Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 26 October 1971
Page: 2515

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) - The

House was under the impression tonight before the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) commenced his address that some major changes were to occur in the national policy on support of the arts. All that has occurred has been some very moderate tinkering by the latest maintenance mechanic or his assistant in charge of art policy. All that has occurred have been some mild changes to what is already established practice. 1 do not think that any honourable member on the Government side could feel any significant degree of comfort from this statement tonight because too much dissatisfaction is being expressed in the community by those people who are intimately and essentially involved in the various forms of art expression in Aust tralia. But on the one or two points which apparently were considered to be of some significance, even there there is room for considerable criticism of the Government.

Let me deal with one or two of them. The first one is not without its cynicism - the reference to the National Art Gallery. I know that Mr Mollison, who is to be appointed as director of the Art Gallery works within the Prime Minister's Department. I understand that he is an acquisitions officer there, but I do not know what his qualifications are outside of this. Perhaps that is my fault. Perhaps I should know more about him. I have an open mind. But the thing that keeps burning . into my brain is the fact that the Interim Council which was charged with the responsibility of making recommendations on this specific matter voted 8 to 4 in favour of Mr Laurie Thomas, a well known man in the field of art criticism and before that Director of at least the Queensland Art Gallery and, if my memory serves me correctly, of the Western Australian Art Gallery. He is a man eminently qualified and with a great deal of practical background. What I would like the Prime Minister to do when he announces fuller details of the qualifications of Mr Mollison is to list side by side the comparative qualifications of Mr Mollison and Mr Thomas so we can gain a fair impression of the justness or otherwise of this appointment. I am not suggesting that it is unjust, but what I am saying is that this House and the Australian community have the right to full information on this aspect.

What is particularly galling is that the Prime Minister came into the House and talked as though some magnificent achievement had been made for Australia in this announcement in relation to the Art Gallery. It is more than 5i years since the National Art Gallery Committee of Inquiry reported on proposals for a National Art Gallery. The proposals included a proposal that the Art Gallery should be opened in 1970, among other reasons, as a fitting tribute to the Captain Cook bicentenary. The first bucket load of concrete for the foundations has yet to be poured for that art gallery. If we were to have a major statement on art policy in Australia and if in fact the report was to be a major one, tonight would have been the occasion on which these matters could have been discussed.

These were some of the recommendations which were made in this report but which have not been acted upon to this point: The establishment of an Australian national gallery trust fund; the establishment of a friends of the gallery society; and the gallery to be given statutory authority. Of course, the Interim Council was to have some persuasive say in the appointment of a director. Of course thai has gone by the board. It is 2i years since the setting up of the Interim Council and only now we have the announcement of the appointment of a director, and the whole atmosphere surrounding that announcement has a sort of tawdry value. I am not reflecting on Mr Mollison in any way. I am reflecting upon the politicians who have been involved in this unnecessary delay in announcing who shall be the director of the National Art Gallery of Australia. I have always regarded it as a disgraceful situation that the national capital of this country should be deprived of this sort of centre of artistic presentation. There was 15 months delay in naming the site of the gallery and, as I mentioned, more than 2 years delay from the date the recommendation was first made by the Interim Council to the Government before an announcement was made about the appointment of a director.

There are other matters too which the Government could have dealt with in some greater depth, for instance, the establishment of a television and film school, which seems to be not without controversy in Government ranks. Perhaps the Prime Minister tonight could have taken the opportunity to clear the air of assertions made by the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) in this House that the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) had been inaccurate and misleading in information he had supplied to the House - a squalid performance. The Minister asserted that the cost of the land necessary for the school was about $2.4m. The right honourable member for Higgins, able to draw on reliable knowledge, advised the House that in fact the cost was only $320,000 and then went on to inform the House that there had been a misrepresentation in the way in which the running costs for the operation of the school had been presented to us. Of course what is particularly distressing is to discover that the head of the school has yet to be appointed. I understand that the appointee was to have been Professor Toeplitz from the Lodz Film Training School in Poland who is at present temporarily on duty at the La Trobe University because of the generosity of Mr Ken Myer, who has supplied money to hold this man, one of the most eminent, if not the most eminent, in his field in the world, in the hope that the Prime Minister and the Government would be persuaded to make the appointment of this man.

What the Prime Minister's statement is notable for is its lack of discussion on important subjects such as what is to be done in particular areas, for instance, to promote painting- There is a tariff duty of 15 per cent on paintings, so the 'Mona Lisa' is equated with the foreign rag trade. As the 1951 Tariff Board's report pointed out, the free circulation of paintings, statues and other works of art is of very great importance to the development of the culture and the aesthetic life of the community. It is quite unreal and wrong to apply this sort of barrier to a work of art. The results are, among others, that it tends to isolate Australian art and could conceivably lower the standard of Australian artistic presentation. Australian art misses out on the challenge and the stimulation which can be absorbed from the regular and free flow of this sort of art work into the community.

But of even more concern is the fact that it will deter private collections which can eventually be bequeathed to national institutions, much as was the case with the Felton bequest. I understand that it is the only European art collection in this country to be bequeathed in this way. I am well aware of the argument that we ought to raise money through taxation to buy these sorts of things for our art galleries but there are also additional ways in which taxation can encourage public actions, such as bequeathments and which, therefore, should be stimulated in this way. There has been no discussion about the rights of authors to royalties on books. Gavin Souter, in an article quite recently, pointed out that it would cost a mere bagatelle in terms of national expenditure if authors were to be given royalty rights on books that came off the shelves of lending libraries. Harking back to the case of bequeathments of art collections, if we were to structure our tax system in an adequate way it would be quite easy to build incentives into the taxation law to ensure that sufficient bequeathments took place.

My greatest criticism of art policy in this country - nothing said tonight diminishes that criticism in any way - is its diffusion, its unevenness, and most of all, its preference for the performing arts. The Prime Minister tried to justify that preference. I would not care to see support for the performing arts reduced in any way, but, there seems to be an overwhelming case that the other forms of artistic expres sion need a great deal more support than they are now receiving. I mentioned that there is diffusion and unevenness. There are 8 different organs through which the Commonwealth operates to provide financial support for the promotion of the arts. There is Commonwealth assistance to Australian composers, the Arts Council of Australia, the Commonwealth Film Corporation, the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board, the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, (he Commonwealth Literary Fund, the Australian Council for the Arts and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. These are only some of the organs. Of course, not all of these organs which the Government uses to distribute support for the arts are fully public, and the only proposal by the Prime Minister to try to bring some of these loose threads together is that the chairmen of the various committees which manage the affairs of these organisations will meet periodically in some sort of discussion with the Minister. This is a most ad hoc and unsatisfactory way in which to be developing a broad and, as much as possible, an even promotion of arts in the Australian community.

I mentioned the unevenness of the distribution of support and the preference for performing arts. This year $4.5m will go to the performing arts. The figure will be higher than that if we include the ABC but only a little more than $500,000 will go to the other forms of artistic expression. The Commonwealth Literary Fund will receive $170,000 which, in fact, is slightly lower than the amount it received last year. But the question that keeps coming to my mind is: How do we know that what we are doing is adequate and appropriate for the needs of art promotion in the Australian society? One can think of many things which could conceivably be done with great benefit, one would expect, for the promotion of Australian art and culture but one really does not know, and the more one becomes involved with people in this field, the more one realises that there are all sorts of difficulties. Not the least of these is that many people who are involved in these fields have particular and quite passionate interests of their own. So, it is quite clear to me that, even at this stage, there is still an overwhelming case for a national inquiry into the needs of Australian art and culture so that we can establish what the pattern of support should be from the public level. Of course, no-one argues today that there should not be state involvement in the support and promotion of Australian art. The day of the private patron is pretty much long gone.

Accordingly, I come to a point where 1 should like to make some suggestions of my own as to what we might be able to do with, I suspect, a great deal of success in the promotion of the arts in Australia, in the development of cultural forms of expression and participation and, more importantly, appreciation. The Prime Minister said in his address to the House that the aim of Government policy is to be not the preserve of the rich and the sophisticated but as a source of delight for all'. I challenge that assertion although it is made in good faith and is no doubt what he hopes to aim at and achieve. I challenge it because one does not only have to look into the field of participation in the arts - not only as a creator but also as an appreciator and as a consumer, if one can use that word in the context of the arts - but also into the broad area of cultural deprivation of the Australian society, because one finds that there is here a very real problem. Because of their background, the peculiar deficiencies of our education system and especially in socio-economically deprived areas, there are people who generationally suffer deprivation and who will not be able to enjoy the benefits of this sort of activity in the community about which the Prime Minister was talking.

I should like to refer to the Lloyds Bank Review of July 1971. The article is headed The Economics of the Theatre', and states:

There does seem to be ample scope to put up prices. The Royal Court a few years ago, charged nothing at all at one of its presentations in an attempt to get an audience along. They found what others at free concerts have found before them: That the audience is largely the same as the one which would have come anyway.

The article continues:

The audience profile remains 'well-educated and comfortably-off.

This is the point 1 am making. What we are doing in the field of the arts in the Australian society today, to the extent that we promote it and make it more easily reached by members of the community, is making it cheaper and more easily reached by people who, in fact, are already enjoying the benefits of artistic expression and who are in not as great a need of this sort of assistance as people from the broader bulk of the community and who, particularly in those areas, suffer cultural deprivation.

Accordingly, the points 1 make for such a programme are these: Firstly, we should move into the educational system to reach children. Secondly, we should develop a system of regional creative activity through the development of centres where we would .encourage, I would hope, mothers to participate in this sort of activity. I will return to each of these points in a few minutes. Thirdly, I would urge the introduction of a guaranteed income for artists. [Extension of time granted] Fourthly, we should perhaps consider some sort of arrangement such as a foundation for the arts. Let me come back to the subject of reaching into the educational system so that we can get to the youngsters. It is altogether too late to maintain a system of artistic support which is aimed at providing artistic expression to an adult audience. As 1 mentioned a few minutes ago, the adult audience which will be reached by this sort of expression will be reached in any event because these are the sorts of people who are motivated, who have the background and who can appreciate this form of expression in society. However, if we are going to broaden the audience and broaden the number of consumers who in turn can more easily and more generously support the artists in our community, we must go to the base roots of our society - into these areas where there is, in fact, cultural deprivation - and somehow enrich these children so that as they grow up they have a better acquaintanceship and a better appreciation and will derive more joy from the various forms of artistic expression.

The only way this can be done is through the schools. Some people argue that this is an endeavour to develop a State system of culture and are opposed to it. Others argue that it becomes a part of the drudgery of the normal school system and accordingly will repel children rather than attract them. I dismiss these arguments completely. If the approach is realistic and flexible enough and is adequately financed these problems should not arise.

But more importantly, if we do not go into the schools, if we do try, as seems to be the case at the moment through the Arts Council, to reach children through community activities, we shall miss out largely on the children we are talking about - the vast majority of children. From my observations, I conclude that the majority of children who are participating in these various forms of artistic or art expression in the community are coming from middle class homes. They are the sort of children who in any case would go on to appreciate art in its various forms of expression. So this is why we have to go into the schools.

It must be a relatively free system of education with the minimum amount of discipline involved - a system where children are encouraged to be creative, to express themselves freely and as much as possible to develop their own forms of music, drama and literary expression and gradually to be brought into association with the works of people whose contribution is regarded as worthwhile in these fields. This cannot be done by the normal teacher in the school.It must be done by a good generalist who has the background over a broad spectrum of artistic expression.

This scheme will involve, I should hope, the expenditure of public finance to establish attractive, challenging, stimulating and creative activity centres at the schools in the community. We have done this with science blocks and we are doing it with libraries. There is no reason why we cannot do it in this sphere. When we do this, we must identify those areas of priority according to socio-economic needs. We must identify the areas where obviously there is the greatest social and economic deprivation. These are the areas which must be reached into first. We must develop systems which do not destroy the creative capacity of our youngsters whose creativity is snuffed out all too often by the deadly repression of the education system somewhere along the line as they proceed through the system. I would like to quote from what Herbert Read had to say in the The Philosophy of Modern Art'. He states:

I advocate a reform of education which puts art where it should always have been - right in the heart of things. Let us begin with the primary schools. If we can reform our methods of teach ing and our attitude towardstheobjectives of education so that some native aesthetic sensibility is preserved in children, and children are no longer brutalised and anaesthetised by the bludgeoning -process of 'learning' - that is to say, hammering conceptual knowledge into their innocent minds - then there would be some human material to work with. You can't make the silk purses of art out of the sow's ears of school certificates. You can't expect the flowering of the creative instinct in an epoch which condemns its children to a via dolorosa of examinations.

If this system is to be effective, we must reach somehow into the homes. Otherwise the whole effort that has been carried out at school will be undermined and destroyed. This is what has been discovered in the United States of America in relation to efforts in the anti-poverty campaigns in that country.

The most hopeful people to reach here are the mums. If we can develop creative activity centres but with, of course, a different pitching in the community where the mums from working class homes and lower income homes can be encouraged to come and participate in various forms of artistic expression there will be a better appreciation on the part of mums and a reinforcing at home in support of youngsters who are absorbing the appreciation and the values with which they are being brought into contact in the creative activity centres in the schools.

I next contend that in order to do all this we will have to provide funds generously, apart from the educational concept I am putting forward, for local authorities through a regionalised hook-up to develop the creative centres so that these sorts of projects can be undertaken.

Of the other 2 points that I want to mention quickly I first relate to guaranteed incomes for artists. This society must surely be well past that nonsensical stage where it was believed that penury and extreme deprivation were the stimulus to greatest creative activity on the part of artists. One only has to look at the background of Mendelssohn, who created such beautiful music and who came from such a wealthy home, to realise the nonsense behind the assertion that it is poverty that makes a great artist. There are too many instances of artists being given the choice between being a cleaner or a chattel of an agent. I know of a painter who was put into the position where he either cleaned office floors or tied himself by contract to an agent to mass produce paintings. He ended up doing the latter. In either case there was not an adequate opportunity for him to express himself. I know of a poet being a bricklayer. It would be a simple matter to guarantee a level of income for a number of promising artists in the Australian community for a fairly lengthy period - say 5 years - subject to review and to subsequent extension if this is desirable.

Finally I argue against the Prime Minister. I believe strongly that there is a case for a foundation for the arts or for some sort of council for the arts to tie various groups together and to give the sort of advice and feed it into the government in a fairly balanced and unbiassed way so that we do not have a situation where one, two or three powerful interest groups are able more effectively to assert their point of view when they are challenging the Government round about budget time for more funds for their form of artistic endeavour. This has been done quite recently in the United States and in another country. I believe it can be done with a great deal of benefit here. Finally, I believe that we must have this inquiry because there are too many unknown facto rs--

Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

Debate (on motion by Mr Giles) adjourned.

Suggest corrections