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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 3466

Mr DANBY (Melbourne PortsParliamentary Secretary for the Arts) (11:22): I welcome this opportunity to sum up on the Australia Council Bill 2013 and the accompanying Australia Council (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013 in the second reading debate. This legislation is a key element of Creative Australia, the national cultural policy that has been discussed by so many speakers in this debate, including by the member for Scullin in his very kind remarks.

In introducing this legislation the Australian government is delivering a key recommendation of the 2012 review of the Australia Council and bringing about the most significant legislative reform of the Australia Council in nearly 40 years since the great days of Nugget Coombs. At the core of the reform agenda is the introduction of a new legislative mandate for the council. In fact, 10 of the 18 recommendations of the 2012 review of the council are relevant to the council's enabling legislation to the extent that a whole new act was called for.

I want to stress that these reforms are taking place in dialogue and in conjunction with the arts sector. The Australia Council is the nation's principal arts funding body so it is vital that the tens of thousands of people who work in our creative arts help shape and embrace the council's future directions. A sector as diverse as the arts has a range of strong and passionate views. The government—through the former Minister for the Arts, who was mentioned correctly by the member for Scullin as the honourable member for Hotham; the current Minister for the Arts, the member for Watson; and me, the parliamentary secretary—have heard the views of the creative community and we have acted. In prompting this discussion the member for Hotham set out a vision for the future of the Australian arts sector through Creative Australia, the national cultural policy. Through its $235 million package of new initiatives and reforms it has already been enthusiastically embraced by the sector, as the member for Canberra outlined in her remarks.

The Australia Council is fundamental to our Australian artistic identity for the reasons outlined by Nugget Coombs as quoted by the member for Pearce. The government is committed to growing the council's success and to its significant legacy. This is why the government accepted the recommendations of the review of the council, including investing an additional $75.3 million in the council over the next four years. This brings the investment in the Australia Council to over $200 million a year. This spending was confirmed in the budget. This funding will support unfunded excellence. It will support a new program of research and data collection so that the Australia Council can advocate effectively for the arts in all of its diversity. It will support innovation in our major performing arts companies, the flagships of Australian art practice. It will invest in supporting Australia's cultural leaders.

Now, with these bills amended to take into account issues raised by stakeholders in the Senate committee, we are introducing reform of the Australia Council—reform that is necessary and overdue, reform that the sector has called for and reform that sets the council up for the next 40 years and beyond. The bills have been the subject of an inquiry by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee. At that time my colleague the Minister for the Arts, the honourable member for Watson, welcomed the inquiry as a further opportunity to hear the sector's views. He also noted a commitment to progress the legislation at the same time he was open to the committee's recommendations.

The House amendments developed in consultation with the Greens and the Senate committee are the result of the art sector's endeavours to ensure certain protections for artists in the day-to-day operation of the Australia Council. The member for Pearce suggested in her remarks just now that a number of principles by which the Australia Council was originally established were somehow at stake, but she did not seem to fully address the fact that these issues were addressed by the amendments and taken on as a result of the Senate committee's wishes.

These changes, importantly, recognise and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to our nation's artistic identity. The member for Stirling and his distinguished colleague in the other place will be pleased that I am mentioning the function 'to uphold and promote freedom of expression in the arts'. There have been some suggestions that it was the government's intention to remove these provisions from the bill. This is simply not the case. The original bill stated that the council must take into account the rights of persons to freedom in the practice of the arts. Nevertheless, to remove any doubt about this, the amendment inserts 'freedom of expression in the arts' in the new functions of the council. It is very clear. I point that out to the members for Stirling and Pearce in particular.

The funding must also be delivered in a way that reflects the diversity of the arts and promotes the engagement of the community. Both those issues raised by the member for Pearce are addressed in these amendments. The arts are no longer simply passive experiences for audiences; community members are often actively involved in the process of a project and even the performance, and art is enriched as a result. The amendment recognises this important shift. An amendment also ensures that the committees have representatives immersed in established and emerging art forms to ensure quality peer assessment.

I thank everyone involved in the Senate committee for these valuable improvements to the bill. The government have listened to the views of stakeholders and to the arts community and we have heeded the committee's recommendations. The legislation put to the House in March has been updated accordingly. I can now confidently say that these bills with amendments respond to the issues raised by representatives of the tens of thousands who toil creatively in the arts sector. The framework for most of the proposed amendments is provided by the goals of Creative Australia.

While the framework for drafting of the bills in the first instance was the Australian government's response to the 2012 review of the council, the release and positive reception of Creative Australia has raised expectations in the arts sector that the goals of the policy should be reflected in the new enabling legislation for the Australia Council. Now the council's role in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts practice is explicit in the functions of the council. This reflects the first goal of Creative Australia to 'recognise, respect and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to the uniqueness of Australian identity'. New functions are included that recognise the importance of diversity and the role of communities in shaping Australia's cultural identity. The very issues that the member for Pearce raised are addressed by these amendments.

The Australia Council is specifically empowered to support Australian arts practice that both reflects the diversity of Australia and promotes community participation in the arts. This is consistent with the second goal of Creative Australia—that government support the arts must reflect the diversity of Australia and that all citizens, regardless of their background or circumstances, have a right to shape our cultural identity and its expression.

The intent of a function from the original Australia Council Act 1975 has been retained to ensure that the upholding and promoting of freedom of expression in the arts remains core business for the Australia Council. That was included in the initial bill as a matter that must be taken into account by the council in the performance of its functions. But in response to stakeholder feedback and the Senate inquiry, we are including it in a function of the amended bill.

On the bill's introduction the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and the Minister for the Arts noted that, since its inception the Australia Council supported Australian artists and organisations with two guiding principles: the pursuit of artistic excellence based on peer assessment—the very issue that comes from the vision of Nugget Coombs addressed by the member for Pearce in her queries about this bill, so there are consistencies there; and that funding decisions be made at arms-length from government. The government's commitment to these principles has not changed and will not change. Indeed, this legislation strengthens these principles.

The final amendment to be moved by the government is the firming up of peer assessment principles. Under this amendment, should a committee be established by the governing board of the council to advise or make recommendations about policy or the provision of financial assistance in relation to any of the arts, the membership of the committee must include at least one person with relevant experience in the arts. This is being included to provide assurances to the sector that the longstanding principle of peer assessment of funding decisions is enshrined in legislation.

The amendments further strengthen provisions contained in the first draft of the bill and make explicit other provisions. The bill delivers on the Australian government's response to the review of the Australia Council and is consistent with the goals of the Australian government's 10-year plan for the arts set out in the vision framed by the previous Minister for the Arts, Creative Australia.

The Australia Council (Consequential Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013 is a companion bill and contains consequential amendments and transitional arrangements related to the proposed reform of the Australia Council. In the main, the bill repeals the Australia Council Act 1975 and provides for the business continuity for the Australia Council, including its staff. It will ensure that the transition to the new operational arrangements are seamless—indeed, serendipitous.

Ensuring that the continuity of key governance roles during the organisation's transition to new operating environment will be important for the broader reform agenda of Creative Australia to be implemented. Accordingly, provisions are included which allow for the appointments of the current chair and deputy chair to be carried over into the new operating environment. For similar reasons, transitional provisions will also apply to the office of the CEO.

Together these bills will bring the Australia Council into line with other modern statutory authorities and into the 21st century. I thank the member for Watson for his support in steering this, my first bill, through the House. I thank members for their contributions to this debate and support for this legislation. I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): The question is that the bill be read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.