Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
Canberra's national institutions

ARNOTT, Dr Stephen, PSM, First Assistant Secretary, Arts Division, Department of Communications and the Arts

CAMPTON, Ms Ann, Assistant Secretary, Collections and Cultural Heritage, Arts Division, Department of Communications and the Arts

Committee met at 9:05

CHAIR ( Mr Morton ): I declare open this public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories for the inquiry into Canberra's national institutions. Canberra's national institutions are a major drawcard for our nation's capital, attracting local, interstate and overseas visitors. They contribute significantly to the local economy and to Canberra's culture. Today is the committee's first public hearing for this inquiry, and we are pleased to have in attendance representatives from a range of national institutions that are based in Canberra. In particular, the committee hopes that these public hearings will assist it in developing a clear understanding of the innovative ways that national institutions engage with both visitors and the private sector. This includes new forms of public engagement and audience participation, reaching out to the community beyond Canberra and creating a strong online presence.

In accordance with the committee's resolution on 13 October 2016, this hearing will be broadcast on the parliament's website, and the proof and official transcripts of proceedings will be published on the parliament's website. Those present here today are advised that filming and recording are permitted during the hearing, but I also remind members of the media who may be present or listening on the web of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee.

The committee has also resolved today to form a subcommittee for the purpose of the collection of evidence, which comprises for today's collection of evidence of myself as chair and Gai Brodtmann as deputy chair. There will be a series of further public hearings in August arranged by the committee.

I now welcome the representatives of the Department of Communications and the Arts to give evidence today. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to discussion.

Dr Arnott : Thank you, Chair. I don't have a formal opening statement but just want to note that in the Arts portfolio we have a number of cultural agencies. This committee is concerned with six of them which are located in Canberra. With some of the information we give, we just need to be clear about whether it's applying to just the Canberra institutions or more broadly—just as a sort of reminder, because we often think about them as simply Canberra. So I'll try and make that clear when responding to your questions.

CHAIR: This is our first hearing, and some of the people that are going to give evidence later will probably benefit from hearing from me on what I'm trying to establish. I'll ask some questions. They will seem naive, they will seem terrible, but I want to get the answers in Hansard. I want to know: what is the point of the national institutions? What are we trying to achieve as a whole? The argument that I'm trying to make is, what is the strategic importance for our nation of having these institutions? I see the institutions as a collection of individual entities. But I think that when we step back and make a strategic case about their importance, and what they're trying to achieve, as a collection, here in Canberra, then from that basis we can better understand the objectives of those institutions as a whole and make a case in relation to ensuring that their resourcing allows them to fulfil their objectives. What is your view in relation to the important role that the institutions play, as a whole? Why are they there?

Dr Arnott : It's quite a complex question, and you can come at it in a number of ways. Really they are the keepers of the nation's cultural heritage. They're the keepers of our history, of our art and of our heritage assets. They are responsible primarily for continuing to collect artefacts of our history, our culture and our heritage. Obviously, another key aspect is to bring that heritage alive: to give access to the public to appreciate Australia's history and heritage; to educate schoolchildren and others about Australia's history, heritage, art and collections; to promote the uniqueness of Australia through those through those collections; and to ensure that everyone around Australia, given their national status, has access and appreciates those cultural and heritage assets.

CHAIR: So why is it important for people to have that appreciation and understanding?

Dr Arnott : The history of our national identity is defined by our history, our heritage, our culture and our art.

CHAIR: Is there a risk if there are certain sections of our community that haven't had the benefit of visiting and engaging with our cultural institutions and therefore not understanding fully our culture and our history?

Dr Arnott : I wouldn't say risk, but I would say that there is an obligation on our institutions to ensure that their cultural assets and their collections are available and reach out to everyone around the country.

CHAIR: In your role in the department do you take a look at who is accessing the institutions, based on education levels, based on age, based on their geography and where they're from based on other demographic factors—university educated as opposed to non-university educated or female as opposed to two male? One example I'm interested in is newly arrived migrants as opposed to Australians born here in Australia.

Dr Arnott : No, we don't collect the data at that level of detail. We do aggregate visitor information and so on. I'm sure some of the institutions may be able to answer that question because I'm sure some of them do survey their visitation and the outcomes of their regional activities. But, no, the department doesn't collect that level of detail across the course of the institutions.

CHAIR: I have a final question. I know the deputy chair has a long series of questions. We are both very excited about this inquiry, to be honest. I'm a Western Australian member of parliament, so I am very interested in your Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program. How successful has that been? What are the types of outreach and tours that have been funded? Are you making demand from the institutions? If you had more resources, could you do more, or are you finding that your resourcing of that program is sufficient to meet the demand from the institutions? Are there any barriers in the way of institutions accessing those funds?

Dr Arnott : That's a two-part question.

CHAIR: I would rather just throw you the questions I have on that issue and then let you go longer rather than toing and froing too much.

Dr Arnott : Sure. On the second part of your question in terms of the quantum of funds that's available, our experience is that the current $1 million per annum appears to be sufficient funding.

CHAIR: Sorry, $1 million?

Dr Arnott : Yes, $1 million per annum. It seems to be sufficient to meet the touring needs of the institutions and they are able to undertake extensive touring activities nationally through that funding. Ann, do you have information about what tours are being supported?

Ms Campton : We've got total numbers.

Dr Arnott : Yes, we've got total numbers. The program, since its inception in 2010—relatively recently—has funded over 90 exhibitions in 153 venues around the country. I don't appear to have a state-by-state—

Ms Campton : No, but we could provide that.

CHAIR: If you could, that would be very helpful. Is it a co-funding arrangement? If I were an institution and I came to you for funding of $500,000 for a tour or an exhibition, would that tour or exhibition cost me $1.5 million, so I would have to find $1 million? What percentage of each project are you funding?

Dr Arnott : I would assume it would vary. Certainly the institutions would put in some of their own resources because they have staff and so on who are employed to curate and present exhibitions. I think the purpose of the NCITO program is to cover the actual touring costs—the freight and travel and the installation work and so on that's needed to actually get that exhibition into a different venue. It would be a balance, but NCITO would support the bulk of the actual touring costs.

CHAIR: I'm just interested to know: if you're meeting demand, that may be because the actual total cost of touring an exhibition leaves with the institution any costs which are not funded through this program. The PACER program is run by the department of education, which funds school students to come here to Canberra. I think it's very important. The committee will be pleased to know that I was going through my archive box from my primary school days and I found the report on my year 6 journey to Canberra and my workbook from the visit to the Electoral Education Centre. I'd probably get higher marks now than I did back then. It's a very important program. Does your department have any views in relation to that program? Is it best located within the department of education or is it better located somewhere else, like in your department? How can that program be better?

Dr Arnott : It's not for me to express a view about where a program should be located. It's administered by the department of education, so you would need to ask them detailed questions. Obviously I'm aware that it's an incredibly important program for the institutions and for Canberra. You may want to ask the institutions about whether there could be improvements made to it, but obviously it's important that as many school children get the opportunity, from our perspective, to visit the institutions and to experience our national culture and heritage.

CHAIR: Has there been a consideration by the department to mirror the PACER program, which assists young students to come to Canberra to learn about our nation's story, our culture, our heritage and our history? Other sectors of the Australian community may find it difficult to come here and benefit, in a strategic way, from learning and experiencing that story.

Dr Arnott : No, I don't believe so.

Ms BRODTMANN: Thanks again for appearing today and for your submission. I've got two main questions. They're about the relationship between the department and each of the national institutions that fall under your umbrella. How does it work? Is it the same for each of the institutions?

Dr Arnott : Yes, it is the same. The responsibility of the department is really to work with the institutions to ensure that their accountability and their governance arrangements are appropriate to the legislation and to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act. It's a quite dry relationship in some ways. Obviously we work with them closely in terms of the use of their funding and the way that they roll out their programs, remain informed and provide advice to the minister on their activities.

Ms BRODTMANN: You oversee how they're administering the PGPA Act?

Dr Arnott : To a degree. They have independent boards and they have independent acts of parliament, so they are responsible to the parliament directly in terms of how they acquit their funds, as it were. The Department of Finance is obviously a key player in that. The department's role is to support the minister in terms of appointments to boards, assessing corporate planning documents and ensuring that they're appropriate, and assessing annual reports and so on, so the governance around the institution is our main focus.

Ms BRODTMANN: Just on that, you've got the National Gallery under you, haven't you?

Dr Arnott : Yes.

Ms BRODTMANN: You saw the audit report last week that highlighted a number of concerns on financial management and performance management. There were reports that alluded to a culture that was lacking direction, so are you working with the National Gallery on addressing those issues?

Dr Arnott : Yes.

Ms BRODTMANN: What are you doing?

Dr Arnott : We're supporting them. They have accepted all of the recommendations from the ANAO. We will work closely with the board and management to monitor how they're going in terms of addressing those recommendations. They will be preparing plans and other strategies to ensure that those are addressed in a timely manner, and we will be assisting them with that.

Ms BRODTMANN: How does that actually work? They've got their independent board and, of course, their own executive and management system, so how does the interface actually work in terms of you addressing those issues and implementing those recommendations?

Dr Arnott : It happens through regular discussions between the department and senior management of the organisation. A departmental officer is an observer at their council meetings and so is able to provide advice on government requirements, clarifications about what's expected and support in terms of their activities to progress the response to the recommendations.

Ms BRODTMANN: Have you set a deadline for when those recommendations need to be implemented?

Dr Arnott : Not directly, but I think they would be expedited as soon as practically possible.

Ms BRODTMANN: Would it be your role to set that deadline, or would it be the executive and the board of the gallery?

Dr Arnott : It'll be the gallery's responsibility to determine the timing.

Ms BRODTMANN: But would it be your responsibility to say that the implementation has actually been implemented?

Dr Arnott : Again, it's the gallery's responsibility, because they're directly accountable to the parliament, so, therefore, they need to act on that. Our role is a support role to assist them to make sure they have the appropriate information and understanding about what's required so that they can progress those reforms.

Ms BRODTMANN: Do you believe that they have the appropriate understanding?

Dr Arnott : Yes.

Ms BRODTMANN: What do you see the major challenges to be that all those various institutions that fall under your umbrella are facing today?

Dr Arnott : They would vary, and you may wish to ask each of them. But I'm obviously aware that they face financial constraint, as they have for a number of years, and they will certainly tell you that. But I think, in the scheme of things, on the numbers that we collect, they're doing an incredible job in terms of attracting increased visitor numbers, getting really fantastic engagement with their digital offerings and being able to tour extensively both nationally and internationally. So they are achieving an awful lot, but the constraints of government funding are what they are, and that affects the whole of government.

Ms BRODTMANN: We can go through each of them, if you want to. Are there any that are facing more challenges than others?

CHAIR: It's like picking one of your children!

Dr Arnott : That's right.

Ms BRODTMANN: They're all different.

Dr Arnott : Yes, they are all different.

Ms BRODTMANN: And they've all got very different histories and provenances. You've got the Museum of Australian Democracy. What are the challenges that are faced there?

Dr Arnott : That is a newly established corporate entity under the PGPA Act, so it's newly independent. It used to be part of the department directly, so they're in the relatively early stages of their development as a national cultural institution. They obviously have the challenges of looking after the Old Parliament House building, which is a big responsibility for the nation. But they're focused on their agenda to make democracy meaningful for the Australian public. I'm not aware of any other specific challenges that they may face, but you could ask them that.

Ms BRODTMANN: National Film and Sound Archive?

Dr Arnott : National Film and Sound Archive has a new director who is starting to set the new strategic direction for the organisation, which is fantastic. He has a fabulous plan for the institution's future. Its major challenge, which is well known and on the public record, is that it has a large amount of magnetic tape in its archive which needs to be digitised within the next seven or so years. It needs to work out how to do that.

Ms BRODTMANN: Do you think it's got the resources it needs to do that?

Dr Arnott : I'm hopeful that it does, but you may well want to ask them whether they feel that they do.

Ms BRODTMANN: There's also the issue of its home, which has been in the media.

Dr Arnott : I'm aware that the CEO has an ambition to have a new home, but it has its current home in the building at the front of the ANU, so it's not in jeopardy.

Ms BRODTMANN: Have there been conversations with you about a new home?

Dr Arnott : Yes.

Ms BRODTMANN: Where is that at?

Dr Arnott : The discussions are proceeding—it's a long term goal, so we will continue to discuss what might be possible.

Ms BRODTMANN: For a purpose-built site?

Dr Arnott : Yes, I believe that's the CEO's idea.

Ms BRODTMANN: The National Gallery?

Dr Arnott : As you're aware, in the budget we announced a package of funding of $16½ million dollars plus another $5 million from departmental funds to address some urgent capital requirements. So that's a challenge for them and they need to get that work progressed and underway, and those issues resolved as soon as possible. But, obviously, fantastic that they've received the capital funding to be able to achieve that.

Ms BRODTMANN: Any other challenges for the gallery?

Dr Arnott : You're aware of the ANAO report, and they need to address those recommendations. As you're aware, they have a new director starting in a couple of weeks—2 July—so it will be a phase for the new director to get across his brief and work out strategies for the future of the National Gallery.

Ms BRODTMANN: The National Library, who made an excellent submission, and your thoughts on the challenges—they have been well documented too, particularly with Trove. I'm aware of the Trove challenge—and I think the chair is as well—but are there any other challenges faced by the National Library?

Dr Arnott : Other than the general financial constraints on staffing and so on, I think the Library is doing an amazing job as we all do. Obviously, they were a good beneficiary of the modernisation funding that came out in the budget before last which they're putting to fabulous use, and they have highlighted in their submission that that's not ongoing funding so there's a need to see what happens post that modernisation funding.

Ms BRODTMANN: The National Museum?

Dr Arnott : The National Museum is doing some great work in terms of its capital developments. The director has great ambition for the museum, so I don't see them as having specific challenges other than the ones I've articulated that generally apply across all of them.

Ms BRODTMANN: In terms of the financial constraints?

Dr Arnott : Yes.

Ms BRODTMANN: And, finally, the Portrait Gallery.

Dr Arnott : The Portrait Gallery is, again, a relatively young institution doing an incredible job. I'm not aware of specific challenges. The main thing that I think you should be aware of, but may not be, is that they will be closing the gallery for a period of time in 2019. They will manage that extremely well, but it will be a disruptive process while they get some of the building—

CHAIR: I wasn't aware. What's the process?

Dr Arnott : There's some building defects that need to be rectified, which have been funded by the government, and they will be progressing over—

CHAIR: How old is the building?

Ms BRODTMANN: It's not good.

CHAIR: It's what—five years old?

Ms BRODTMANN: It's not old. How old is it—it's an award-winning building.

Ms Campton : It's 10 years old.

CHAIR: Is it not still covered by the contract with the builder?

Ms Campton : It's being managed by the Department of Finance. The rectification works are being managed through them. They've taken a decision that the nature of the works is significant enough that it will be easier to close the gallery and get the work done, because it affects flooring and a whole lot of other things.

Ms BRODTMANN: How long is it closed?

Ms Campton : Up to six months.

Ms BRODTMANN: Are you working with finance and the Portrait Gallery on that?

Ms Campton : Yes. We're well aware of it.

CHAIR: Is there an opportunity during that time for a travelling exhibition?

Ms Campton : Yes, and I'm sure the director will speak to that. That's what he's talking about: outreach activities during that six month period. I don't have details on that, but he may be able to give you more.

CHAIR: It's an opportunity.

Ms BRODTMANN: Yes, it's an opportunity, but it's also pretty ordinary that you have this award-winning building and you've got these defects after such a short time. What was the cost of that? Do you know how much the repairs are costing the taxpayer?

Ms Campton : I think we'd have to have to talk to Department of Finance about that. It's $5 million.

Ms BRODTMANN: And what are the defects?

Ms Campton : Flooring is definitely one of them, and windows. There has been water leaking, so there are whole lot of things as a consequence of that that they have to repair. We can certainly provide you a list of the information.

Dr Arnott : Certainly, the director will have—

Ms Campton : Or the director should be able to.

Ms BRODTMANN: That would be good.

Ms Campton : We can let him know before he appears, and he can bring the information with him.

Ms BRODTMANN: It would be good to know if the $5 million is going to cover the lot, and if there's been a really rigorous overview of what's actually happened and a clear understanding that the $5 million is where it finishes.

Ms Campton : When I say six months, I know the chair of the board is hoping it will take less, but that's the conservative estimate.

CHAIR: Can you outline for me the process for the establishment of a new institution.

Dr Arnott : That's an interesting question. We've got two recent examples. The National Portrait Gallery, while it had been in existence as a part of the department for some time, was established a few years ago as an independent—what we now call corporate—Commonwealth entity with its own board and management and so on. That's a decision of the government, really, to be honest. That's how it happens. The government can decide to create a new corporate entity.

CHAIR: You go to the National Capital Authority's exhibition at the side of the lake and there's a thing where you can write down what the next institution to be created should be. It could be okay for this case, but there is no clear, existing path for the creation of an institution—it is decisions that are made by governments from time to time, and once that decision is made the path is created?

Dr Arnott : I think that's the correct articulation of the history of how that's come about.

CHAIR: As a department, do you consider whether or not there should be—or there is—a gap?

Dr Arnott : We're certainly aware of members of the public raising ideas about that, but, no, we don't actively consider advising government on whether there should or shouldn't be another national cultural institution. It's a matter for government.

Ms BRODTMANN: So you don't do a gap analysis on cultural institutions, but you mentioned that the public have made suggestions. What are the suggestions that have come from the community?

Dr Arnott : In submissions we've seen suggestions for a national resting place for indigenous remains, as an institution. We've seen suggestions for an Australian national theatre.

Ms BRODTMANN: What's an Australian national theatre?

Dr Arnott : I'm not sure. It was in one of the submissions that I—

Ms Campton : We should say that we've only become aware of some of these through your submission process.

CHAIR: Which is good!

Ms Campton : The national resting place is something we were more familiar with.

Ms BRODTMANN: Yes, I'm aware of that and have been in conversations with the War Memorial on that.

Dr Arnott : I don't think we've been particularly aware of persistent requests for a new cultural institution to fill a gap. I think this inquiry has put forth a few more ideas that we weren't aware of in the past. The National Resting Place is certainly something that's been considered a number of times.

CHAIR: Is there a problem in having a whole range of institutions under different ministerial responsibility? Does that create opportunities? Does it create issues? Is there a body that I can point to that is the voice of the collective institutions?

Dr Arnott : No, I don't believe so.

CHAIR: I know other countries may have a council of former government leaders or former heads of state or something, but there's no existing advisory body or council that would advocate on behalf of institutions that you're aware of at the moment?

Dr Arnott : No. I'm aware that the directors of the institutions work together closely and meet regularly and coordinate their efforts as far as possible, as do members of their staff, but there is not a formal, overarching advisory body that looks at all of the national institutions, other than, obviously, the department, but we don't represent them.

Ms BRODTMANN: Would there be benefit in that, in putting them all under one department?

Dr Arnott : We haven't done an assessment of that. I would think there'd be pros and cons, but, no, we haven't done a formal assessment of that.

Ms Campton : It's certainly the rule of those departments who have agencies under their jurisdiction that they will also talk across departments. We have meetings that often involve agencies that aren't in our portfolio on issues that we think are of common interest to them.

CHAIR: Thank you for your attendance here today. You've been asked to provide some information, so please do so by Friday, 6 July. You'll also be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and you'll have an opportunity to request any corrections to transcription errors.