of this land people revere his knowledge and his commitment to the arts, and I commend his amendments to the chamber.