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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
National Australia Day Council

National Australia Day Council


CHAIR: I welcome back the minister and welcome officers of the National Australia Day Council. Mr Lasek, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Lasek : No, we are ready to give evidence and appreciate the opportunity to be here.

Senator XENOPHON: The National Australia Day Council's website states that it provides an overarching vision for Australia Day. Is that a fair summary of what it is about?

Mr Lasek : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: How would you describe that vision being articulated through the activities of the National Australia Day Council? It is not a trick question by the way.

Mr Lasek : Thank you for the questions. I would say it is a celebration of our national day in which we encourage all Australians to participate. We are looking for a very inclusive event, and the National Australia Day Council has funding from both the federal government and sponsors to bring that national day and the activities around the nation to light.

Senator XENOPHON: As part of that celebration there is the issue of our symbols. Would you agree that the Australian national flag is Australia's foremost national symbol?

Mr Lasek : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: And that it flies over federal and state parliaments and government buildings?

Mr Lasek : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: And our Defence Force. It is displayed around the country at sporting events, service organisations and the like. But in terms of government buildings, there is that link. In terms of our servicemen and women, wherever in the world they serve—whether it is at a base in Australia or in Afghanistan—the Australian flag is there.

Mr Lasek : Absolutely.

Senator XENOPHON: In terms of a vision, I know it is an ephemeral concept. That is, an overarching vision for Australia Day. Does the National Australia Day Council consider that its work is not just Australia Day but it is also in the lead up to that, about celebrating national symbols?

Mr Lasek : It is indeed.

Senator XENOPHON: It is not as though you only do work on one day a year. It is a continual process.

Mr Lasek : Thankfully, no. It is a year-round job.

Senator XENOPHON: I appreciate that and I accept that. You also are responsible for organising the presentation of Australia Day achievement medallions, for instance?

Mr Lasek : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: Are there any other medallions or awards you are responsible for? There is the Australian of the Year.

Mr Lasek : Yes, I think the Australian of the Year award is to some extent the major year-round project we are involved in, in terms of the process of gathering nominations from across the nation. That is through our network across the nation, which is in all states and territories. There is an assessment of those nominations and ultimately the presentation and announcement of the Australians of the Year. It is a very significant part that we play. It is an important part of our work.

Senator XENOPHON: There is the Senior Australian of the Year, the Young Australian of the Year and Australia's Local Hero.

Mr Lasek : Yes. There is also the Australian of the Year itself. There are four awards.

Senator XENOPHON: That is right. It was in addition to the Australian of the Year. There are finalists from each state and territory. Is that right?

Mr Lasek : Yes. There are 32 finalists presented for the final announcement.

Senator XENOPHON: For the Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australia's Local Hero, are there medallions provided or is it just a parchment?

Mr Lasek : Through the state and territory process, there are trophies to those four recipients in each of those states and territories. So that is 32 across the nation and then the four final recipients. We do not refer to them as winners; we refer to them as recipients. Winners would perhaps project that if you are not a winner, you are a loser. We do not believe there are any losers through the Australian of the Year. There are 32 across the nation and then four that the Prime Minister presents, connecting to Australia Day.

Senator XENOPHON: Does the Prime Minister present a medallion or a parchment?

Mr Lasek : A trophy.

Senator XENOPHON: In relation to the flag, which I think you have acknowledged is Australia's foremost national symbol, is there any view—and about a vision for Australia Day—that the National Australia Day Council has in that the vision being articulated through the flags should be made in Australia?

Mr Lasek : We have not. We negotiate for the flying of the Australian flag on Federation Mall for the major announcement. At each of the state and territory presentations, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are also flown. The purchases of flags, to our extent, would be small hand wavers that we might have for the federal announcement. But we have not articulated a view about whether the flags should or should not be purchased in Australia.

Senator XENOPHON: No, if they should be manufactured in Australia.

Mr Lasek : Sorry, manufactured in Australia.

Senator XENOPHON: So a Department of Finance submission to the Flags Amendment Bill inquiry by this committee states that requiring that the flags used to fly across atop Parliament House be made in Australia would be against our free trade obligations. Is that something that the National Australia Day Council has a particular view on, in terms of articulating a vision for Australia Day?

Mr Lasek : We have not, to this date.

Senator XENOPHON: Do you get any feedback at all from Australians who are interested in your work about the need for having flags made here in Australia?

Mr Lasek : I am eight months into the role. I have not had any feedback at this stage.

Senator XENOPHON: The flags that the National Australian Day council use, you purchase those flags? Is that right? To distribute the small, hand waving flags.

Mr Lasek : Small hand wavers, yes. They are essentially there to add a bit of colour and movement to the awards ceremonies.

Senator XENOPHON: I acknowledge all that. How much money does the National Australia Day Council spend on those flags each year, roughly?

Mr Lasek : We would say that it would be in the hundreds, rather than the thousands.

Senator XENOPHON: Okay, so it is small.

Mr Lasek : A small amount.

Senator XENOPHON: Is there any preference about where those flags are made? Does the National Australia Day Council say, 'We prefer to buy flags made in Australia, rather than in another country.'

Mr Lasek : I just wonder if my colleague, who has been with the organisation longer than I have, may have a view.

Mr Watts : Certainly, for the last seven years that I am aware of, all flag purchases that are flown on flagpoles that we have purchased have been Australian made. That has been my choice for the organisation.

Senator XENOPHON: You might be in breach of WTO obligations, according to the Department of Finance.

Mr Watts : That has been our choice of procurement over the last seven years. There have been reputable suppliers in Australia for that.

Senator XENOPHON: So it is fair to say that the preference for the National Australia Day Council is to have the flags that are purchased by the National Australia Day Council—including the larger flags flown, rather than just the hand wavers—be manufactured in Australia?

Mr Watts : It has been my preference, due to a quality control preference.

Senator XENOPHON: Right. That has been the case for the last seven years and that is not likely to change any time soon.

Mr Watts : Not whilst I am in the role, no.

Senator XENOPHON: That is very good to hear. The Department of Parliamentary Services seems to have a slightly different view, so that is quite reassuring. In terms of the trophies and any awards that you hand out, they are generally made in Australia. Is there a policy in respect to that?

Mr Lasek : Yes. For the past eight to 10 years, the trophies have been made by a Melbourne artist. They are quite striking and predominately made of glass. Each is unique, in terms of being handmade. We are about to go through a process, 10 years on, of looking to see—again, casting the net around Australia—if there are other artists or people who can produce a trophy that symbolises the importance of the Australian of the Year awards. So that is to look at something more contemporary. But we have been thrilled with the trophies we have had. They have been Australian made—Melbourne made—and all we are doing is to see if there is a different model, a better model or something that is more contemporary in nature than what we have been using.

Senator XENOPHON: There are some excellent glass makers in South Australia, I might add.

Mr Lasek : And in Canberra.

Senator XENOPHON: Yes, they are all over. Just on this issue, because the National Australia Day Council—again, from the website—provides an overarching vision for Australia, do you think included in that vision should be that the flag that is the national symbol, according to the website and what you just said, ought to be something that is made in Australia that is flown atop government buildings?

Mr Lasek : I think, in everything we do, we should firstly look at whether it is Australian made, ideally. If it is not cost prohibitive, I think that would be a logical thing to do.

Senator XENOPHON: I am very grateful for your assistance.

Senator LUNDY: I am just wanting to know if you have been affected by the efficiency dividend in this year's budget and what impact that has had on your budget and staff.

Mr Watts : There has been no effect for the National Australia Day Council.

Senator LUNDY: You have not had to apply an efficiency dividend to your budget?

Mr Watts : We received an appropriation through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. As I understand, that does not flow through to the National Australia Day Council.

Senator DASTYARI: Correct me if I am wrong, as I am just going through your financial report. This is my broad understanding of it and it is very limited. Your funding effectively comes through two processes, as roughly—although this is not exact—half of it comes from government grants and half of it comes from sponsorship. Is that correct?

Mr Lasek : That is correct.

Senator DASTYARI: Again, these are broad figures, it is roughly a bit over $3 million through both sponsorship and government grants. When you say the revenue from government grants, do you know where that comes from? Is that coming from Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Mr Watts : Yes, it comes directly from Prime Minister and Cabinet, through a grant agreement.

Senator DASTYARI: How does that agreement work? What is the process?

Mr Watts : Each year we sign an annual agreement with the Department Prime Minister and Cabinet, explaining the terms and conditions for our grant under the outcome that we have.

Senator DASTYARI: I am sure you have the figure available. The 2013 figure was $3.394 million. Is that correct?

Mr Watts : Correct.

Senator DASTYARI: Do you have a 2014 figure yet?

Mr Watts : I will confirm that with a colleague. I do not have that figure in front of me. I understand it to be $3.426 million.

Senator DASTYARI: The year before was $3.388 million, so I assume you are just going up by CPI or some measure of that kind and it is a consistent—

Mr Watts : Far less than CPI, but, yes, there is a small incremental amount each year.

Senator DASTYARI: Is that consistent?

Mr Watts : No, it is not consistent, and I cannot explain to you the Department of Finance's calculations behind that. We are given the figures each year.

Senator DASTYARI: It is not really a negotiation, is it?

Mr Watts : No.

Senator DASTYARI: Fair enough. That is it.

Senator Abetz: That has been the history of it.

Senator DASTYARI: Yes. I am just trying to understand how it works. No scandal there.

CHAIR: No smoking guns?

Senator Abetz: They were about to hold the front pages!

CHAIR: With that, we will conclude this line of questioning. I thank the officers for their attendance today. We do appreciate it.