Standing up for Canberra

National Portrait Gallery of Australia Bill 2012

It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak about the National Portrait Gallery of Australia Bill 2012 and the related bill, and in particular to talk about this magnificent cultural institution that is in my electorate of Canberra. I would like to start by providing some context to this legislation. The National Portrait Gallery was created to increase the knowledge about the Australian people and to increase the appreciation of Australian culture, our history and our identity—to tell our story. This is done through the display of portraiture—that is, portrait painting, portrait photography and selfportraits.

The National Portrait Gallery, which lies between two of Australia's most important institutions, the High Court of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia, has now become an equally significant cultural landmark of the national capital, and it is one of which we are very proud. It may be the youngest of our cultural institutions, but the idea for a national repository for Australian portraits has been around since the early 1900s. But it took some 90 years before the idea of a national portrait gallery in Canberra actually took shape. In 1992, the founding patrons of the National Portrait Gallery, and great supporters of the arts, Gordon and Marilyn Darling, initiated an exhibition called Uncommon Australians. The success of this touring exhibition led to the gallery's first permanent exhibition at Old Parliament House.

For its first decade, the National Portrait Gallery was located inside Old Parliament House. Lovely Old Parliament House, the old wedding cake, was a very welcome place to house the National Portrait Gallery. However, a gallery of this scope needed its own space, and in 2006 work began on the current site. The new Portrait Gallery, to quote from its own history:

… draws inspiration from Canberra’s environment and natural light and links the visitor’s experience of the gallery spaces to the Australian landscape.

I am sure everyone here in this room tonight has been down to that part of Canberra, just beside the lake. The design of the building is incredibly open, welcoming and light, and the thing that many Canberrans, including me, appreciate is the fact that the creation of the National Portrait Gallery has required a linking of all the national institutions. We now have a beautiful boulevard of contemporary and public art as well as paving and landscaping that links the National Library to the National Gallery with beautiful landscape works. For me, in a way it finishes that cultural and national enclave down by the lake that is so important for Canberra as well as the rest of Australia. In a way, the National Portrait Gallery has driven the finale of that area. It now looks complete, finished and beautiful, and Canberrans are very proud of it.

The National Portrait Gallery is, as is often recognised and commented on, a rather unique reflection on Australia and Australian culture. Visitors will find over 400 portraits of Australians who have shaped our country in many ways. Anyone who has walked through the Portrait Gallery or enjoyed that outlook over Lake Burley Griffin will agree it is one of the most impressive galleries in Australia.

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the wonderful and dedicated staff at the National Portrait Gallery, who make every visitor feel very special and very welcome. Canberrans, as I said, have embraced the National Portrait Gallery and frequent it just for lunches at the cafe. But it is also a community facility in many ways. I have been to weddings at the National Portrait Gallery. I attended my media advisor's wedding just a few years ago. I have also been to Heywire launches there too, as well as another number of other events for community organisations. In addition to that, I have been to a number of business events where Canberra and interstate businesses have celebrated the beginning or conclusion of conferences at the Portrait Gallery.

The thing I love about those community and business events is the fact that in hiring those wonderful spaces in the National Portrait Gallery, the interstate and Canberra visitors also get the opportunity to move around the gallery. In a way it is not just the space that is being provided but also access to all the wonderful works in there. It is an incredibly inclusive approach to hiring. It is not often in Australia you can go to a gallery, have an event there, hire rooms, get it fully catered and also get the opportunity to wander around the gallery and peruse these wonderful works with a glass of champagne in your hand. So it is a unique experience and one that is very much embraced by the business community as well as the general community here.

As part of the 2012-13 federal budget, the government announced that the National Portrait Gallery would be established as an independent statutory authority. At present the gallery functions as a branch within the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport. This is an anomaly that will be fixed by the bill. This bill will provide the National Portrait Gallery with a status corresponding to Australia's other great national collecting institutions. This bill provides proper acknowledgement of the success and significance of the National Portrait Gallery. It establishes the Portrait Gallery as a statutory authority with effect from 1 July 2013 and provides for transitional arrangements.

This legislation also establishes the Portrait Gallery's functions and how it may undertake them. The Portrait Gallery's most significant activities will be those related to the national collections of portraits in its custody. The functions of the gallery as established by the bill are to develop, preserve, maintain, promote and provide access to a national collection of portraits, other works of art and related material including portraits that reflect the identity, history, diversity and culture of Australia. It will also develop and engage a national audience—they do that brilliantly —in relation to that collection and other works of art and related material that will be in the possession of the gallery including through exhibitions, through education, through research, through publications and through public and online programs.

The legislation also sets out the powers to enable the Portrait Gallery to perform these functions. It provides for money to be appropriated and made payable to the Portrait Gallery. It also provides the fabulous land and fabulous buildings that will ensure the continued use of the Portrait Gallery's purpose-built building in the Parliamentary Zone in the ACT, in the electorate of Canberra. For the first time, as a result of this legislation, the functions of the Portrait Gallery will be enshrined, giving it a clear and coherent purpose reflecting its cultural role and its cultural importance. As a result of this particular bill, the National Portrait Gallery will continue its role as a source of great pride to all Australians and to all those who visit the national capital. This bill represents a fitting tribute to Canberra and a very important change to one of my electorate's most significant cultural institutions.

I was at the Portrait Gallery only last week at another wonderful function organised by Canberra BusinessPoint, which is an organisation that has been set up by the Canberra Business Council to provide a range of services to businesses at various stages of maturation. They provide advice, support, assistance and services to businesses that are just starting up, are looking at going into export markets or are at a stage of wanting to expand. That is always difficult with a business—how quickly you want to do it, finding the right partner and a whole range of challenges that face a growing business. And they provide services to businesses that are perhaps going into a new area or wanting to expand into a new field. Canberra BusinessPoint provides a range of fabulous services to the Canberra small business community.

At the lovely Portrait Gallery last week they had their BusinessPoint awards. I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate all the finalists and winners of those awards. It was a wonderful night and it was fabulous to be with all these business people, some of them in the early stages of business, who have got all these wonderful ideas and are so incredibly passionate about their ideas—and that is really the success of any business. They are businesses that are motivated by ensuring that Canberra and Australia has a sustainable future. They are businesses that are modelled around a whole range of sustainable elements. They are businesses that are driven by a creative drive or the desire to protect the climate. There were a range of businesses represented and it was really impressive to meet with some of those people and to learn not only about their businesses but about their passion for business.

So I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the finalists and the winners. In the Web and Mobile category we had myinfoQ, HRMWEB and the winner, CloudCentral. In the Clean and Green category— and this was very much the theme of the night— we had Envirolove, Easy Care Landscapes and the winner, Jigsaw Housing. I had the opportunity early last year to go and see one of Jigsaw Housing's prototype sustainable houses in the member for Fraser's electorate. They are doing some great projects in terms of trying to make sustainable houses as green as possible while at the same time as affordable as possible.

In the Bricks and Mortar category the finalists were Omega Medical Design and Flint in the Vines, and the winner was Switched on Cycles, which specialise in electronic bicycles. The finalists in the Creative and Design category were Knave and Fables and Andie Meredith. Knave and Fables do this amazing jewellery, and Andie Meredith has some amazing clothing design. The winner of that category was the Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art, who won that category last year as well.

In the Micro-Enterprise category, an area that is near and dear to my heart, the finalists were Achieve Beyond and Nature's Canvas; and the winner was Canberra Holistic Massage. In the High Growth category, a really challenging part of a business's life, the finalists were Contractor Compliance and Deeks Health Foods—known, I am sure, to many Australians as well as Canberrans. The winner of that category was Handmade Canberra, which is owned by two fabulous women, who produce and showcase creations —jewellery and artwork from Canberra as well as from the region. The absolute outright winner of the Canberra BusinessPoint Award was Jigsaw Housing.

So, congratulations to all of those businesses. It was wonderful to meet with them last week. I am very proud of them and I am really proud of the passion they have for their businesses and for creating a more sustainable and environmentally green Canberra.

In closing, I want to again commend this bill to the House. It is particularly significant, given that 2013 is the national capital's centenary year. It is also the 25th anniversary of this wonderful building here. So I know there are a number of celebrations being planned for the 25th anniversary of the new Parliament House. I was involved in the celebrations for the 20th anniversary, so I am very much looking forward to the 25th anniversary—and I know, from many in this chamber, that there are some great events planned.

In terms of the events planned for our centenary, they are endless. I went to the launch of that program again last week. Robyn Archer has produced a phenomenally comprehensive and exciting program. Our centenary celebrations are called One Very Big Year, and it was one very big launch as well. It was amazing that she managed to fit in as much as she did in the time we were there. We are very much looking forward to the celebration next year in so many different areas—in the sciences, the arts, music, architecture, health and in so many other areas. It is going to be a wonderful year, and it is very fitting and appropriate that this bill will come into effect in Canberra's centenary.

Download a copy of this speech.