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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3246

Mrs KELLY —Does the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment intend to move the administrative structure of the Australia Council to Canberra? Is it a fact that the staff of the Australia Council has been engaged in a work to rules campaign? Has the Minister responded to this campaign? What effect has the campaign had on the output of the Council? How many complaints has the Minister received from arts groups on the operation of the Council?

Mr COHEN —There have been some problems with the Australia Council. I think most of those problems were resolved when the Council received extra staff. Right from day one Dr Timothy Pascoe made it clear that as a result of the previous Government's squeeze on the funds of the Australia Council staff numbers were cut from about 150 to 103. Staff cuts occurred at the lower echelons. The number of typists, clerks and stenographers had been even more severely cut. It was a critical situation. The Council functioned for a long time without proper back- up staff. I made representations to the Minister for Finance on a number of occasions and he finally came up with the numbers and we were able to provide extra staff. The problem is that in the interim period of some months the staff went on a work to rules campaign which meant that the business of the Australia Council was disrupted for some time.

Another part of the question concerned whether the Australia Council is to move to Canberra. This is a long, involved problem. As I mentioned in a previous answer some weeks ago, a great deal of pressure was put on me by Melbourne cultural aficionados who believed that as a result of the Australia Council's position in Sydney over a decade or so there had been a bias in the grants in favour of Sydney artists and that Melbourne was losing out to Sydney which had become the cultural centre of Australia. Looking at the Leader of the Opposition , I can understand why.

Mr Peacock —That myth was destroyed with your appointment.

Mr COHEN —But I came from Gosford. This matter was raised again at the cultural Ministers conference and a working party was set up to explore this and a number of other matters. The report has not yet come to me. I do not want to pre-empt that report, but no decision has been made. As the Council wanted to move nearer to the heart of Sydney-it was not satisfied with North Sydney-to get to the centre where the people of Sydney now are I facetiously suggested that it should move to a nice old factory out near the sewerage works at Parramatta and that it might care to get out amongst the workers and work there.

Honourable members interjecting-

Mr COHEN —My sense of humour was not appreciated.