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Thursday, 22 May 1980
Page: 3128

Mr ELLICOTT (Wentworth) (Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for the Capital Territory) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to decisions taken by the Government following a review of the structure of the Australia Council. The amendments that are proposed in the Bill reflect the Government's wish to see that the Council operates with increased efficiency and effectiveness, whilst continuing to provide the Government and Parliament with the best possible advice on arts policy matters. The opportunity will also be taken to make some minor amendments to the Act that are of a machinery nature.

The principal Act provides that the Council shall comprise between 15 and 19 members, including the Chairman and the Council's General Manager, who is an ex-officio member of the Council. At present the Council has its full complement of 1 9 members. We now believe that such a large number of members is unnecessary and that the functions of the Council can be more effectively carried out by between 10 and 14 members.

The existing structure of Council is that the Chairman of each of the specialised boards established to administer a particular area of the arts is ex-officio a member of the Council. There are at present seven such Boards, covering the areas of music, theatre, literature, visual arts, aboriginal arts, community arts and craft.

The Bill contains provision to amend the existing structure of the Council. Firstly, it removes from the principal Act the requirement that all board chairmen are ex-officio members of the Council, replacing it with a provision that at least two board chairmen be appointed to the Council by the Governor-General. This amendment will leave the majority of board chairmen free to concentrate on their particular art area. More importantly, these and other amendments are designed to ensure that the Council will have oversight of, and control over, the activities of the various boards and their expenditure. It is important that the Australia Council be able to lay down, implement and from time to time change policy in relation to the arts within the limits of its budget. These amendments will, the

Government believes, enable the Council to exercise this control over policy more effectively.

In addition, it is proposed to amend the membership provisions in the principal Act so that all the persons appointed in future under section 9 (2) (e) will be persons who practise the arts or are otherwise associated with the arts, and specifically that among them are persons who have practised or who practise the arts in literature, the crafts, the performing arts and the visual arts. This amendment will provide the Minister with flexibility when considering future appointments whilst at the same time emphasising the importance we attach to these particular art forms. Current members of the Council will not be disadvantaged by the proposed amendment, since it will be effected progressively as their terms of office expire.

The Act provides at present that the Chairman and members of the Council are part time. The role of the Chairman of the Council is of great importance and the tasks he has to perform are increasing, particularly in relation to the development of policy. Furthermore, with a reduction in the number of members, as set out in the amendment Bill, there is the likelihood of greater demands being thus placed on the Chairman. In these circumstances, the Government wishes to have the flexibility of appointing the Chairman on a full time basis should this be considered necessary. The amendment will allow the Government to review the situation when the term of office of the current Chairman, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, ends on 30 June 1981. If a full time Chairman is appointed, the amending Bill provides that the General Manager of the Council will not continue as an ex-officio member of Council, thus being free to concentrate on the administration of the Council's policies and programs.

Currently included in the responsibilities of the Australia Council is the administration of the Public Lending Right Scheme. This Scheme was included in the responsibilities of the Australia Council by the 1976 amendment to the Act, following a recommendation to that effect by the Administrative Review Committee. It has been decided that it would be more appropriate for responsibility for the Scheme to be with the Department of Home Affairs. Public Lending Right is a scheme designed to compensate authors for loss of sales through readers borrowing books from libraries, rather than buying their own copies. As such, whilst it certainly does promote the interests of authors and publishers of creative literature, its application is not confined to books of an artistic character. Accordingly, it does not fit well within the Australia Council framework. This transfer of responsibility is being made with the agreement of the Public Lending Right Committee and also the Australia Council. The importance that the Government attaches to the Scheme will not be diminished in any way by the transfer.

There are a number of other amendments of a machinery nature included in the Bill. The principal amendments, however, are designed to ensure that the Council is as streamlined as possible, consistent with its responsibilities within the Government's overall policies for the arts. I believe the proposed new Council structure achieves this end.

Finally, I should like to take this opportunity of reminding honourable members of the very real achievements of the Australia Council over the past four or five years. For example, in 1977 the Government recognised the need to stimulate a broader involvement in the arts by the community at large and created a specific Community Arts Board within the Council to this end. This Board is now responsible for assisting arts centres and festivals and assisting activities initiated by community groups or local organisations. This provides for wider participation in the arts and the Board has become a link between central government and local government, to the extent that during 1978-79 the Board, in partnership with local government, subsidised community arts officers serving some 60 local government areas. This is only one instance of the work which the Australia Council has done and the achievements that it has been making in recent years.

Mr Deputy Speaker,the Government remains committed to its policy of the promotion of excellence in the arts, and the amendments contained in the Bill should in no way be seen to reduce that commitment. By contrast, the Government considers that by providing greater flexibility to the Council, the Council will be able to respond more effectively to the challenges faced in the 1980s in this important area of the lives of all Australians. Might I also say that the amendments that the Government proposes to make to the Council in no way imply any criticism of the existing members of the Council. I have every confidence in them and in the capacity of the Chairman.

The purpose of these amendments, quite simply, as I have already stated, is to strengthen the capacity of the Council to operate in terms of the development of policy and the administration of policy in the arts in Australia. It is very important that, in this very volatile period in Australia's history and in the development of Australia's culture, the Australia Council be equipped to deal with these matters in a flexible and progressive way. The Government believes these amendments will achieve that objective. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Dr Everingham) adjourned.

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