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Thursday, 20 August 2009
Page: 8603

Mrs MOYLAN (11:54 AM) —Once again, I appreciate the opportunity to complete the contribution to this debate, which was adjourned yesterday. Indeed, I have waited several months to speak on the Resale Royalty Right for Visual Artists Bill 2008. As I was saying yesterday, before the debate adjourned, the bulk of the concerns about this bill rest with the requirement that the royalty right is only attached to works acquired after this bill comes into effect. An artist will only receive royalties on an existing piece of work when it is resold for a second time after the scheme is up and running. In an article in the Australian the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts argued:

… “Haven’t Australia’s visual artists, including our significant indigenous artists, waited long enough?”

It is lucky that visual artists have well-developed patience because it seems as though they still have a bit of waiting to do. Not only has this bill been repeatedly delayed by the government; it is also fundamentally drafted to keep artists waiting for some time after the scheme is eventually implemented. The royalty right, as designed by the bill, means that an artwork acquired before the operation of this bill must be resold twice before a royalty can be generated. The minister described this requirement as important to ensure that purchasers of artwork are aware at the time they make their purchase that a royalty may be payable to the artist if they chose to resell the work. I understand that there has also been some concern as to the constitutionality of the scheme where a royalty is paid for every resale of artwork, regardless of when it was acquired. I note that the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts recommended that further legal advice should be sought to clarify the position. The Coalition for an Australian Resale Royalty noted:

In all other countries where the right has been introduced, the royalty is payable on resales, after commencement, of works acquired before commencement as well as after commencement.

This is an issue that will have a real impact on artists. According to research undertaken by the Coalition for an Australian Resale Royalty and Viscopy of artwork sold at auction, it generally takes longer than 10 years to transfer the ownership on the secondary art market. Viscopy said:

If we take a very conservative estimate of an average of 20 years between sales then it is likely that a work first sold in 2008 will not resell through an art market professional until 2028. Under the proposed scheme the artist will receive no royalty for that sale as the work was acquired before the legislation comes into effect. It is not until the work is resold again in another 20 years … that the artist receives resale royalty income …

as Viscopy went on:

40 years after the legislation comes into effect.

It would seem as though the government have found themselves in a tricky position, having campaigned before the 2007 election promising to introduce a resale royalty scheme for visual artists and yet artists who have been asking for this for 20 years will now probably have to wait 40 years more to see those royalties. The Chief Executive Officer of Viscopy, Joanna Cave, recently noted:

As the bill is drafted it is fatally flawed. And the risk is that it will deliver bureaucracy and no money whatsoever. So, there’ll be a lose lose situation.

Following the publication of the committee report the National Association for the Visual Arts, one of the most vocal advocates of a resale royalty right scheme, commented:

For the Government to truly fulfil its election promise, it must deliver a robust and fully functional scheme so that artists are eligible to gain an immediate income stream. As things stand, Clauses 11 and 23 are a real impediment to Australian artists benefiting as they deserve.

I can certainly appreciate these concerns and feel that the government owe it to those artists to whom they promised a resale royalty to ensure that this system works as effectively and efficiently as possible. While the government agreed in May to implement a review of the operation of the scheme five years after it had been implemented, it is clear that much more could be done.

Sadly, as with most things that we discuss these days, the art market is not exempt from the consequences of our current financial conditions. Within the media there have been several calls for the measure to be delayed or abandoned for fears that the scheme will negatively impact the already fragile art market. I cannot say that I agree with that perspective but, in any event, commercial art dealers in particular are worried that this scheme will further flatten the market. The government has, at least, an obligation to this group to monitor the success of the scheme and to work constructively with all interested parties to ensure that the range of interests are addressed.

Throughout the plethora of commentary on the bill, there is a common acceptance that this scheme will have a particularly beneficial effect for Indigenous artists. In an article in the Indigenous Law Bulletin entitled ‘Australian visual artists: joining the resale rights arena’ it was said that there had been ‘numerous examples of dramatic disparity between original and secondary sale prices of Indigenous artworks’. I suppose one of the most alarming examples of this, or one of the most graphic examples at least, was when a painting by Clifford Possum Japaltjarri was sold in 2007 at Sotheby’s auction for $2.4 million, yet in 1977 it had been bought for just $1,200.

This legislation will ensure that artists and their heirs will get a share of the money that is generated by their artworks eventually. For the Indigenous art community, this means that they will no longer miss out on the success that their work enjoys—a development that I am sure will be most welcome. The royalties will contribute a new income stream into remote communities and will help to ensure that the ancestral link of artwork is maintained, with new artists receiving the encouragement and support that they need. There is no doubt that there are still a number of significant concerns among the wider community and within the arts community specifically over this legislation. These are concerns that I think the government does need to engage with and perhaps may in time be well disposed to address.

Despite these flaws, it is imperative that Australia’s visual artists have their rights to resale royalty recognised in legislation. When we look around at the community halls-cum-gallery walls of local art exhibitions, as I do frequently, or the high-end auction houses selling famous works, which I definitely do not do very frequently if at all, it is important that we know that the skills and passions of these fine artists are being rewarded. For the visual artists, it is important that they know that not only their work but also the contribution that they make to society is recognised and cherished and valued in a very real way.

Whether your favourite art is a Tom Roberts or an Ian Fairweather painting or a Robert Klippel sculpture, art does enrich and enliven not only us as individuals but also our communities. I am pleased to say that in the Pearce electorate we see art being used in the landscape, and I think that is a welcome development. I note that that is the case here in Canberra, too, and I think it adds a dimension to a city that perhaps is difficult to otherwise achieve. I certainly appreciate those developers who give consideration to incorporating art into the landscape.

I have a relatively new housing subdivision in my electorate called Ellenbrook. The developers had the vision early on to incorporate art into the landscape, featuring sculpture and artwork that showed a great sensitivity and appreciation for the local flora and fauna, for the local environment and of local products, all created by local artist Philippa O’Brien. It is a joy to visit that community. Here you have a vast housing estate, a lot of closely linked houses, and yet you can go to the public spaces within that estate and enjoy the art in the landscape. I think it adds a dimension to that community that otherwise would not be there. I commend those who develop both our urban landscapes and our cityscapes for the thoughtfulness they put into it, where they do incorporate art into the landscape. I chaired the Public Works Committee for nine years in this place, and there were several occasions when I encouraged developers developing government buildings to also incorporate art into the landscape and into the building design.

The private and public spaces in this parliament are enhanced by an eclectic and vast collection of artwork. I very much appreciate the people in this place who take the time to select the artworks that we all benefit from. I know there has sometimes been controversy over the kinds of works that are incorporated into that collection. Nevertheless, many of us are grateful for that collection in the conflicted and sometimes bruising work of this place, because we can go and pause and ponder the powerful distraction that fine visual art provides. It really should serve to redouble our political will and our efforts in this place to make sure that artists are indeed fairly rewarded for the work that they do. While this bill takes a step in the right direction, there are issues and matters in it that we probably could improve with a little more thought and perhaps a little more consultation with the various sections of the art community.

I have been waiting to speak on this bill since last year. It has been put off and put off. I feel very strongly that art plays a very important part in the community. It can enhance your appreciation of the natural beauty around you. Artists have the capacity to cause us to consider the past and to look into the future. Sometimes art can challenge our perceptions of how things are, and that is not a bad thing. Sometimes we need to be challenged. I think art has the great capacity to cause us to challenge our perception, to look on things a little differently and to consider things from a different perspective. As I said, whatever your favourite piece of artwork, anybody who loves and appreciates art as I do will agree that it definitely enlivens and enriches all our lives.