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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2309


Mr TURNER (Bradfield) - At the outset I wish to refer to the inept title of the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts and MinisterinCharge of Tourist Activities. He is not, of course, responsible for Aborigines in the Northern Territory, where the Commonwealth has the greatest control and where most of them are located: where the emergence from tribalised society can best be studied and where the mistakes of the past can best be avoided. All logic requires that he should be responsible for Aborigines in the Northern Territory. His title of MinisterinCharge of Tourist Activities indicates that he is not in charge but responsible to the Minister for Trade and Industry. The umbilical cord should be severed. He should be responsible for both procurement and reception of tourists.

The Minister has been described as the Wandering Minstrel of the Department of Shreds and Patches, presiding over a rag bag of responsibilities of minor importance on which the Government does not wish to spend money and in which there are no votes. Yet these apparently heterogeneous components can be combined into a powerful instrument to serve a national purpose of immense value and importance. The potentialities of this Department should not be underestimated. The Minister's title should be changed to Minister for Australian Cultural Development. We already have in New South Wales a Minister for Cultural Activities. I say that his title should include the word 'Australian'. It would be doubly appropriate because this would be related to the Australian or national Parliament and because the promotion of an Australian identity should, in my opinion, be his primary task.

I say 'cultural'. As defined in the Oxford dictionary, 'cultural' is a particular form or type of intellectual development. In this context it would refer to the traditions, ideas, attitudes, habits, manners, achievements and the way of life of the Australian people. In a word, it would relate to a distinctive Australian identity. I do not think of 'culture' in the snob sense. The word 'development' in the title that I suggest - rather than 'activities' as in New South Wales - would indicate dynamism. There would be an objective, a purpose to be served by the creation of this portfolio. So let us return to the responsibilities of the Minister. I shall not deal at length with the environment and Aborigines beyond saying in the context of my particular thesis - the development of an Australian identity - that nothing could redound more to the advantage of our national image than, firstly, that we should succeed in dealing humanely and intelligently with the problem of promoting the happiness of and establishing a satisfactory relationship with our Aboriginals - 'the first Australians.

Secondly, again our image as a people would be greatly enhanced if we could exhibit imagination, intelligence and resolution to prevent the despoilation of our cities and countryside and to preserve our natural heritage for our descendants. It is not too late. It would be an act of criminal folly to neglect our unique opportunity among the industrialised nations of the world to do just this. But mainly I want to refer to the arts in the context to which I have referred. May I say at once that the estimates before us give no indication whatsoever as to how we are spending money on the arts. In Division 247 various amounts are set out for Assistance for the arts, under the headings of Support for the performing arts, National training programme, National and other major orga nisations, Regional organisations, Development programmes, Research programme, and International programme. Nobody knows how much goes to opera, how much to ballet, how much to drama or anything else. The thing tells you absolutely nothing and is the best evidence I know for the setting up of an estimates committee, as suggested by some honourable members including myself in this place some little while ago.

Basically, it is in the field of the arts, of which we are told nothing in this document, that most can be done to promote an Australian identity. But I want to make this proviso: We should not decry or neglect our heritage from Britain and Europe of such fine flowers of Western civilisation as opera, ballet, the pictorial arts and drama. Much is being done in these fields and should continue to be done. I am not questioning this. However. I must deeply question a policy which, out of an allocation of S3. 85m - I refer to last year as I can obtain no enlightenment whatever from the estimates for this year - provided for $1.26m to be spent on opera and ballet, and $2. 59m for 3 professional theatres and 7 regional theatre companies besides various other projects and institutions. The beginnings of a national theatre company were unhappily abandoned years ago by the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in favour of opera and ballet. This is not merely a squabble between proponents of the various arts. Rather it is a question of whether we are basically concerned with promoting an Australian identity. It is a question of priorities.

The following considerations must be taken into account: Firstly, television is the most vivid of all artistic media; secondly, it also makes an impact on incomparably more people than do all other media combined in the modern world; thirdly, in television drama is of key importance because no other vehicle is more apt to convey the attitudes, ideas, manners and customs of a people. How little would we have been able to comprehend English culture in the spacious days of great Elizabeth had it not been for the plays of Shakespeare? According to the Vincent report:

Drama is recognised as having the greatest psychological and emotional impact upon the audience of all types of television programmes.

My fourth consideration is that drama, through television, can hold the mirror up to a whole nation and help to mould it; fifthly, it can also convey the image of the country to the outside world - a matter of great importance among our neighbours and in our situation; sixthly, it is more important for us to do this because another culture is being foisted upon us. I shall take a simple example. In an episode of 'Division 4' - an Australian production - detectives may be seen interviewing a suspect in a criminal investigation with due skill and care but without aggressive brutality, or it may be that 2 American cops appear in a similar situation armed with pistols and scowls against a background of guerrilla warfare in a negro slum. My seventh consideration is this: How are our new settlers - new Australians - to know what manner of people we are, what is the ethos which guides and informs our attitudes and actions, and whether they wish to be naturalised as Australian citizens? 1 have spoken of television but, in fact, live theatre goes hand in hand with television. Obviously the cinema screen and the television screen are closely related. Full utilisation of the nation's artistic talent cannot be achieved through television alone. Live theatre is the real home of the actors and the producers. It is also the training ground for these artists. 'The efforts of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust appear open to question', states the Vincent report. The Vincent report stressed that the standard of Australian productions must be raised in concert with an increased quota of indigenous drama, and went on: . . it is futile for demands to be made for more Australian drama unless it is able to compete in an artistic sense with the best British and American programmes.

Let there be no mistake about that. The Committee also stated that it was necessary, for technical and economic reasons, to raise the standard to a point where sales of programmes could be made overseas and recommended:

That assistance be made available for the establishment and maintenance of drama schools.

That assistance bc made available on a 'production' basis ... to cover reasonable losses in the presentation of new indigenous drama.

The proposals of the Gorton government were for a very expensive school directed by a Pole, and loans were to be made available to assist in the production on a strictly economic basis. I say at once that I have nothing whatever to do with personal quarrels over this matter. I deeply deplore that a matter of enormous importance to Australia should have been bedevilled by trivialities of this kind. There is an enormously important matter to be got on with but it has been bedevilled by miserable petty personalities. What we must do is get on with the job with whatever means may be best. All I can say about this matter is to quote the poet - I think it was Pope - who said:

Whate'er is best administered is best.

I do not mind what it is as long as the Government gets on with it and ensures that this proposal which is so important to our national identity at this stage is done. I would like to say something about tourism but I have not time. 1 would like to mention the fact that in America, where I was recently, many of the historical monuments of the past are preserved. We do not do this. It has an effect on our national identity and also, of course, upon tourism.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Hallett)-

Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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