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Tuesday, 20 October 1970

Mr PEACOCK (Kooyong) (Minister for the Army) - As the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) is engaged in a Cabinet meeting tonight I think it is perfectly reasonable for me, in my capacity as Minister assisting the Prime Minister, to act on his behalf in regard to the estimates of the Prime Minister's Department. I have taken a careful note of most of the remarks which have been made. I have no doubt that more remarks will be made during the time which is available for discussion of the estimates of the Prime Minister's Department. However, I think I should comment at this stage on a few of the remarks which have already been made. I am sure that my colleague, the Minister-in-Charge of Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Wentworth), will wish to make some comments on earlier speeches which have been made in regard to the assistance provided by the Government to Aboriginals.

Firstly, may I refer to the speech which was made by the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Sherry). The honourable member mentioned 2 groups in particular which had evidently applied to the Council for the Arts for assistance. They were the Tasmanian String Quartet and the Rosny Girls Choir. As I recall, the honourable member said, in mentioning the Tasmanian String Quartet, that he believed that its application for assistance was rejected because the Government's policy was to import groups and not export them. The honourable member asked whether this was in fact the Government's policy. As I understand it, the Council for the Arts uses the bulk of its international exchange programme on exporting Australian groups, which is quite the reverse of what was suggested by the honourable member. This includes sending overseas large groups such as the Australian Ballet and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, which will go, for example, to the United States of America, as well as small groups such as the Adelaide Wind Quintet and the New Sydney Wind Quintet. It is regrettable however, that the funds which are provided for this programme cannot accommodate all the requests which are made.

I understand the desire of the honourable member to render assistance by way of preferring the 2 groups as he did tonight and I am sure the Council for the Arts would like to assist all groups which made application to it but it is unable to do that on its present budget. Even with the increase from $50,000 in 1969-70 to 8200,000 in 1970-71 it is still necessary for the Council to reject certain applications. However, I understand that another grant was given to the Tasmanian String Quartet for a local tour and I would imagine that the Council for the Arts had some difficulty, because the Quartet had already received an allotment, in making a further allotment for a visit overseas. I recall that the honourable member made a distinction between a professional group and an amateur group. It is my understanding that the Council for the Arts gives priority to professional performers and companies and the choir to which he referred was, of course, an amateur group. I would also imagine - this is a purely personal opinion - that a choir could be a very expensive touring group to send overseas.

May I also refer to some remarks made by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford)? After discussing the dichotomy between the Prime Minister's Department and the Cabinet Office he remarked that mere was no national theatre for Australia and although he spoke of his gratitude for the assistance to the Adelaide Festival of the Arts he expreessed the viewpoint that we should have a national theatre group. I assume therefore that this national theatre would tour throughout the country and, as I understand it, the members of the Council for the Arts, in putting their minds to this particular matter, have made a quite deliberate decision not to have a national theatre based on economics and geography in a country the size of Australia. Obviously, most of the money that would be made available to a national theatre group touring a country of our size would be spent on air fares alone. Again, as I understand it, the Council for the Arts has decided instead to establish and build up one drama company of high quality in each capital city. In other words, more people can be satisfied for the same amount of money.

The honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) raised a matter that is frequently mentioned - I only want to touch on this point - and that is the Australian High Commissioner in the United Kingdom being attached to the Prime Minister's Department and not to the Department of External Affairs. All I would say in reply at this juncture is to refer the honourable member to a reply that was given by the Prime Minister in this House on 22nd May 1969 as reported at page 2221 of Hansard in which he referred to a question that had been asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitiam). He stated:

Because of the unique historical association between Australia and die United Kingdom and because this is believed to be the most appropriate arrangement . . .

These are the factors that are brought to mind with this particular association. The Prime Minister continued: as the honourable member will know, this is the arrangement which has continued under successive Governments in Australia.

I do not wish to comment on other remarks that have been made tonight but I would reiterate that in regard to Aboriginal affairs my colleague the Minister for Social Services has, I arn sure, matters to put before the Committee tonight.

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