Australia Council Bill 2013
As a keen fan of the arts, particularly dance and visual arts, and as a former director of the Cultural Facilities Corporation here in Canberra, it gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak on this important legislation, which is particularly close to my heart.
I have experienced first-hand both in Australia and overseas the important work of the Australia Council. While working for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I was privileged to hold the position of cultural attaché to India. In this position, and also while working in Indonesia, I grew to understand the important role the Australia Council plays in showcasing the breadth of Australian talent to the world. While in India in 1996, Australia managed a huge intercountry promotion where we showcased everything about modern Australia and technologically advanced Australia. Through showcasing Australian in five cities over the course of a year, we had the opportunity to highlight some of our achievements in the arts—in dance and in visual arts. We had a major Indigenous exhibition, probably the largest that has ever been to India, hosted in New Delhi and the Australia Council played a very, very important role in making much of that happen.
What was particularly important about that year in India was the fact that the Australia Council hosted a week's conference where they met with their Indian counterparts to explore ways of engaging in further dialogue on the arts in every element of the arts and in further collaboration and mentoring as well as residences and a range of other activities. So I know from my own experience of being in foreign affairs, that the Australia Council plays a very active role in Australia but also internationally.
In Indonesia we also hosted an intercountry promotion in 1994, I think, and again, it provided us with the opportunity to highlight the range of artistic genius that is available in this country through dance, through visual arts, through musical works and a range of other activities as well as residences. It provided the opportunity for artists to engage with other artists in a range of collaborative efforts.
Labor has a long and proud history of supporting arts and culture. In 1908 the Commonwealth Literary Fund was established in order to provide pensions for needy writers or their families. This was the first of many boards and funds that would proudly support Australian artists over the years. It was under the Whitlam government in 1973 that the decision was taken to establish a single statutory body whose role would be to provide a coherent framework for the arts in Australia, encompassing the roles of many of the previously existing boards and funds.
In 1973, a new but interim body, the Australia Council for the Arts, was established and it sat within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Then in 1975, the Australia Council Act was passed and the Australia Council was established as an 'arm's-length' statutory authority.
The enabling legislation for the Australia Council is now 40 years old, and it is time that our proud tradition of supporting the arts is brought into the 21st century. The legislation we are debating today will ensure that the Australia Council has the capacity to adequately reflect the diversity, innovation and excellence of Australia's contemporary arts and cultural sectors. It will also ensure that the Australia Council is well placed to support the goals of Australia's national cultural policy, Creative Australia.
One of the key features of this legislation is the reform of the Australia Council's artform board structure to allow for greater funding flexibility. Currently, every member of the Australia Council's artform boards is appointed by the responsible minister. This bill devolves that power and gives the council new flexibility to engage expert responses to the demands of the sector. Under this legislation, the council's governing boards will have the power to appoint sector-specific advisory committees. This reform will empower the council to appoint a greater diversity of artists as peers to help support the strategic planning and funding assessment processes of the council. It is a particularly important role. This reform will mean that artists will be more easily and directly involved in deciding how the Australia Council funds projects.
One of the premier arts organisations in my electorate of Canberra and its surrounding region is the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. Founded in 1950, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, or CSO, has grown from amateur beginnings to its current position as the largest professional performing arts organisation and the largest employer of professional musicians in the region. It is also one of the only professional pathways for talented young musicians in the Canberra region. As the only professional Australian symphony orchestra with an Australian chief conductor and artistic director, Nicholas Milton—who is brilliant —the CSO is also a leader in the performance of Australian repertoire. Since 2007 the annual program of seven concerts has included at least two Australian works each season and in 2013 it will feature two world premieres and one Australian premiere of works by Australian composers.
The vision of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra is to create and foster symphonic music of the highest quality, to serve as a regional hub for music and to secure the future of fine music performance in the Canberra region. The CSO also engages in a fabulous program called Noteworthy for little kids. I have been to a number of these sessions, where members of the orchestra, dressed up in the Wiggles type outfits, introduce young children, aged from about three to nine or 10, to the wonders of live music performances and the wonders of classical music. The sessions only go for half an hour, because the attention span of children at that age is relatively limited, but what is wonderful about them is that the members of the orchestra gets these little children crawling around the floor like little tigers and flying like birds throughout Llewellyn Hall to wonderful pieces of music. This wonderful program is supported by the ACT government and it is a great way of introducing small children, our future generations, to the wonders of classical music in particular. Classical music is so important to provide soul food. From a young age I studied ballet, so at that stage I was introduced to classical music. It is particularly important that you get an understanding and appreciation of classical music at a young age and it can mature as you mature.
To achieve its big vision, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra requires a commitment of recurrent additional funding. The CSO first received Commonwealth funding in 2007 as a result of the Strong review into Australian orchestras: $100,000 a year was approved and has been received annually since then. In 2013 the CSO will receive funding through the Australia Council of a total of $101,606, plus GST. This funding is significantly less than comparable state orchestras receive. In fact, this constitutes just 0.2 per cent of the total of $48 million in funding distributed to Australian state orchestras annually.
Despite receiving significantly less funding than the other state symphony orchestras, the CSO, on a proportional basis, delivers outstanding results. It has the highest percentage of corporate sector and philanthropic support; it has the highest percentage of income earned outside of government funding; and it has the lowest government subsidy per seat, at $14—three times lower than the next orchestra, with some orchestras receiving a subsidy of over $150 per seat. Proportionately, it has the second highest ticket sales after the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Most importantly, it has extremely high subscriber loyalty, with an annual retention rate of over 90 per cent, which I am sure most arts organisations would kill for.
I believe that the reforms that will be implemented under the legislation we are debating today will, hopefully, allow for the more appropriate funding of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra. I implore the future governing board of the Australia Council, and the future music advisory committee it appoints, to favourably consider the case of the CSO.
However, it is not just the CSO or my electorate that will benefit from this legislation. Across the country, countless worthy arts and cultural organisations, big and small, will benefit from these reforms. Artists will have new access to the Australia Council and new opportunities to influence its strategic planning and funding assessment processes, which is particularly important. This legislation will enable the Australia Council to become increasingly responsive to the changing needs and demands of the arts sector, including supporting emerging areas of artistic practice. These bills provide for the much-needed modernisation of the Australia Council and I commend them to the House.