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Thursday, 21 August 1980
Page: 627

Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) -In debating the Australia Council Amendment Bill 1980 I wish to say only a few words on the reasons behind the setting up of the Australia Council and the intentions that I thought the Labor Government had when it established it. I do not want to talk about the details of the Bill because the Opposition is not opposing the changes. In a way it almost feels that it is practically irrelevant. What worries me and the Opposition is that the concentration of effort appears to be too much on support for the already established art or cultural forms. I want to elaborate a little on the remarks of the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) on that. I am not saying that governments should not in any way support or subsidise ballet, opera, classical music, drama and soon. Of course they should, because rarely do we find that those enterprises can survive without public support. They represent the flower of civilisation. They are not indigenous to Australia. We are talking about world culture and we certainly ought to be able to have access to it. So I am not deploring that. Obviously that is a very important function of the Australia Council. The reality is that the support provided for the opera, the ballet and so on still does not ensure that they are within the reach of the ordinary person.

One could argue that even if one made admission to these performances much cheaper - so that theoretically the poor could afford to pay for them- one still may not get much of an audience from that socio-economic section of the community. These people also suffer the disadvantage of not having been educated to understand or appreciate this culture. They are the poorer for that. So whilst it is important to provide funding for our prestigious and established theatrical companies, there ought to be some mechanism whereby we can also provide funding to help spread the understanding of these art forms amongst other sections of the community that are not otherwise able to get a taste of those fruits of civilisation. That is one side of the matter. I fear that our support is too limited. We need to be more adventurous to see that, for example, school kids out in the western suburbs of Sydney, who probably never see great theatre, can in fact have it brought to them in some way and be taught to appreciate and understand it.

That brings me to the second part of the purpose of an Australia Council. Whilst what I have just talked about is bringing to the disadvantaged the culture of the world, the indigenous culture of a country will arise from all levels of that society, including the back blocks. We have done, I fear, nowhere near enough to encourage Australian indigenous art and cultural forms. I do not mean just the Aborigines, though, of course, I include them. I also include the various ethnic communities that need a lot more help and support, not just because in a way they are transplanting their cultures from their homelands, but also because by being here many of these people are in the lower income brackets. They are forced to adapt to Australian ways of life and will be modifying and changing their old cultures. They will be adapting to the new and evolving something which will be Australian. We need to find ways to support that. If we are to ensure that all of these people can be given the basic skills and facilities to enable them to make choices and take part in these sorts of activities, much more needs to be done for school children.

I think this Council should also look at ways of getting into the school system so that we can again help to encourage the whole Australian community to appreciate the culture of all mankind and help develop Australian indigenous culture. The weakness in the changes we are making to the legislation that strikes me most is that it seems to be diminishing, even further, the very modest input to the Council's activities that was coming from the boards which were supposed to comprise basically the people involved out there where the action is happening. I am referring to the creative edge - not to businessmen, not to great managers, not to people who know how to make sure that we do not lose money, but to the people who are actually creating the art. They had some imput and that is now, in essence, largely being excluded, but not completely. Even under our Government it was not much. In my view it was a deficiency in our original legislation and the changes that the Government is making are not increasing that input but rather diminishing it.

I fear the sort of over-concentration and concept of making sure that the Council is run properly. 'Properly' too often means an accountant's approach to properly, a profit and loss approach rather than what may well be a wasteful approach, but the one that ultimately gives rise to the creativity that will be recognised as something that can, must and should survive, and in fact does survive. The scientist involved in research work wastes 99 per cent of his time, no doubt, for the one breakthrough that will eventually prove to be of value.

I guess that in the sorts of areas we are talking about much of the effort proves to be not worth while. But we cannot tell this beforehand. When we are giving funds to film makers we cannot pick from an interview of a prospective film producer whether the film will really be a success. A person may have a bright idea but not know how to bring it all together. Some film producers, for instance - I can even think of some painters - are the most unimpressive characters to talk to. I do not know how a person would ever think, if he were sitting on a committee trying to assess what he thought the film producer would do. But one must take the risk. The person wants to do it and has the drive. We have to take risks by providing the funds. The most unlikely characters come up with the goods; they come up with a creation which stirs people and seizes their imagination.

I fear that the changes we are making are diminishing that possibility. I think we are overloading the Council with people who will have too much of a business eye. They will make sure that the opera, the ballet or God knows what really pays. The Council has to be prepared to waste money - waste in the sense that it is distributed and given to people - not being sure that it will get a return because there is no way of telling beforehand. I said that I did not want to talk for long. I want to emphasise that I think that sort of problem was not faced up to adequately under the Labor government and it strikes me that this Government is getting even further away from it in the changes it is making. If the Australia Council is really going to grapple with the tasks of nurturing an indigenous Australian culture, creating a heritage for Australia as a country - a culture of its own - and at the same time ensure that we are all able to appreciate and enjoy world culture, then a decidedly different approach is necessary. It is just not good enough to support the prestigious organisations. We have to get at the grassroots - 1 hate using that word - the ignorant, the unaware in the community and open doors for them. I do not think we are doing it with these, changes to this legislation.

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