Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs
Growing presence of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 'style' art and craft products and merchandise for sale across Australia

HICKEY, Mr Luke, Assistant Secretary, Parliament Experience Branch, Department of Parliamentary Services

SAUNDERS, Ms Cate, Chief Operating Officer, Department of Parliamentary Services

STEFANIC, Mr Rob, Secretary, Department of Parliamentary Services

van MOURIK, Ms Justine, Director, Parliament House Art Collection, Parliament Experience Branch, Department of Parliamentary Services

Committee met at 11:44

CHAIR ( Mrs Sudmalis ): Good morning and welcome. I declare open this public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs for the inquiry into the proliferation of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander style art and craft products. I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and show my respect to their elders, past and present, and to all Indigenous Australian peoples.

As these proceedings are public they are being broadcast and recorded by Hansard. If you wish to have evidence heard in private, please let the committee know and we will consider your request. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I wish to advise you that this hearing is a formal proceeding of the parliament. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. If you object to answering a question please state the reasons for your objection and the committee will consider the matter. I invite you to make an opening statement, after which we will have some questions for you.

Mr Stefanic : I think our submission stands alone. We have attempted to provide an overview to the committee about our approach to the appropriate management of Indigenous art, as our department is concerned. I welcome any questions you might have in follow-up to that.

CHAIR: Did you wish to add anything, Ms Saunders?

Ms Saunders : No, Chair.

Mr HAMMOND: On page 2 of your submission, you make it clear that the purchase of authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander items for the Parliament House collection and shop are subject to an annual review. You most recently undertook that review in January 2017. Did that review result in confirmation that the products both in the shop and in the collection comply with the IAC?

Mr Stefanic : Yes.

Mr HAMMOND: When are you due for another review?

Mr Stefanic : Presumably, it would be January 2018.

Ms Saunders : We have just conducted one.

Mr HAMMOND: Do you have the results of that yet? Is it all tickety-boo on that one, as well?

Mr Stefanic : Yes, it is.

Mr HAMMOND: Great. Gold stars all around! Well done.

Mr SNOWDON: Can you explain how you go about purchasing that and where you purchase it from?

Ms Saunders : The purchase of art is conducted by our director, Justine, who I will invite to come forward.

Mr Stefanic : As Cate pointed out, Justine is the director of the art collection. Her role, as well as management of the permanent Parliament House art collection, is also to advise on the purchase of the rotational collection. She also provides advice on the acquisitions The Parliament Shop makes to ensure that it adheres to appropriate principles and codes.

Ms van Mourik : With regard to the sourcing of both Indigenous artwork and Indigenous licensed products for The Parliament Shop, as it says in the submission we attend a range of events each year. They include the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, Art Mob in Alice Springs and hopefully this year Revealed in Perth. Those licensed products from those art centres are generally featured as part of their display at those art fairs. We are reasonably assured those art centres are actively promoting those licensed products and those licensed products are then suggested to our shop. Where possible, in all of our dealings we deal at the first and the earliest point of sale. In many cases, that is directly from the art centre and in other cases it is from an agent or a supplier that they've licensed to deal with us.

Mr SNOWDON: What sort of budget do you have annually for the purchase of art?

Ms van Mourik : The budget for the purchase of art is around the $200,000 mark. That includes the purchase of one major Indigenous acquisition every year, which is unveiled on either National Reconciliation Week or NAIDOC Week.

Mr SNOWDON: Do you get advice from others about potential new art?

Ms van Mourik : We have a range of ways of accessing new art. We consult widely with industry, so with curators in other institutions, and we do have a representative of the National Gallery on the art advisory committee. Again, attendance at those art fairs and those major events—things like Tarnanthi Festival as well—helps us to identify suitable work for an institutional collection.

Mr SNOWDON: This is not a question that is directly associated with the terms of reference, but it is worth understanding: do you turnover your art at all? Do you sell off pieces?

Ms van Mourik : No, we don't.

Mr SNOWDON: You just are building a library of art?

Ms van Mourik : Yes.

Mr Stefanic : There's quite a demand for Indigenous artwork in the rotational collection, so we have been consistently building on it year on year.

Mr SNOWDON: In terms of the shop and the products sold in the shop, you're satisfied that they are all ridgy-didge?

Ms van Mourik : We absolutely are. In establishing whether or not a licensing arrangement is appropriate, we will ask the supplier for evidence of that arrangement but we will also conversely ask the art centre or the artist involved if they are satisfied with that arrangement before we proceed with the product.

Mr Hickey : It's probably also worth pointing out at the moment that the shop and the art sections of my branch are in separate areas. We really do utilise the expertise and the networks are Justine has in verifying products that come from the shop. New product proposals are put through a process of making sure they are authorised and approved. As part of that process, I check for any of the Indigenous artworks. It goes through the head of the art collection as part of that as well. That way there is an additional layer of checking in there too.

Mr SNOWDON: Do you get many hawkers?

Mr Hickey : We do have approaches from people to the shop about new products. That's not just on Indigenous products, but across a whole range of products. Again, that's why we have a new product proposal method. We don't tend to take products that are offered to us. We are more looking for particular goods for down in the shop for here at Parliament House.

Mr SNOWDON: Has there ever been an occasion where alarm bells have run about a particular hawker and the product they were selling in terms of authenticity?

Mr Hickey : I would need to take that on notice and check that. Typically, we will have approaches from local suppliers. It's much more likely that a local supplier of homewares, jams, jewellery and those sorts of things approaches us. But I will take that away and check it.

Ms CLAYDON: It's such a magnificent collection, the works outside of the shop. I can totally get that you would want to maintain that high level of authenticity and standards. I'm appreciating the processes you've got there. What does the process around new acquisitions look like? I'm just after a little bit more detail there. What is your understanding of that secondary market that is operating out there and why do you choose not to take part in that?

Ms van Mourik : For the process around acquisitions, acquisitions are made in line with an acquisition policy, which does state quite clearly that we must buy in the primary market and will not buy in the secondary market. So not at auction—Christie's or Sotheby's—and not from a re-reseller, as it were, but from the authorised agent of the artist. Buying directly from the gallery counts as a first point of sale in that case. The policy says that quite clearly. From there, with the Art Advisory Committee, we identify a set of collecting priorities in order to ensure the collection is balanced against media type, geographical spread, gender, and regional and rural versus urban—so a number of factors. We'll target certain works in order to rebalance the collection, as it were, and make sure that it is representative of the whole of Australia. So that's how we identify acquisitions. Those priorities will change depending on whether or not we've achieved those balances.

Ms CLAYDON: Do you believe that you operate with best practice in this field?

Ms van Mourik : I would hope that we do. We have adopted the charter of principles that the Indigenous Art Code put out some years ago. The Parliament Shop is also a member of that code. We do ensure that we are consulting with industry and with those peak bodies wherever possible.

Ms CLAYDON: Do customers of the shop ask for some kind of certificate of authentication? Are they interested in the point of origin of these works? What's your experience of that? I'm trying to get a sense of what the consumer expectation and demand might be there.

Mr Hickey : The nature of customers down in the shop varies quite a lot; we have a lot of visiting schoolchildren and international tourists through to building occupants and people looking for gifts for delegations and those sorts of things. I'm not aware of any data that we would capture on whether people are asking those kinds of question, but we'll certainly be able to check with the shop staff who—

Ms CLAYDON: Sometimes there will be certificates of authenticity that come with products; usually they are larger significant works of art, but increasingly there are stories of origin attached to products; there are cups and teapots with Indigenous designs on them being sold there and they'll say where they're from and something about the artist. So I'm interested in whether we have any experience that that is something that consumers are expecting, comforted by or—

Mr Hickey : Some of that is also picked up in the packaging that suppliers will provide goods with. So, obviously, having that story in there about origin, how it's come about and what the driver was behind it, is part of their own marketing, whether it is scarves, ties, candles and other things that we have in the shop there as well. If there is material like that, we will tend to reuse that material in shop displays. Some of our shop displays are limited in terms of what we're able to put up, in terms of space, but in putting up a little brochure or a flyer about what that is, we will tend to use what the supplier has for us. We have had some original art canvasses and other things that we provide the shop staff with to give them some talking points about where those canvasses came from and what the details are for them. For, the people who purchased those, that was of interest to them—that they were purchasing original works and what the background for them was too.

Ms van Mourik : Certainly no works of art are sold in the shop that are not accompanied by a certificate of authenticity—it's an industry standard. As Luke said, it's incorporated in the packaging, so we would hope that it's there and upfront. Certainly, consumers shouldn't have to ask about it; where the actual item in the shop has come from should be self-evident.

CHAIR: On that note of authenticity, there is already an established industry standard right across Australia?

Ms van Mourik : It pertains to the artist's right to be identified with their design—Indigenous or non-Indigenous, if you reproduce someone's design they need to be identified in conjunction with that. Whether that is through words; words and a photograph; or even words, a photograph and a story, there is a standard that you should acknowledge the artist's moral rights in any reproduction.

CHAIR: So that's the standard—

Mr HAMMOND: Chair, through you, you're talking about the Indigenous Art Code?

Ms Saunders : It is a requirement with the code, and we do comply with that.

Ms van Mourik : But it's also a requirement of copyright legislation generally that an artist has the right to be identified in conjunction with their work, regardless of whether they're Indigenous or non-Indigenous.

CHAIR: I get that. But to the uninformed consumer, having a story and a photo, which is the copyright part of it—is there an industry standard that a non-educated consumer could easily identify that this is an authentic piece of art? Some may not understand that the photo, the story, are the authentication process. Is there something else such that, as I said, a non-educated consumer could easily say, 'Yes, that's a fair dinkum piece of art'?

Ms van Mourik : I think with the Indigenous Art Code certainly there are more and more organisations using that logo as proof that their work is authentic. It's not compulsory; it is voluntary at this stage, and we're a dealer-member to that code. Where that code exists on products, certainly that's an easy way—almost like a wool mark, if you will—of telling.

CHAIR: Is there a cost involved for an artist to use that logo?

Mr Stefanic : I don't believe so; I think there is just the membership fee. And as long as they're adhering to the principles they are entitled to include the logo of the Indigenous Art Code on those artworks. Going to your question, Chair, as someone who's a consumer as well, I think that if you have an awareness of the Indigenous Art Code then you know what you're looking for in terms of authenticity. But if you're not aware of the code itself, I agree with you: there is no other way the consumer will understand what it is that they're buying. And perhaps there's additional promotional marketing required of the code, to improve its awareness.

CHAIR: Which is kind of where I'm coming from, in terms of having a universally understood and educated consumer market, both domestically and internationally. How do you think we can do that? And this is right off the charts here, so just 'blue sky' it. Conceptually, how do we develop an awareness that if it doesn't have this then it's probably coming from somewhere else besides the hands of an Indigenous artisan?

Mr Stefanic : Again, speaking from a consumer point of view and also seeing the perspective from this end, I think there just is no marketing or promotion of the code in any form. Even with auctions that sell Indigenous art, you'll usually look in the ad for the IAC logo, to see whether that is somewhere you would be interested in buying from. But you may not necessarily identify that as being the only identifying feature of a guarantee of artwork. And I don't know what the resources are for the company to promote itself. That may be a limiting factor in itself.

CHAIR: I think, for some of then, if they could get rid of the knock-offs they could possibly invest in having something that was universally consumer understood, that separated the knock-off from their own authentic material. It's just that this is becoming a common thread.

Mr Stefanic : Yes.

CHAIR: And you can recognise it when you go to all these different places. But there'll be other people attending those markets and those exhibitions, and they won't know that that particular photo story identifier authenticates it.

Mr SNOWDON: Who administers the code?

Mr Stefanic : There is a company that was formulated, called the Indigenous Art Code. I believe that's the name of the company itself. I believe it's owned by Indigenous artists, but there is a board with directors from various fields who administer it. The website's not particularly helpful.

CHAIR: For that organisation?

Mr Stefanic : It may go to a resourcing issue. I'm mindful of the Senate inquiry back in 2007 on this issue. It recommended that if the industry couldn't self-regulate then perhaps changing the Trade Practices Act, as it was then, to have it as a prescribed code of conduct, would be the next step. I don't know that we're there yet. I wonder if more-extensive public awareness of authenticity is required before we get to that next step, or maybe we are at that next step. I'm not informed enough to make that judgement. I guess that's something that you'll find out in due course.

CHAIR: I think you're right. It's on the cusp right now. Indigenous groups are beginning to say: 'Enough is enough. It's totally wrong that those other items are in the marketplace.' I interrupted you, sorry.

Mr Hickey : I was going to add to the secretary's point in terms of that raising awareness, that it's one of the reasons that we do some of the community engagement works that we do during National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week. And, as Justine mentioned earlier, the purchase of a major Indigenous acquisition is to help raise that awareness. We would certainly welcome any additional methods to be able to promote what is available but also to expand that knowledge. There are steps that you can follow, but you need to know what you're looking for. I guess it's like buying any product.

CHAIR: It might be worthwhile if you are able to summarise the steps you think other consumers should take, and you could bring that back to the committee as a summary at a later time—as soon as possible.

Mr Stefanic : Yes.

Ms CLAYDON: How would I know going into a store that someone is a signatory, that they've signed up to the code and are applying it? When I walk into The Parliament Shop, for example, how would I be confident that you are following best practice?

Ms van Mourik : Many of the signatories to the code will have a sticker or similar on their door as you walk in. Most, if not all, of them have it on their website, and a lot of them include it on their certificate of authenticity when you buy a work—it's actually stamped on the bottom.

Ms CLAYDON: I've never seen it when I walk into the shop. I might not be you looking; I don't know. What does it look like? You get a sticker?

Mr HAMMOND: Here it is.

Mr Stefanic : Yes, you can see the branding there. It's the two half-moons.

Ms van Mourik : I think the thing is that at the moment the code's not providing those things, so it's really incumbent on the member to come up with some way of signalling that they are a member, and usually the easiest way is to include it in their website and on any printed material.

Mr SNOWDON: What's the membership fee?

Mr Stefanic : I think it's $250 a year or something like that, so it's not a significant outlay.

Mr SNOWDON: So they could bump it up to a grand? It is largely retailers who'll be members; they'd be either art organisations or retailers.

Ms van Mourik : Yes.

Mr HAMMOND: There are different categories of membership.

Mr SNOWDON: What are they?

CHAIR: One's an individual artist.

Mr HAMMOND: That's right. There are three different types: dealer members, Indigenous artist members and code supporters.

Mr SNOWDON: Do you have any indication of the cost for each?

Mr HAMMOND: I completely agree with Mr Stefanic in relation to his observations about how unwieldy the website is. I'm trying to download a registration form.

Ms CLAYDON: I think what I'm hearing from you is that if you are a member organisation there is a supply—

Mr HAMMOND: A hundred and fifty bucks.

Ms van Mourik : No.

Ms CLAYDON: for example, of these stickers or markers to have in your doorway or whatever's going to be clear. It's not like an Australian-made logo that we have on some products, and there'd be quite a bit of work to do to get consumers to understand that that logo was actually an Indigenous Art Code logo.

Ms van Mourik : Yes.

Ms CLAYDON: There is also no particular incentive for retailers to be members if this doesn't value-add in some way at the moment to the products that they're selling. You're in a competitive marketplace. You're doing the right thing by sourcing direct from the primary market, making sure that you're buying authentic products, but you've got no way to really differentiate yourself from the dodgy retailer down the road who's buying it in from China.

CHAIR: Or didgeridoos from Indonesia—

Mr Stefanic : There probably is no incentive for those types of stores, because they're relying, I guess, on the bulk-buy tourist. If a coachload of tourists drops in, they're not going to be looking for any particular branding; they will look for something that looks like Indigenous art, buy it and move on. So, given its a voluntary code, those types of stores may not be incentivised to become a member just because it's the ethically right thing to do.

Ms CLAYDON: Do you have an opinion about the voluntary nature of the code and whether that is sufficient?

Mr Stefanic : To provide adequate protection, my view would be that it would work better if it were prescribed. But, as I've mentioned, I'm not an expert in this area, so I can only give you a personal view.

Ms CLAYDON: Justine, you work in the field a lot. Does it make sense having voluntary versus prescribed arrangements?

Ms van Mourik : It does make sense to have a prescribed arrangement. I'm not sure that we can make any arrangement that makes every artist sign up to the code. That might be trickier. Certainly for a lot of these art centres, particularly those that are manufacturing products—ceramics and other things—sometimes they can't be manufactured in Australia. Sometimes they will license a design, and the manufacture actually happens overseas. It's really important to differentiate. Just because it's made overseas doesn't mean that the royalties are not going back to the arts centre—it basically can be made anywhere—it's whether or not that artist or that arts centre is benefiting from the sale of those products, regardless of where they're manufactured.

CHAIR: That is almost like the recent changes to the Australia-made labelling, where there's a percentage marker of how much of it is actually Australian. There is a parallel there that might be possible. Are there any other questions?

Ms CLAYDON: I feel like I'm asking too many now—

Mr SNOWDON: You are!

Ms CLAYDON: Given that at present it is a voluntary code, how do we best educate consumers, retailers, even the artists around this? How do you educate customers in the Parliament Shop, for example? Do you have ideas about how we might be able to do that?

Mr Hickey : Certainly it's something we can look at. One of the things that we want to do in the Parliament Shop is make sure that we're presenting a good variety of goods, similar to our tours and our services, which provide a good representation of the parliament itself. The interactions with our customers are very fleeting. There tends not to be a lot of repeat business, with the exception obviously of building occupants, who are here all the time. More regularly it's genuine tourism visitors, as the secretary said, with tourist coaches coming through, be it overseas tourists or visiting schools. The opportunity for us to consider there is what other things we could do to raise the profile of that, in addition to what we do with our community program, in promoting the importance of Indigenous artworks. The opportunities to engage with people through that shop process are limited to your signage and the information you might have on the product itself.

Mr Stefanic : But, because you've drawn our attention to this, Ms Claydon, I'll give you my undertaking that we'll do better to improve the education in the store.

Mr SNOWDON: We'll be checking!

Mr Stefanic : You can hold me to that.

Ms CLAYDON: Thank you. I don't pretend it's easy, because there's not a simple solution. The dilemma you face is the one all or many retailers would face in dealing with a similar customer base of fleeting tourists—in and out.

Mr Hickey : And particularly with international visitors as well, in terms of trying to provide something that is in language for people too.

Ms CLAYDON: They, in my experience, have a profound interest in the Indigenous art market, so education is especially important there. I'm always astonished by the level of knowledge and engagement of international visitors, which often far exceeds our own citizens in this regard. Thank you for your evidence today. It's much appreciated.

CHAIR: Thank you for your attendance at today's hearing. If you've been asked to provide any additional information or if there is anything else you would like to provide, please forward this to the secretariat by 16 March. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you may suggest corrections. Since there is only this one group today, thank you very much for coming. We can adjourn the committee.

Committee adjourned at 12:15