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Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
Canberra's national institutions

ARTHY, Ms Kareena, Deputy Director-General, ACT Government

RAMSAY, Mr Gordon, Minister for the Arts and Community Events, ACT Government


CHAIR: I now welcome representatives of the ACT government to give evidence today. Is there anything you would like to add to the capacity in which you appear today?

Ms Arthy : I'm in the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate, responsible for economic development.

CHAIR: 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 be 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.

Mr Ramsay : Before we commence, and especially as we are thinking about national identity and culture, I do want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we are meeting on and that the national institutions are located on. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. Also before I begin, and for the sake of full transparency, I do want to note, for the record, that my wife conducts a small business in exhibition design and has had contracts with the national institutions, including recently working on a contract with the National Archives for a travelling exhibition.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee to speak about the importance of the national institutions. I'm pleased to represent the ACT government today in my capacity as Minister for the Arts and Community Events. Canberra's national cultural institutions are not only an intrinsic part of the artistic and cultural life of this city but they are also, collectively, a representation of what it is to be Australian. They tell the stories of where we came from, who we are and who we hope to be. These institutions belong to all Australians and should be accessible to all Australians. They are important contributors to the ACT economy via their direct employment and their expenditure, as well as through the visitors that they bring into the ACT. So the ACT government strongly calls for ongoing and increased Australian government support for the national institutions. At the same time, we recognise that these institutions are already delivering high-quality programs to the best of their ability, despite the funding cuts over many years.

As a collective brand, the national cultural institutions located in Canberra leave a lasting impression in the minds of all who visit. They form an integral part of the Canberra visitor experience, with a record 2.75 million domestic overnight visitors and 243,000 international visitors to Canberra in 2017. This includes more than 162,000 school aged children from all over Australia, who travel to Canberra to learn about civics, citizenship, democracy, history, science and art. This itself is an important foundational experience for young Australians, regardless of their birthplace, to understand more about their country and what it means to be Australian. With Australia's capital city now connected to a global marketplace, the national institutions provide an important first point of engagement for international visitors. This makes Canberra the showcase destination for Australian history, identity, culture and innovation. The outreach services and the travelling exhibitions of the national institutions provide valuable educational and cultural connections for people outside the ACT. However, reductions in operational budgets generally result in the paring back of such outreach activities to focus on the provision of what is known as core services. That's the situation that is particularly relevant for the national institutions that are facing increased financial pressures.

Canberra's national institutions have a clear need for greater investment. However, the ACT government doesn't support the national institutions being required to seek a greater level of private funding to support their corporations, because such a model would require a culture of private philanthropy, which, sadly, simply does not exist in Australia. The ACT government has gladly stepped up to contribute. Since 2011 we have invested $7.1 million in exhibitions hosted by national institutions. We also feel it's important to recognise the interlinked relationship between the national institutions and the local arts organisations and artists here in Canberra. We believe that these relationships facilitate a significantly broader range of programming than the national institutions would be able to achieve on their own. Such collaborations include, for example, ACT arts organisations providing practical workshops that sit alongside the NGA visual art exhibitions or the National Library providing residencies alongside the Folk Festival or the Portrait Gallery's collaborations with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and a high level of engagement between the NGA and the Portrait Gallery with ACT dancers and dance organisations to accompany various exhibitions. Not only do collaborations like this have intrinsic artistic value they also allow the national institutions to contribute to community health and wellbeing. Suitably supported, the significant opportunities for similar local engagements are there to be replicated by national cultural institutions in touring programs in other local communities across Australia, as well.

Reinvesting the revenue that is generated from activities directly linked to the national institutions is a mechanism that could provide new critical funding to support improvement and to sustain the value of the collective brand of the institutions. We believe that the clearest opportunity in this lies in the area of parking revenue. Paid parking was introduced by the National Capital Authority in 2014, with an estimated revenue on national land of $98.2 million in 2015-16 through to 2017-18. Canberra's institutions do not receive any of the revenue collected, despite the fact that their activities contribute to a significant proportion of the revenue that is generated. So we would suggest that the Australian government reallocate this revenue stream to support the funding and the operations of Canberra's national institutions, and therefore promote a culture of reinvesting revenue generated through associated activities as a positive signal to investors, to sponsors and to philanthropic donors. Specifically, on a matter of governance structures, I'd like to mention Questacon's current position as part of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science rather than as an independent statutory authority. This, we believe, has created a legacy of problems in relation to governance and capacity to develop other income streams, including philanthropic contributions. So the ACT government strongly supports the recommendation of the 2008 Simpson review to transition Questacon to a statutory authority.

More broadly, the impact of the Australian government's efficiency dividend contributes to an increasingly challenging operational environment for Canberra's national institutions, compromising skills retention, long-term planning, creativity, innovation and organisational sustainability. The anticipated $20 million in cuts between 2015 and 2019 that will be absorbed by these institutions is unsustainable and ultimately damaging. Beyond the organisational impact of funding cuts, the impacts on the ACT economy of cuts to the Australian Public Service are keenly felt. Any federal Public Service job cuts have a direct negative impact on Canberra and on the broader region. So the ACT government warmly welcomes this particular inquiry. Continued investment in our shared history is essential to reflect who we are as a nation, both to ourselves and to the rest of the world.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Minister. I very much appreciate the ACT government's submission and your opening statement today. Just a couple of different points from me. From your experience, how do you find your interaction with the institutions on a strategic level, as a whole? Do they engage with the ACT government with a single or consistent voice? Should they or should they not? Or do they engage with you independently? Should they or should they not? Does the interaction between these institutions and the ACT government work from a governance perspective as well? Or are we are we missing out in some way?

Ms Arthy : Certainly the engagement that we have with national institutions is not as a collective. At the moment, we're working very closely with Matt Trinca and the National Museum about exactly how we can do it. I think we've all recognised that it's in our collective interest as Canberra to have a united position to put to the visitor economy to attract and retain visitors to Canberra. I'm not aware of why there hasn't been a collective voice in the past; that's probably more of a question for the institutions. I know that there is a beginning of work underway about how we can do that. In terms of the engagement I'm having, it's about how we position our offering as this region at a more strategic level. There are a lot working groups in Canberra that operate at the operational level. There's a national tourism—I can't remember the full name, but it's NCETP, a very long name.

CHAIR: The acronyms are always remembered before the full name, I've realised.

Ms Arthy : All of the tourism operators get together quite regularly to talk about it at an operational level, whereas what we're trying to do, certainly, with Matt Trinca is about how we bring that to a much more strategic discussion.

CHAIR: When you say the tourism operators, do you mean the people from the institutions who are responsible for the visitor experience?

Ms Arthy : Basically, yes.

CHAIR: What I find quite interesting, when we talk to the institutions, is just how much they see their role as collecting and keeping the story in the collection and what percentage of their role they see as displaying and telling the story as well. I suppose the inter-relationship with the ACT government is more around the telling of the story and the visitor experience. Coming back to the organisation that you mentioned—the acronym that I've already forgotten—how does that work, in your mind? Does it work? Is there sufficient coordination between the institutions and the ACT government to maximise the number of visitors to Canberra in order to experience Australia's story through the institutions?

Ms Arthy : I think it's important to recognise that that group I mentioned is very operational; it is really looking at coordination of beds. It's that lower-level experience. It's that sort of experience.

CHAIR: Are we lacking something more senior?

Ms Arthy : That's really what the CEO of the National Museum and I are talking about: how do we do that? How do we engage the leaders, the CEOs, of the major tourism and hospitality businesses in Canberra with the national institutions and with us about how we provide that better engagement at our level down the track?

CHAIR: Could you take on notice a further short submission in relation to how you would see that best coming together?

Ms Arthy : Yes.

CHAIR: I think that that's something that the committee would be very interested in. Your government are the hosts of the visitors. I think we'll also find that some institutions don't see their role, necessarily, in the forward-facing telling-Australia's-story experience. The High Court might be one of the more—talk to a little bit more later in this inquiry. I wanted to talk to you a little bit more about in relation to private sector funding, because I heard in your opening statement that you didn't support private sector funding, but then on the issue of Questacon, the location of that entity within the department prevented it from getting some private sector funding to support its activities. I wasn't too sure—maybe I've misheard or misunderstood.

Mr Ramsay : I don't believe it's the case that we have a strong culture of general philanthropy in Australia. Therefore, building up an expectation or a reliance on philanthropic donations is likely to be misplaced. However, that's not to say that we shouldn't be seeking to maximise the opportunity. I think it's the distinction between the opportunity and the reliance. Therefore, Questacon being able to have it so that it opens up the possibility of that broader philanthropic support would be a sound move, but moving away from an assurance of solid government support would be misplaced.

CHAIR: I better understand your point, which aligns with my own view. That is that, where possible, institutions should be seeking to maximise private sector funding and donations to support their work, but an overall reliance on that is—

Mr Ramsay : Misplaced and highly risky.

CHAIR: Yes. Understood. The Enlighten festival, which I found quite fascinating and interesting—I understand funding for that has the decreased over recent years and less and less institutions are being lit up or enlightened. Is that the case?

Ms Arthy : No, I don't think that is the case.

CHAIR: There were previously concerts that were part of the festival that no longer happen to the full extent. There was a concert that went for three days that now is only one day.

Ms Arthy : I think there might be a difference between what the government funded Enlighten festival is and what private companies may do that happen to coexist around that. Certainly, from government funding, I can provide you with the funding over the years—I just don't have it with me—but funding hasn't decreased; it's stayed the same. What we're trying to do is package what were disparate events under the one. So this year, for the first time, we packaged the Canberra Day concert as part of it, and we packaged the Lights! Canberra! Action! and the Night Noodle Markets all as one festival. What we're trying to do is create that whole festival atmosphere for a few weeks and bring Canberra here. It's terrific for us if private event organisers bring other events in, but in terms of that music festival—not being a native Canberran—I actually don't know which one it is, but I think it would be very much private.

Mr Ramsay : The other thing that has happened this year for the first time is the growing of the Enlighten festival into other precincts of the city as well, so growing beyond the national institutions. In terms of projection, there was projection that was taking place at the ANU, growing it into that campus. There are ongoing conversations with the ANU about how it is that we can build and grow that particular festival alongside and working positively with the national institutions, as well as into the major civic area. It's a growing festival.

CHAIR: Do you have any research in relation to the attendance at that festival? Is it a festival for Canberrans or is it something that will draw people to Canberra?

Ms Arthy : Yes, we do have that research. I'm trying to bring it up as we talk.

CHAIR: I'm happy for you to provide that on notice.

Ms Arthy : The majority of visitors to Enlighten at the moment are Canberrans.

CHAIR: I'm not criticising it. I see it as having huge potential.

Ms Arthy : Absolutely, and that's really where we're trying to position it to attract more visitors. Floriade is the one that attracts the external visitors. We want to try and make Enlighten the same. I think, now that we've got the model of having a package of individual events underneath one umbrella and frankly we've got some ticks under our wing over the last few years, it will grow. So we're happy to provide you with what we know about the attendance. We haven't finished the analysis of this year yet; those numbers are still coming in. We're hoping to see a stronger growth and a stronger growth in external visitors.

Mr Ramsay : The Chief Minister has talked publicly a number of times, saying that he would anticipate that with the trajectory of Enlighten's growth at the moment, over time it would become the more significant festival when compared with Floriade.

Ms Arthy : And institutions are absolutely critical for us in that.

CHAIR: And that's working well?

Ms Arthy : It works very well. We work incredibly well with the institutions.

CHAIR: And with the NCA on this?

Ms Arthy : Yes. We work very closely with the NCA.

CHAIR: No issues there?

Ms Arthy : Between any organisation putting on huge events, there are always tussles, but the NCA is very good to work with and we can usually work things out.

Ms BRODTMANN: Thanks very much and well done on a very good submission. In relation to the philanthropic spirit here in Australia, I thought your point was well made in terms of the US as well, which has a very strong tradition of that, but even the Smithsonian, as you say, is two-thirds government funded. So it's a point well made.

I just want to go back to Questacon and the legacy of issues that have arisen as a result of its governance structure. You're recommending it be set up as a statutory authority. Can you talk to us about those legacy issues that have come about as a result of its existing governance structure, and what would you like to see improved?

Ms Arthy : It's more around providing Questacon with a bit more of the commercial flexibility to pursue opportunities. Certainly what we witness is that there is a huge demand for Questacon services. A lot of the school groups who come want to go there, a lot of visitors want to go there, and it would be very good if Questacon was able to essentially become a bit more commercial. In terms of the specifics from the previous inquiry through, I would have to go back and provide you with more information around those specifics. But at the more general strategic level it is about very much allowing Questacon to meet the demand that is there, because it is an incredibly popular organisation.

Ms BRODTMANN: Does that mean increasing the footprint?

Ms Arthy : That's a matter for the organisation. In the current environment, where you can do so many things virtually, whether it's a physical or virtual footprint, it's really up to the institution. When you go overseas to look at all the other cultural institutions that are around, like all the different museums, they're doing incredible things but with different technology rather than necessarily physical space. That's the importance of allowing these institutions the freedom to apply their expertise to be able to provide that good telling of the history and provide the visitor experience.

Ms BRODTMANN: Would you mind coming back to us on the challenges it faces under the current governance arrangements and also what you think would be a worthwhile governance structure.

Ms Arthy : It's not really for the ACT government to dictate to the Commonwealth—

Ms BRODTMANN: I know, but you made a point on it.

Ms Arthy : but we'll expand on the points that have been made.

Ms BRODTMANN: Okay, great. Thank you. In terms of that international experience, a lot of Australians now are traveling overseas, and so they're full bottle on what they can experience internationally, as are people coming here. Do you think our national institutions are keeping up with the visitor experience that we're now getting in international institutions? We were in Barcelona a few years ago and, because I'm an architecture freak, we did the Gaudi tour of everything. There's one of these houses that he built on a very significant street in Barcelona, and we got the audio experience. I think it was all part of the ticket. It wasn't an added extra; it was all part of the experience. We got it, and we could actually look at what the room looked like—because it's devoid of furniture now—with little fireplaces with fires lit and all that sort of thing. So it really enriched the experience of what really is just a building but an extraordinary building, or an extraordinary house. Given that people are experiencing that sort of depth of integration with each institution, do you think that we're keeping up?

Mr Ramsay : I think the national institutions here are doing a wonderful job within the resources that they have. I think that the museum and institutional experience, as you say, is changing significantly, and the way that people are expecting to engage in institutions changes, and there is engagement through virtual and other forms of exhibition. There is a lot of work that's going on. I know that at the National Museum Mat Trinca has led some significant work in considering that. But I'm not sure that at this stage we have seen the same pace of innovation here that is happening in other parts of the world. Undoubtedly there are significant financial and resourcing restraints on that.

Ms BRODTMANN: That's my concern, and it's not just at one or two institutions; it's a universal high-quality immersive experience, so to speak. That's not an added extra as well. As I said, it's part of the ticket price. A lot of the institutions are free, and so you probably need to have that as an added extra there. But do you? I don't know.

Ms Arthy : Certainly Songlines at the National Museum is getting a lot of credit internationally.


Ms Arthy : I was with the Chief Minister when we went to the Smithsonian, and certainly, when we were talking about what it was, it was generating a lot of interest.

Ms BRODTMANN: Yes, the concept is extraordinary.

Ms Arthy : That's right. So the talent and the capability are there.

Ms BRODTMANN: Absolutely.

Ms Arthy : But it is about how to resource it and, as you say, keep up with expectations.

Ms BRODTMANN: Yes, because it's changing so rapidly, even in tiny little churches in the middle of nowhere overseas.

Mr Ramsay : Absolutely.

Ms BRODTMANN: I am conscious of time.

CHAIR: We've actually got time.


CHAIR: I'm going to have another little crack as well.

Ms BRODTMANN: Just going back to working together and the collective approach, now that we've got international flights and we've got international visitors coming in, mainly from Asia but from all over the world, at a rapidly increasing rate, are you working with each of those national institutions—maybe not collectively but individually, because we still have to get to the collective point—in terms of marketing Canberra as a national institution destination?

Ms Arthy : Yes. Within my division I have VisitCanberra, and they work with each of the institutions quite regularly on how to promote the various offerings. There is definitely a lot to be gained by providing it as a collective offering, and that's what our next step is. That's definitely where we want to focus in the next 12 months: how do we really lift Canberra as a cultural destination? That captures all the national institutions, Parliament House and Canberra as a leading home of culture and democracy.

Ms BRODTMANN: Do you have conversations with Washington?

Ms Arthy : That's a very big question, because there are so many elements to Washington.

Ms BRODTMANN: In terms of the way that they market. When you go to Washington, you know the experiences that you're going to have or that you want to have.

Ms Arthy : That's right.

Ms BRODTMANN: And you know the nature of that experience.

Ms Arthy : That's right.

Ms BRODTMANN: I think that's how we should be branding Canberra.

Ms Arthy : I was privileged to go to Washington with the Chief Minister earlier this year, and we spent a lot of time talking to the Mayor of the District of Columbia as well as people within the Smithsonian to find out what makes it work, and whether we could do it on a scale here. It is such a different scale, and that's the thing that we have to work through—given that Washington has a much greater philanthropic culture, and there are many more institutions, is it possible to replicate that here? And that is something that, from the ACT government, we're certainly interested in pursuing. But ultimately it will have to be driven from the national government because it is the national institutions that will need to come together. But it is fascinating to go and look at how they are set up, and it is something that we're certainly interested in working with the national government over.

Ms BRODTMANN: So how are they set up? Do they all work together?

Ms Arthy : They all work under the one institution, so the Smithsonian is actually a collection of different institutions that sit underneath it. I think they have the one—don't quote me—governing body, and everyone reports down underneath that. And they all work together as part of an institutional model. They're not independent, as far as I can remember, but they do work as a collective, and funding comes in, a lot from the federal government, from the state government, as well as the philanthropic.

CHAIR: In relation to the tourism offering with the international flights, could you provide, in addition, on notice, some examples of the tourism marketing that you're doing internationally that features the institutions? If that's the case. That is just out of interest. And also if you've got any research that backs up the idea that it's the institutions that are the drawcard. That would be useful for our report to talk about their importance, now that there's that international tourism element as well. What are the issues that you're facing in Canberra in hosting our visitors? Have the demographics changed? Are you having to provide more caravan parks for RVs? Is the accommodation sufficient to fund the diversity of the different demographics that are visiting?

Ms Arthy : I think if we break it into two markets: one is the schoolchildren market, and one is more the adult domestic or business visitor. The domestic and business tourist and visitor market is adjusting quite well—the market is providing the beds and is providing the infrastructure. Where we have the challenge is around the schoolchildren, because we have 160,000 schoolchildren coming in every year and there's a lot of unmet demand. Having the appropriate facilities to do that is quite challenging. And it's also a case of: we could significantly increase the number of schoolchildren visiting here if we were to look at how the program works with the institutions, because part of our blocker here is just the program requirements—and I don't know the details of the PACER program; there's someone here who does—it is very much around, if we can get more flexibility within the criteria of the PACER program, we can get more children to Canberra to experience the cultural institutions.

CHAIR: I'm very interested in the PACER program and how it's working. Is the person who knows a bit more about it listed to appear a bit later?

Ms Arthy : He's not listed to appear at the moment.

CHAIR: Well, we'll sort that out, and we'll ask him some questions about that program. In relation to accommodation for school students, are you saying that there's a lack of beds at the moment?

Ms Arthy : To cater for the volume coming through, yes. There are some fairly major new developments that have gone in, but—it's the case with everything when it's related to this program, and the popularity of it—they get filled really quickly.

CHAIR: I remember staying at the Macquarie Hotel once, which is no longer here. Where are students staying? And what is coming on now?

Ms Arthy : That question may need to be deferred for Gary. He knows that inside out. A major park has opened up in North Canberra and certainly a lot of people are looking at where else we can open up accommodation that is suitable for schoolchildren.

CHAIR: I've had some engagement with some tourism operators who have suggested that one of the issues that they have in providing tourism offerings to Canberra is a lack of premium product at particular institutions that would allow them to offer something more than a member of the public would experience and, therefore, as part of an additional commission for the additional greater experience at an institution, that would help fund their business. I haven't explained that properly.

Ms Arthy : I understand what you mean.

CHAIR: Could you address that.

Ms Arthy : I'm not sure that I can address it, because it's a matter for the national institutions. It's not something that we would usually enter into.

CHAIR: Do you acknowledge that's an issue?

Ms Arthy : I haven't heard that, certainly not in the time that I've been in my position with the operators. I think the institutions are responding, if you look at Cartier and the packages that are put together for that. I know that the Museum tries to make incredibly good experiences; but, again, it comes to this thing about 'It is answering what clients want.' If there are tourism operators out there that do want the premium package then perhaps that's an element which they should be talking to the institutions themselves about and what sorts of packages could be put together. From an ACT government point of view, I'm certainly not aware of that as a major stumbling block to attracting visitors, but it might be something better placed to the national institutions themselves.

Ms BRODTMANN: You highlight very well the impact of the efficiency dividend and the funding cuts on the national institutions, particularly on the core business in terms of the loss of expertise and the ability to curate, collect and preserve. What do you propose? What are your views on funding? Should we stop the efficiency dividend? Of course, an increase in funding is always welcome. What are your views on how we address this issue?

Mr Ramsay : Certainly I think address the cuts that have been there. The efficiency dividend has really significant impacts on those, and so we would be seeking for that to cease and, as we mentioned, the revenue that would be coming in from the parking would be of significant assistance as well. It's likely to be multiple avenues to achieve the end, but the further cuts that are sitting there, looming, have a significant impact on not only the institutions but the broader community as well as with the number of jobs that have been lost in the ACTU and the impact that has had on the skill set and the community as a whole.

Ms BRODTMANN: In terms of the paid parking issue, it would be good to actually go to the NCA just to get an idea about how much it's raising now. I've got it here. Sorry.

Mr Ramsay : It's $98 million—

Ms BRODTMANN: $98.2 million. That was over the last few years.

Mr Ramsay : That's right.

Ms Arthy : That's just going into consolidated revenue.

Mr Ramsay : It's obviously significant revenue and it would have a significant impact on the institutions themselves if they were to have that additional source of revenue coming in.

CHAIR: Thank you so much for your attendance here today. You have been asked to provide some additional information, and if you could do so by Friday, 6 July, it would be appreciated. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and you will have an opportunity to correct any transcription errors. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

Proceedings suspended from 10 : 14 to 10 : 22