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Inaugural meeting of the Australian International Cultural Council

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SUBJECT: Alexander Downer door stop, 26 June 1998, Victorian Arts Centre Inaugural meeting of the Australian International Cultural Council

' Alexander Downer OK, let me just run through what happened. We first of all had a discussion about what the overall objectives should be in terms of promoting Australia's image.

We had a discussion about what we thought Australia's image was, and we also looked at what we wanted it to be.

Journalist And what is that?

Alexander Downer First of all, what we want is to promote Australia's image as a country that is culturally diverse, democratic, open, intelligent, technologically sophisticated and welcoming.

The images of Australia at the moment, it was agreed, were some what mixed, it depended a bit where you went. You couldn't generalise about Australia's international image.

There is no doubt - and of course, we all agreed to this - that if you continued to see an upsurge in Hansonism in Australia, the Hanson sentiments of racially discriminatory immigration, a closed economy that over a period of time that would promote an image of Australia as a kirtd of second rate, derivative, inwarding looking society. And that, of course, would have catastrophic consequences for Australia's engagement with the world which would effect, in the end, jobs, it would effect the quality of our lives and would just do us untold damage in terms of our networking around the world.

So, there was a strong sense that this was a serious issue for Australia. This was an issue that we had to confront, but more broadly of course of over, through a number of mechanisms but including the arts and culture, we had to ensure that the image of Australia that I described, that we aspire to, can be consolidated around the world.

Secondly, we agreed - this is the first ever meeting we have had of the International Cultural Council - so the second thing is we agreed that there were, that we needed a broad, strategic approach to the promotion of Australian arts and culture internationally. And at the next meeting, which is going to take place in three months time, we will have presented to that meeting, if you

like, a strategic plan for the promotion of Australian arts and culture internationally, taking into account all of the things that we discussed.

Alexander Downer There are two things there. First of all, we need to put together a strategic plan for how we are going to progress before we start thinking about whether we need any extra money for it or whether we have enough resources.

It's a point I made very strongly. Look, it's one thing to say we want extra funding - everybody wants extra funding. That's not an argument for extra funding, that you want extra funding.

An argument for extra funding is that you've got specific things you want to do and you can articulate them and present a strong case for them.

Journalist And you are still coming up with those specific points?

Alexander Downer We are going to produce a draft strategic plan for the overall promotion of Australian arts and culture at the next meeting. We shall have an enormous amount of detail in it. That's going to be produced by the Australia Council, the Department of Communications and the Arts and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, then that will form the basis of some conclusions we will reach.

Now, whether we will judge that we need more funding than we currently have or whether we need to coordinate the sorts of funding that there is already, they are issues for the future.

Journalist In that collaboration will you be speaking to some of Australia's major art companies about this as well because a lot of them have their own international touring schedules, so how does that fit into this? · .

Alexander Downer .

Exactly right. The trouble is that they do have international schedules and they're very well organised and very well planned, but they are not necessarily coordinated with other areas of national arts and cultural interests.

I mean, I will give you an illustration. You might have an Australian touring company going to North America. Maybe while it's there it could also go to some other country on the way there or on the way back to do something which would be quite good for the company, not a significant

financial problem, but would be tremendous for the promotion of Australia.

We came across an example of wanting to get a touring company to go to a country in South-East Asia for a particular event, which was a political event, it was a celebration. But it wasn't worth the touring company's while to make that one trip into South-East Asia, it would have been too expensive because in any case they wanted to North America at that time.

Journalist Why is that, you think?

Alexander Downer Australia is a small country.

Journalist • Even though our films have done well overseas?

Alexander Downer Yes, although one of the problems with the film - 1 mean there are problems with the films, they have done incredibly well - but there is one here and one there, you know there was Shine, everyone remembers Crocodile Dundee and so on.

There isn't a theme that comes through in our films. I think you will find that Cathy Robinson makes that point, that there is a kind of ad hoc image, 'Oh yes, that was an Australian film,' but not a theme about Australia coming through. Do you see the difference? That was an Australian film but what about Australia? What's the picture that it creates?

So, I think this point about recognising from time-to-time that there were good Australian artists, but that Australia isn't perceived to be a cultural capital of the world, is a problem.

I mean, France has it, France is seen at the other end of the spectrum, that France has an image of being a culture centre regardless of whether it is or not. It has an image - well, I suppose it is, but it has an image.

Journalist " .

Cities like New York, and Italian cities, Florence, Paris, how are going to really convince peo'ple that Australia is another cultural capital, particularly when you've got the Member for Oxley in Queensland saying that all funding to the arts should be cut?

Alexander Downer Well, I would say if ever One Nation were to become the government of Australia, then obviously any chance of promoting Australian culture internationally would be lost, I mean, it would be, Australia would be in cultural terms regarded a kind of'Barry Humphreys paradise.'

It would be the manifestation of the Barry Humphreys culture, you know, everybody would think, well that's Barry Humphreysville down there.

Journalist ‘indistinct’ good cultural export, wouldn't he?

Alexander Downer Bazza Mackenzie is what I mean.

Journalist Peter Costello has taken a very tough stance on One Nation. What about yourself? How do you feel about it?

Alexander Downer I've made many statements on One Nation and %

Journalist What's your position on preferences?

Alexander Downer Well, in my electorate One Nation is running a candidate against me and we will be putting One Nation last.

end o f transcript