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Monday, 31 August 2020
Page: 6084


Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (13:05): 'Big-sky beauty, breezy civic pride and a decidedly hipster underbelly' is how TheNew York Times described Canberra, home to a slew of national institutions that the Gray Lady has called 'excellent'. As a Canberra local this praise comes as no surprise. I'm lucky enough to live in the same city as Old Parliament House and to be able to take my boys to the National Portrait Gallery when we have a free afternoon. When you flip through the Lonely Planet's guide to the top activities in Canberra, the list is littered with national institutions. That iconic travel guide states:

Some of the nation's best art galleries are here, and there's plenty of history too, both past and in the making - visitors can see Australian democracy in action at Parliament House before exploring its bygone days at some of the city's many museums.

So it baffles me that those opposite would do nothing about the problems facing Canberra's national institutions 16 months after they were raised in this important committee report.

Almost a year and a half ago a report was tabled in this place, Telling Australia’s Story: and why it’s important. Almost a year and a half has gone by without any response from those opposite. These national institutions are the places that connect Australians to a sense of identity and that teach us who we were and where we're going as a country. To go into the National Museum of Australia is to be transported back but with an eye to the future. Among the 20 recommendations that those opposite are yet to respond to, the report listed concerns about ensuring Canberra's national institutions have enough support and resources not just to survive but also to grow, evolve and thrive.

These places are a vital part of Canberra. They attract millions of tourists to the Bush Capital every year. They bring essential funds into the ACT economy. In that sense, national institutions bring capital to the capital. But they're more than that. Take our National Gallery. It's sometimes easy to forget the transcendent power of the arts. Great art inspires us and reminds us of what truly matters in our lives and can take us to new places and evoke emotions. You can stand before Blue Poles and think about the conservative knockers who bagged Gough Whitlam when he purchased it for what's now regarded as a bargain price. What's happened to our National Gallery under the coalition? There have been job losses. What's happened to the National Library? There have been job losses. What's happened to the National Archives of Australia? There have been job losses and potentially the loss of large sections of 117,000 hours of magnetic tape archives unless they get the resources they need to digitise it. That's our country's history potentially lost forever.

We didn't need the coalition's lack of response to this report to show us what we've been told budget after budget. Those opposite don't care about Canberra in the way former conservative leaders like Menzies, Gorton—who even settled in Canberra after his prime ministership—and Fraser once did. Much like how they've literally decimated the Public Service, they're now starving the national institutions. The report outlines concerns on staffing reductions, citing the impact those cuts have had on the mental and physical health of those remaining. It speaks to how individual institutions don't have the money or the capacity to properly maintain their facilities.

I'm proud to stand as an ACT representative alongside the member for Bean, the member for Canberra and Senator Gallagher: Labor representatives for the national capital, demanding action for the national capital and cultural institutions. As the member for Bean's motion states, these institutions play a critical role in telling our collective national story. They help forge our future. Those opposite need to ensure that important parts of our country's identity have the support they need to carry on this vital work. Maybe they need to open that great Australian tour guide Lonely Planet, which, in describing Canberra, asks, 'Where else can you find superb dining and world-class cultural experiences only a short stroll from wildlife filled bushland reserves and serene lakeshore views?' Where else indeed?