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Finance and Public Administration References Committee
16/02/2016
Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy tendering processes

DAVIDSON, Ms Christina, Chief Executive Officer, Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists

ROY, Ms Lily, Director, Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists

[14:28]

CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses in giving evidence to Senate committees has been provided to you. It is a pleasure to meet you both; thank you for appearing today. I invite you to make a short opening statement, should you wish to do so.

Ms Davidson : Yes, I can probably keep it pretty short. I will introduce ANKAAA for anyone who does not know our organisation. We have not made a formal submission. ANKAAA is the Association of Northern, Kimberley and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists. It is an Aboriginal corporation under ORIC and it is governed by a board of twelve Indigenous artists and arts workers who are elected from across this region, which is about one million square kilometres of the north from Broome in WA to Blue Mud Bay north-east Arnhem Land. As the CEO, I work for the Indigenous board of the organisation.

I wanted to say, as a preface, that we have not actually been an applicant to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, although some of the organisations that ANKAAA represents have been applicants. ANKAAA represents 48 centres and around 5,000 artists.

We have three very broad points to make and they all pertain to point Q in the terms of reference, which is the other issues bit rather than the specificities of the application process. I will say too, as background to this, that our chairman, Djambawa Marawilli, spoke with me on the phone this afternoon and he asked that I make these particular broad points on behalf of him and the board.

The first point is that our organisation is of the opinion that it would be appropriate for the significant majority of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy funds to go to Indigenous organisations, and that is not the case at the moment. As we understand it, less than 50 per cent of the recipients are Indigenous organisations. We feel, without doubt, that Indigenous organisations are extremely important to strengthen the sector and to ensure that Indigenous people have voices, and that they can work with their experience to bring that experience into the policies and the deliveries.

The second point is that it would be fair to say that it would be the view of the ANKAAA board and the majority of the membership that culture is the foundation not just for art—our organisation is an art organisation—but also for Indigenous livelihoods, health and wellbeing at large. This is particularly so in remote Australia and particularly pertains to Indigenous culture and Indigenous knowledge. Culture is foundational to Indigenous success and to improved outcomes, so we would advocate strongly that culture should receive much more emphasis and funding than it did in the first round of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

The figure we have, based on this document here put out by the department, is approximately $1 billion a year over four years, if you split it up, and $50 million, or 5 per cent per annum, going to the culture and productivity stream. Of that money, a large amount has to go to existing large investments, particularly broadcasting and the Healing Foundation, which leaves about $9 million, or 0.9 per cent, for applicants to the culture and productivity stream.

From the membership of ANKAAA, I do not believe anyone got any money. Across the country, there were only a tiny handful of arts organisations that received money. There was a lot of effort put into applications, hoping it would be something that would be supported. We are not just talking about art organisations; we are talking art and culture organisations. Of the 48 centres that ANKAAA represents, the majority are called art and culture centres that see the transferal of traditional knowledge and traditional culture as central to the activities they are doing. I will briefly expand on this: one of our concerns, and why we want to advocate strongly that the amount of funding given for culture should be increased, is that there is worry at the moment about there being a bit of a vacuum for how culture is going to be funded moving forward.

The Ministry for the Arts had a culture program. Senator Brandis—when it was with the Attorney-General's Department—removed the section that was directly funding culture from the Ministry for the Arts. He also had a general policy about not funding culture and that they would only fund art. He differentiated strongly between what was art and what was culture, which is extremely hard—one could say impossible—to do for Indigenous art and particularly for remote Indigenous art and culture as they are so interknitted with each other. That has meant there has been difficulty for a lot of programs—including programs that arts centres run. A lot of the art centres are doing really important cultural vitality preservation programs of different sorts which cannot be looked at under that department. There is a new minister now, so that situation may change moving forward, but it was overtly declared and communicated that we are funded under the Ministry for the Arts.

At the same time, the Australia Council—the third part of government that has been funding the culture and arts scenes—had very significant cuts last year which devastated the council. This led to a loss of a lot of major staffing of the Indigenous section—what used to be the historic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board—which has been seminal to Indigenous art historically. That means that the major performing arts bodies were protected from that—what is known as the majors—and only one of them is Aboriginal: the dance company. The major loss has been to the small and medium organisations, which are another place where art and culture have been.

We are waiting for the results of a funding round at the end of last year, but we are expecting to see significant loss, including to our organisation, ANKAAA, which has been funded by them for 25 years. That round is not back yet, but there have to be losses because there is a lot less money there and the Indigenous section of art and culture will be most affected. We would like to advocate for sustained proper systematic attention to go into looking at what the policy is going to be across those programs. But we are talking about the Indigenous advancement strategy for culture. There was a hope when this round came out that it was going to contribute to the incredibly important work—not just for Indigenous Australians, but for all Australians—in preserving our irreplaceable knowledge; which comes from art, culture and the cultural transference of that information for the benefit of all Australians that happens.

That gets to my third and final point, which is that we advocate strongly that the Indigenous Advancement Strategy should be supporting a strengths-based approach to Indigenous advancement. That ties in with the culture idea—that, in particular, remote Indigenous people are custodians of the longest living tradition on earth. We have knowledge that is of global importance in a whole lot of different ways, whether it is the carbon abatement programs that are doing amazing things or whether it is learning about the knowledge that is sitting there in rock art, sand culture and things like that, which are looked after by people like Lily and people on the ANKAAA board. We are talking about a strengths-based approach to all the different areas, like employment—but culture is at the base of so much of that. We would like to see culture being given a much more central place—specifically the cultural programs—but also seen for its enhancement of the other Indigenous sectors as well. Lily, I do not know if you want to talk a little bit about culture?

Ms Roy : Culture: it is connecting to land, connecting to sea and also connecting to people. We Aboriginal are owned by culture. When we pass it over for young people to learn about culture it is both sides—white men and our culture.

CHAIR: I will pass to the other senators for questions, but I wonder if you might just spend a little bit of time elaborating on this idea a bit further for the committee that culture is the foundation for Indigenous wellbeing. We discussed this with earlier witnesses in relation to land management practices in particular, but I would be interested in your putting on the record how you see culture underpinning some of the other outcomes that the IAS aspires to. And what happens when it is lost.

Ms Roy : Culture is underground. This is my first time here!

CHAIR: You are doing a great job.

Ms Roy : Culture is underground, also the art is underground. The voice is the ground and also in the sea—not in the trees but underground and also the sea. We people from a land. Myself and my family, we are from the sea too. We are owned by sea. Top end people are owned by the sea and the land. We call ourselves saltwater, you know?

CHAIR: What happens to your young people if they lose contact with culture and cultural knowledge?

Ms Roy : They learn about this through the song—yes. Through the song and also through dancing. That is a part of our culture. A woman, like me—I can't talk about the culture. A man can talk about the culture, because I am a leader for my family. Through a funeral we teach our kids to learn. When we pass away—when we die—kids can take over that knowledge from old people. You have a computer, but us mob, we use our brain. I didn't go much to school. In the early days I didn't go to school much, but I have my knowledge.

Ms Davidson : Lily, you were telling me on the way here that you have a plan with one of your sons to be setting up a program for some of those kids who have been drinking too much kava and things. Maybe you could tell them a little bit about that, because that is about culture.

Ms Roy : Yes. My son has been in custody from 2006. We made a big ceremony on Crocodile Island. He has got disciplined and he has opened his mind. My son and I were sitting, and he said to me, 'Mum, we have to help these people, a husband and wife. We might make a shelter for them for one week—three or four people—and we can look after them.' We change every night—sort of like a women's shelter or men's shelter. We have got no women's shelter or men's shelter at Milingimbi. Other communities have a men's shelter or women's shelter. We have got to take to the bush for one week, away from smoking cigarettes and any sort of drugs for one week. We move to the other island to take the boys and girls. It has been welcome. The ranger has got to help us—the Murrungga ranger. Maybe you have heard about the Murrungga rangers. Also, me and my son said, 'We can help them, part of our culture, not through their money. I might ask ANKAAA. ANKAAA can help us a little bit, you know.' He said, 'You try, Mum. We Aboriginals can help these people. You don't smoke, Mum, and you don't drink. Because you were born in the bush, you learn about the good things.' We are starting in March. We just got a start. ANKAAA did not help us, you know.

Ms Davidson : Anecdotally, we hear so often in communities that the people in the art centres are often the healthiest and the happiest. One of the reasons is that the arts centres are a place for cultural exchange. Very logically, when people are working out of culture, especially when there are livelihoods that relate to culture, whether they are in a carbon abatement program or whether they are in the arts centre, the people are world experts. They are the ones who know the most in the whole universe about what they are talking about, and that makes people feel proud, that makes people feel that they have their knowledge, they have their patterns, they have their designs for art and that that can act in the world and be a space for agency. That is what we mean when we talk about strengths based approaches that work out of the strengths and help people. It enhances them and helps the older people who want to be running these programs that spin off into people increasing their literacy. We run our Arts Worker Extension Program, which is based on that sort of approach. We get people from being scared to talk in cross-cultural situations to standing up in front of audiences at the National Gallery of Australia or the University of Melbourne and combining some cultural performance and being able to talk really confidently. That spins off into all sorts of other things that happen subsequently. That is what we really believe. There are many other things. I am sure you have had other people talk to you about health surveys and the statistical side. I am not talking statistics here, but in lots of spheres there are studies and statistical information to back this up.

Senator SIEWERT: I will keep this short because you have already told us so much. Everybody wants to ask questions. Has anybody from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or the local office here spoken to you about arts and culture as part of the IAS to get an understanding of just how important funding culture is as part of the overall approach?

Ms Davidson : Yes and no. Perhaps a little bit. The chairman of our organisation—he is not here to speak for himself—is on the Prime Minister's Indigenous Advisory Council. Through that we have a range of contact with people around those things. He advocates for the place of culture being more central. In the course of various things, we have contact and talk to them about things, but perhaps it would be a good idea to talk before another round on behalf of the arts centres. I think there is quite a lot of disillusionment from our organisations about anyone applying. One of the reasons we did not apply is that we thought our chances were not very substantial and there are so many movements in the funding climate. We have been running around and writing applications everywhere.

Senator SIEWERT: I have a supplementary question. PM&C went around and did some consultation processes around Australia in October, I think—I cannot quite remember. Did you get notification of that meeting? Were any of your members invited?

Ms Davidson : We were not aware of it. I am not quite sure why. I have been talking today. We work quite closely with the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, KALACC, and they made a submission for that.

Senator SIEWERT: I have seen a lot of their submissions. They have been very busy.

Ms Davidson : They are very conscientious. But we missed that.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. I know KALACC has been engaged, because they have been sending us copies of letters they have been writing, and there is deep concern about ongoing funding.

Ms Davidson : We share a lot of their concerns about culture. I had been talking to some of our directors before I read their submission today—which they had written beforehand—and they have made all our points, with some more statistical backup, so we would refer you to them.

Senator SIEWERT: They are members of yours?

Ms Davidson : No, they are not. We are just quite closely associated, because we represent the Kimberley region and they are important there. We sometimes have our regional meetings at their festival or in conjunction with their AGMs. We share affinities. Quite a number of the people who are members of theirs are members of our organisation as well because of the connectivity of our culture.

Senator PERIS: Thank you both for coming in today. Following on from Senator Siewert, in relation to the 48 arts centres, I know that a couple of years ago a number of them were facing being defunded. Through public pressure, I suppose, their funding was reinstated. Are you aware of where they are with that at the moment? Have they contacted you as the peak body?

Ms Davidson : I have to work out how I can be brief about that. The core funding, not for all of our arts centres but for quite a lot of them, comes from the Ministry for the Arts under the IVAIS, the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program. That has been stable—no increases. So that is one thing. Our organisation too has been on annual funding that was usually confirmed in July before the new year had started for the last three years, so there has been a period of great instability for a number of the organisations that has been part of this general, very pressurised climate. But they have now put people on some multiyear funding, so that is quite good for the arts centres. However, they have lost the culture funding that a number of them had previously.

Senator PERIS: Those 48 arts centres?

Ms Davidson : Yes. Not all of them had it in the first place, but because of this connection—the connectivity of art and culture, and the culture underpins the good art—a number of them were also receiving culture funding for various of their programs as well. I believe the last of that runs out in June this year. So that is problematic for them. The truth is that our centres—I have been with the organisation for eight years—have not been under as much stress as they are right now, ever. It is very concerning. My holidays were not much of a holiday because I was getting so many calls from arts centres with various types of troubles. You cannot put it down to one thing. We are taking it very seriously. We have funding insecurities ourselves as an organisation, but we are looking at how we can better support them, because they are the backbone of Australian art. They are incredibly important. But it is not only the funding; the uncertainty of recent years has meant that it is much harder to attract managers. There are a whole range of problems. I had better stay brief, because it is a long story. They are national resources and they are working with people who have got the rock art, who have got this knowledge. One of the reasons we rabbit on about culture so much—in many ways we represent visual arts organisations—is that is what has made the arts so great. That is how a multigenerational renaissance in art suddenly sprung up in Australia—because it is drawing on that wellspring of knowledge. That really needs the material and the other types of respect and acknowledgement. It is hard times out in the arts centres, in a big way.

Senator PERIS: A lot of the funding applicants from Aboriginal organisations around the community controlled sector were saying, 'When we have programs that are run by Aboriginal organisations, they get the better outcomes.' Ms Roy, you were talking about how, if you and your son, with the community, were given more resources and more help, you could better help your community and the youth. What would you say to government in terms of how you see funding for Aboriginal communities? What would you say to government? Do you think Aboriginal people and organisations need better support to help the youth?

Ms Roy : Yes. I am on the shire council and I am also a director on the board for the ALPA. This is my first time here.

Senator PERIS: You are doing very well.

Ms Davidson : I think she is in part asking: if Aboriginal people have got a good clear voice in an organisation, does that make it stronger? Is that a good thing in your experience?

Ms Roy : Yes, we support each other. Some communities are remote. We are a strong voice. I used to go to Nhulunbuy. It is my base. I used to talk and speak up for my land and also my culture and take it back to my community.

Senator BERNARDI: Thank you, ladies, for your contribution. You said your member organisations are funded by the Ministry for the Arts. Is that correct?

Ms Davidson : Not all of them, but maybe two-thirds of them receive funding. It is fairly minimal core funding, but some of them get around $90,000 a year.

Senator BERNARDI: Do any of them receive funding from within the IAS program?

Ms Davidson : No, but a number of them applied.

Senator BERNARDI: They applied but none of them get funding. Have they ever received funding from the Indigenous affairs portfolio, for example?

Ms Davidson : I am not 100 per cent sure about that, but there was a culture fund that was under the Ministry for the Arts previously which has been cut.

Senator BERNARDI: Okay. But that has nothing to do with the IAS program, does it?

Ms Davidson : No. But there was a thing going on last year, when Brandis was still with the ministry, where the ministry was telling everyone to go to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and the Indigenous Advancement Strategy was saying, 'Oh dear, they shouldn't be doing that.' So people were not knowing where to go between the two of them. They were officially being told to go there.

Senator BERNARDI: We are looking at the Indigenous Advancement Strategy here—

Ms Davidson : Yes, they were being referred by the ministry to the Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

Senator BERNARDI: That is fine. Did you apply?

Ms Davidson : No, we did not apply.

Senator BERNARDI: How many of your member organisations applied to the IAS, even though it is inappropriate?

Ms Davidson : There is the cultural stream.

Senator BERNARDI: That was funded under the arts program. Is that right?

Ms Davidson : No. In the IAS there is a stream called the Culture and Productivity Stream. It is one of the least funded of them. It has five per cent, approximately, but it is there. There was a widespread feeling not just in the region but across the country in arts and culture organisation, because the two are together, that when they rang up and got advice, people were saying, 'Yes, definitely have a go at it.'

Senator BERNARDI: Do you know how many applied?

Ms Davidson : I do not know the exact numbers.

Senator BERNARDI: But none of them received funding?

Ms Davidson : None of them in our regions did. I have heard, because of my being at national meetings of other sorts, of only one or two organisations, perhaps in Queensland, that were art and culture together connected, like art ones getting something; but I cannot give you the precise information about that.

Senator BERNARDI: Just for my clarification: had they received funding previously under this similar program from Indigenous affairs or whatever?

Ms Davidson : Some of them would have. Again, I do not know the exact details of it. Some of them would have for sure.

Senator BERNARDI: Hang on—

Ms Davidson : Because they are funded—

Senator BERNARDI: You do not have any details, though.

Ms Davidson : No, I do not have the details, but why I was saying 'for sure' was because a number of the arts centres are under other corporations. One example is Babbarra Women's Centre, which is a design-producing centre in Maningrida, is under Bawinanga. I think it is those sorts of ones who have received funding through, which would have come. But, as I said also, they were getting money from a culture stream, which was previously in the Ministry for the Arts, but was culturally related. It was not for production of art paintings or something like that, and that is no longer there.

Senator BERNARDI: So that is no longer there. And you are saying that it lies within the IAS now even though the IAS people have said, 'No, it shouldn't be.' Is that right?

Ms Davidson : No. They did not exactly say, 'No it shouldn't be.' They did say, 'Go ahead and apply,' but they were feeling a little bit pressured because Senator Brandis was making it very emphatic and was getting his staff to ring everyone up and say, 'We won't fund culture.' That was all I was referring to, and obviously that is a bit in the past now, but I do not know how much. We are not aware in any way of there being a change to that. That thing has not been withdrawn, and some policy changes have happened. The official response that I heard from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy was, 'Yes, definitely go in.' We rang up and asked about it, because we were considering putting in for it. We and other organisations were actively encouraged to apply, and there is a stream that says 'culture and productivity' in it.

Senator BERNARDI: Okay. The issue then is that the arts ministry has cut a particular funding program. They have redirected you to the IAS, and your member organisations—or the few that applied, of which you cannot tell me how many—were unsuccessful. Is that right?

Ms Davidson : Yes, it is. But it was not just because of the cut. They were applying because they needed funds and there was an advertisement out there saying, 'There was a culture stream.'

Senator BERNARDI: I am just trying to put this in perspective. An indeterminate number of your member organisations applied and were not successful, hence your appearance here today?

Ms Davidson : Not exactly, no. I would not say that. It is not because they were not successful that we are here today. And, like I said, we did not apply ourselves. We are here because we want to generally advocate for the importance of culture and the recognition of its importance in Indigenous funding and in success of a wide range of Indigenous things. That is why we prefaced at the beginning that we were speaking under point (q) of the terms of reference, which was 'other related things'. So we are not coming here with sour grapes for people not getting success. We wanted to take the opportunity to make a positive point for forward thinking.

Senator BERNARDI: For culture? Okay, I accept that. I am just trying to come to terms with the relevance to the specifics of this inquiry. Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.

CHAIR: Ms Roy and Ms Davidson, this follows on from your last remarks. I think your contention is that a well-designed program to support Indigenous advancement would take account of culture and that at the moment it appears that the program designed only tangentially speaks to culture as a priority?

Ms Davidson : Yes. I guess this partly could potentially go back to the fact that there are these three priorities that the government has that are like a continual reference point: the children in school, the safe communities and the adults in work. I do not want to make a blanket statement, but that is politics and those are the priorities that have been stated. But, at the moment, culture does not seem to be getting a very integral place within those, and we would like to see a rethinking of how it fits within them, if they are the stated priories, which they are.

CHAIR: So, if this committee were making recommendations to government, we might consider the benefits that would come in terms of jobs, land and the economy; children and schooling; safety and wellbeing; and infrastructure in remote Australia. All of those things might perhaps be better delivered, in your view, if there were some acknowledgement of the role of culture in driving success in each of these other more practical fields?

Ms Davidson : Yes, I would say that, as well as recognising that direct funding for cultural activities is integrally important, and so, if that is missing from across the range of the government departments, that is of concern. There is a concern at the moment that it is being removed—two of them have lost quite a lot, and then another one has not gained it, it seems. So one issue would be the direct funding, and the other one is exactly as you said—the benefits of a general recognition.

Senator SIEWERT: Having visited quite a large number of the arts centres themselves, and also having been part of another inquiry that was specifically inquiring into Aboriginal art support for Aboriginal art centres, one of the roles the centres play is being a really important hub for the community. There are a whole lot of other services that end up getting provided through the art centres as well. They are very important for communities. Would that be an accurate reflection? If centres fail, what will happen to the supports that they provide to the whole of a community—including culture but a whole range of other things as well?

Ms Davidson : I think that is very true. We try not to officially promote some of those diverse things, because the poor arts centre staff have trouble doing them all, but absolutely—they are the internet cafe in half of them, and they provide all sorts of wellbeing services and help with all sorts of different problems and things. They are positive places that attract people to be there, and they provide good community things. So if they were not there, for the morale of many communities, it would be a big loss. And they are also the main sources of Indigenous-owned income. As far as businesses in remote communities go, they are the utter success story: Indigenous owned and operated.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Ms Roy, we appreciate you very much presenting evidence here today. Ms Davidson, we appreciate your time also. Unfortunately, that is all we have time for. I would like to more generally thank all of the witnesses who gave evidence to the committee today. I declare this meeting of the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 15:07