Doorstop interview on funding announcement for national collecting institutions

NICK MITZEVICH, NATIONAL GALLERY DIRECTOR: Good morning everybody and welcome to the National Gallery. On behalf of the National Gallery, I’d like to acknowledge that we meet on the lands of the Ngunnawal and the Ngambri people, and as the custodians of a very important collection of First Nations art, the National Gallery and our cultural colleagues acknowledge the important role we have in elevating First Nations perspectives, and the First Nations staff and board members that we have help us be ambitious about positioning First Nations culture as an integral part of the life and fabric of Australia. And it's my great pleasure now to welcome the Prime Minister to the lectern here at the National Gallery.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well thanks very much, Nick. And the gallery chair, Brian Stokes, as well, thank you very much for the warm welcome. And the chairs and CEOs of the various institutions who will benefit from the announcement we're making today, I welcome all of you. And I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we're meeting and pay my respect to elders past, present and emerging. And nowhere better than right here to reinforce my view that I'm proud to lead a Government that will be holding a referendum later this year, and asking Australians to take that step on the journey of reconciliation and accept the gracious offer of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that they've made through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, by recognising Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people in our Constitution with a Voice to Parliament.


Can I say that this is a really exciting announcement, and I do want to acknowledge my extraordinary Arts Minister, Tony Burke, who would have taken any portfolio that he was given, as long as Arts was a part of it, after the last election. He's a passionate advocate, and when you put this together with Revive and the other programs that we've put together in arts and culture, it shows that my Government is a part of a fine Labor tradition of valuing culture in this country and understanding that support for the arts and cultures brings economic benefits, but that it also brings benefits to our soul as a nation. And there's nowhere better to have this announcement than the National Art Gallery. We're a wealthy country. The idea that we have an artwork around the corner, purchased by Gough Whitlam, called Blue Poles, you might have heard of it, by Jackson Pollock. That was purchased for a tiny amount of money and has increased valued by 38,000 times to be valued at $500 million, which it struck me is about the same as today's announcement. And so it shows that sort of vision has been extraordinary. But the idea that you would house a $500 million artwork in a building with buckets to collect leaks from a leaky roof is absurd. We're a better country than that. And Australia deserves better than that.


Our national capital is Australia's largest inland city. It is also the home to our national institutions, the National Museum, the National Gallery, National Archives, National Film and Sound Archive, the National Library, the National Museum of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, that are all really important. In addition to all of those institutions, the Old Parliament House, the Museum of Australian Democracy. The Australian National Maritime Museum and the Bundanon Trust will all benefit from today's announcement. Some $535 million in the nine national collecting institutions over four years, addressing a decade of chronic underfunding inflicted by the former Coalition Government. When we speak about competence, it is not competent for a government to underfund its national institutions and to have buildings literally falling apart, that are part of our national assets as a nation. How we see ourselves and how the world sees us. These national institutions will have students, young people come through. They have people of every age, of every background, from around Australia, but also from around the world. And that's why it's important that we invest in them. When we invest in our national institutions, we're investing in ourselves. We're investing in our pride. We're investing in the way that we see ourselves, and the way the world sees us. Which is why we need to step up, and step up my Government has. And in Katy Gallagher, we have an amazing Finance Minister, who happens to be a Senator for the ACT here. And, of course, we have fantastic Members of the House of Representatives, and we're joined by Dave Smith here as well. This will ensure that vital repairs and urgent safety improvements can be made. It means that staff will have certainty about their jobs. And yet again, we're cleaning up a mess that we have inherited.


I want all Australians to be able to come here to appreciate and learn from these institutions for generations to come. And what we're doing here is making sure that there's ongoing funding, making sure that we do absolutely the right thing. It's a pity that we inherited our starting point is where we are. And you've all read about the state of some of these institutions and it should never have been allowed to occur. But this is the way that we tell our national story as well. Whether it be the artwork here, whether it's the Portrait Gallery that shows who we are going forward, whether it be the history and the way that it's told at our national museum. Whether it be Trove, which assists so many individuals as well as collective organisations, businesses or NGOs going forward to be able to get access. Whether it be the National Film and Sound Archive, this is all important for who we are. So today's announcement is a significant one, a significant investment, but it's an investment in us and I'm really proud of the work that my government has done in a very short period of time. We now haven't been in government for a year yet, but we have been busy dealing with the challenges which we face, but doing it in a practical way. And today's announcement is just that.


TONY BURKE, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Thanks very much, PM. And I want to thank both the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. It's my job to advocate for this, but ultimately the decisions on what get taken into the Budget are difficult decisions. And when you're faced with a trillion dollars of Liberal debt and you've got these institutions having been underfunded for a long time, it's a real investment in being proud of the Australian heritage and story and works that we hold in our collecting institutions to make this decision. Effectively, the collecting institutions have been heading down a hill towards a funding cliff, and today they turn that corner and they can climb back up the hill and start growing again. Our cultural policy was called Revive. Today we're taking the defibrillator to the cultural institutions, and the cultural institutions, the works that they house have always been subjected to a culture war. You only have to look at Blue Poles to see that. But you also only have to look at Blue Poles to see that the culture wars have always been short-sighted. The cultural wars have always underestimated Australia. And today there's a decision that what we house, there are plenty of buildings in Canberra that would always leak, but the cultural institutions should never be on that list. And the cultural institutions, we now have that investment. The people on the boards now will be able to go to philanthropists for what's the next big idea, not can we do the major repairs. Not can philanthropists come in and fund the essential staff. It's now the government funding is there to embed these organisations permanently into the Australian Budget so that they're forever within the Australian psyche. The funding announced a couple of days ago with Trove means no matter where you are in Australia or the world, you can access these institutions. It's a good day. It's the next step in Australia's cultural policy. And I want to, in particular, thank all the people who have loved these institutions for years, who've dedicated parts of their professional life to them as well. Today, the Government's endorsing that work, endorsing these institutions, endorsing our own heritage.


KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks, look I want to just make two quick remarks. The first is obviously this is a great story for my hometown of Canberra. We take our role as the nation's capital really seriously. I mean, obviously it's a home to many of us, hundreds of thousands of us, but our broader role as a national capital is fundamental to this town. And to have, in particular, a Prime Minister that understands and values the role the nation's capital plays can't be underestimated in terms of how our city feels about itself. So I know that this is a campaign that's been going for a long time, fixing the NCIs, and I know in opposition we saw it. And Dave and Alicia and Andrew Leigh and myself have been long-term advocates of doing the right thing by the NCIs. Coming into government, working with Tony, the Prime Minister, the ERC, to uncover exactly what was needed here was a piece of work that we hadn't fully understood from opposition. But the solution today gives, as Tony and the PM have said, gives that long-term sustainable funding going forward for these national institutions of such huge importance to our nation's story. The second point I'd like to make is just the broader point about the Budget. The PM referred to cleaning up the mess. This is a very good example, and you will see other examples in the Budget, where we have uncovered significant financial pressures that were either ignored negligently, or underdone, or not provided for in provisions going forward. There was a serious impact on the Budget that was hidden from the Australian people. And we are now working our way through those methodically and carefully to do the right thing and to make sure that the Budget actually tells the full picture of some of the investments that need to be made, that should be made, that Australian people expect to be made, will be provided for in the Budget. But this is an example of that, where it was the need was understood, I have no doubt about that. And it was swept under the carpet, and it's led to this situation where the institutions were facing job losses and severe building pressures. So it's a really good announcement. It comes from a point where you've got a government that understands the value of these institutions, the role they play in our nation's story, and the fact that we are going to be upfront and honest about the need for these investments when we approach the Budget, and some of the challenging decisions we're taking through that.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, future governments can always change course, for whatever reason, for whatever priority, what sort of long-term assurance are you going to give these institutions going forward? And is there an explanation also of the long-term, so the clear line of sight, of capital works going into the future, so that buckets and towels aren’t used into the future?


PRIME MINISTER: Well, if people keep voting Labor, they'll keep getting a government that supports the arts and culture. That's the first guarantee that's there. And it’s a serious point. It's a serious point. The track record of the former Government in presiding over a Budget that had a trillion dollars of debt, it wasn't as if they weren't into spending money. If you look at what last year's March Budget did, buckets of money, but there were buckets of water in this building at the same time. And it is about making sure that, not just here, but one of the things we've been dealing with, I think I'm allowed to say Katy, ERC has been meeting for the last two days. We met last week, every week, is dealing with areas like cyber-safety. Do we really think we're going to abolish that organisation headed by Julie Inman Grant on June 30? The community services funding in the Northern Territory, drops off, zero post-June 30. We raised these issues in Parliament last week in Question Time, in a number of answers. In so many areas, there simply wasn't funding going forward. And in the case of the national institutions, there wasn't funding in order to fix what needed to be fixed. Now, going forward, my Government is providing some real certainty with today's announcement. There obviously will be future advocacy for funding that will be dealt with on its merits. But what the importance of today's announcement is, is that for these, I haven't counted them all up, is there nine? Nine institutions going forward, they do have that certainty over four years, there's not a drop off. And then a pathway to future funding. If you get that certainty, one of the things about people here, and I want to single out just because they're close up here, people like Penny and Ryan, they're not chairs of these institutions because they want to get a trip to Canberra. They are people who are contributing as part of their contribution to Australian society. And I pay tribute to them and others, philanthropists who are committing their own dollars and their own time to make a difference. But they shouldn't do it, this isn't a charity, that's why this funding certainty is so important. Now I'd continue to encourage philanthropy and investment in ways that makes a difference for our nation. But we see that with people stepping up. Today’s announcement will provide that story.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve passionately called for and sought bipartisan support for the Voice to Parliament referendum. Are you at all prepared to have the further discussions raised by some moderate Liberals around wording and other concerns? Or do you consider chasing even partial support from the Liberals a lost cause at this point?


PRIME MINISTER: Look I’ve continued to be open. This isn’t, bear in mind, this isn’t my proposal. And people who look at the history here will know that people such as the Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Julian Leeser, was advocating for a representative body to be able to make representations to Parliament and executive government as far back as 2014. 2014. So I, of course, had a draft, which I put forward at the Garma Festival. It was based upon, I said at the time, it was based upon other people and the input of work that had occurred. And we went through a process leading up to the press conference and the legislation that's now been introduced, between July last year and we're now at April. And not a single word was proposed in any of the meetings that I had, and I had seven with the Leader of the Opposition, and I had meetings as well with the Leader of the Nationals Party. I've met with people across the board. This is not my proposal. This is the Australian people's proposal.


JOURNALIST: Just on that then, are you prepared to drop clause two of the amendment and legislate it instead to ensure bipartisanship?


PRIME MINISTER: To ensure bipartisanship is an interesting phrase from yourself with respect. I haven't heard anything put forward for some period of time.


JOURNALIST: Well, Julian Leeser did a press conference. I’m just trying to understand the position.


PRIME MINISTER: Well, my position has been very clear for a long period of time, which is that the Leader of the Opposition has, with every utterance that he has made, sought to undermine support for a Yes vote at the referendum. That's my assessment. People will make their own assessment. I wish that wasn't the case. I seek as much support as possible for this change. There has been no reaching out by, Julian Leeser has not sought a meeting nor has he attended any meeting with the Leader of the Opposition with me since this process begun.


JOURNALIST: Why put that in the Constitution rather than allow greater flexibility for Parliament to determine the powers of the Voice. So that the body itself is guaranteed but the full extent of its powers and justiciability can be changed?


PRIME MINISTER: Be clear about what the words are that have been advocated in the legislation, when read together with the Minister’s, the Attorney's second reading speech and the explanatory memorandum are very, very clear. Very clear. One, ‘there shall be a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’. The second clause makes it very clear that that body ‘may make’, ‘may’, an important word, ‘may make representations on matters that are relevant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’. And the third element is very clear, that it's the primacy of the Parliament. Now, that's what I say matters a little bit. But if I was getting legal advice, I'd get it off Justice French and Justice Hayne and Anne Twomey and others, rather than someone who's not a trained lawyer. And they are very, very clear. They are very clear about the wording. Now, there has been an attempt and it will be ongoing. And if you read the playbook and Julian Leeser gave a really good speech, actually, that you might hear about, about how you undermine a successful referendum. He gave a very clear call out about how you undermine a referendum, which is by sowing doubt, raising questions that everyone knows the answer to. Like the words are there now in the legislation that are very clear going forward. That the comments that have been made in the articles by people like the former Chief Justice of the High Court, Justice French, are very clear going forward.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said on Monday that you would take President Xi Jinping up on an offer to travel to China if he extended one to you. Have you now been invited to visit China? And if you do travel there later this year, will you be taking Australian journalists with you?


PRIME MINISTER: No is the answer in terms of the first question. I've read this, but I did check with my office, but I have said very clearly that dialogue is a good thing. We are hoping that the Trade Minister will meet with his counterpart soon. The Assistant Minister for Trade met with his counterpart at Hainan just, I think last week. I've met with President Xi and I think dialogue is a good thing. So I have said that if an invitation were to be received then I would accept it and we would work out a timetable for it. There has not been a timetable worked out for it. I will be attending the G7 Meeting in Tokyo, and then, of course, I'll be hosting the Quad Leaders Meeting here as well.


JOURNALIST: You're standing in front of the Arnhem Land ceremonial burial pole of incredible significance to this country. Yunupingu was disappointed by so many Prime Ministers who promised constitutional recognition but never delivered. At this point in time, do you think this referendum would have a better chance of success if there was bipartisanship? And in good faith, what are you prepared to do to extend your hand across the aisle to try and find that point of reason and agreement?


PRIME MINISTER: Well, I do once again pay tribute to Yunupingu. And it is a conversation that I will remember for the rest of my life. On the day that we held the press conference and announced what the Government would be forwarding in the question and in the constitutional change to know that he was watching that press conference held in the Blue Room, I regard as a great honour. And he did say to me in that conversation that it was good, and also that I spoke truth when I said to him that we were serious. He asked me after the Garma speech, was I serious? And I said yes, the Government was, because he had been let down. And that's why it's so, in my view, disingenuous for people to argue that we should just put this off. That people who have worked so hard to get to this point should be told, oh well, stop working, most of them volunteers, full-time to get constitutional recognition. That bear in mind, John Howard argued that as Prime Minister should happen more than a decade and a half ago. This has been on the agenda for a very long period of time. And if not now, when? If not now, when? And the idea that the impediment is timing is just absurd. I heard this week about including, people have spoken about the Press Club Speech, about ‘The Parliamentary Inquiry’s just been established.’ Julian Leeser and Pat Dodson were the co-chairs of a Parliamentary Inquiry. It had a full inquiry into these issues and reported. They say, also I've heard the argument the Calma-Langton report should be responded to. It was a report to the Morrison Cabinet, that went to the Cabinet not once, but twice. And I say this, that reaching out across the aisle is the Referendum Working Group that included Ken Wyatt, included people from across the political spectrum of Indigenous leaders, and they've come to a common position going forward. A common position. And the idea that you can simply ignore or dismiss the views of the Referendum Working Group are, in my view, counter and contradict the very concept of a Voice, which is about listening. Listening. So we are certainly continuing to seek agreement across the board as much as possible. It's a good thing that the Greens Party didn't start off as supporting this process, they are now. That's a good thing. It's a good thing when I met with all of the crossbenchers, with one exception, the Member for Kennedy, they are also supportive of the referendum. Faith groups are supportive of the referendum. Tonight I'll be doing an Iftar in Sydney with Imams and Islamic leaders coming from all around Australia who've dedicated their support. Christian churches, other churches have done the same. Sporting organisations, business groups. Last Friday night, Qantas declared their support for a Voice. Trade unions, non-government organisations. Everything from the Salvation Army to ACOSS, all supporting a Voice and all supporting constitutional recognition. This is a nation-building effort and I call upon everyone to support it. This is not controversial. It should not be an issue of partisan politics. It's a modest proposal.


JOURNALIST: Back to this building, the capital funding, so the $42 million over two years capital funding announcement was welcomed today, but the gallery has also said it won't be enough to fix what are some of the structural issues we've talked about. Is the government committed to capital funding beyond two years? Will it commit to the $265 million that the gallery has committed over 10 years? And what mechanism will the Government use going forward to determine priorities for capital works?


MINISTER BURKE: Okay, I'll try to do this as quick as I can. There's four different ways that the funding happens today. The first is the funding for the staff and the operations over four years. The second thing is that ongoing, beyond the first four years, that money remains in the Budget every year and indexed. Secondly, in terms of maintenance, so the third area of funding, is essential maintenance money being provided over the next two years. And finally, there is a formal process that will now kick in with, twice yearly, there'll be a statement of expectations that goes from me to the institutions, the institutions will then report back on their plans and what their needs are twice a year to me. And those reports will go directly to the Expenditure Review Committee.


JOURNALIST: So to clarify, the National Gallery for it to secure that?


MINISTER BURKE: That's the exact process to be able to deal with that.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, yesterday, the Government confirmed it would ban TikTok on government-issued phones and devices, do you think companies like in critical minerals and defence industries should also consider this over security reasons?


PRIME MINISTER: Well, we run an operation in Australia whereby I’m not going to be so bold as to tell individual companies what they should do. What we've done is make a decision as the Government, about issues in which we are in control, which is government devices, we did so in consultation with state and territory governments after receiving advice.


JOURNALIST: The Australian High Commissioner to the UK has met with Julian Assange. Have you heard any report on how that meeting went? And did you raise his case with Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak, when you met with them just recently?


PRIME MINISTER: I've said publicly that I have raised these issues at an appropriate level, of Julian Assange, I've made it clear the Australian Government's position, which is enough is enough, there is nothing to be served from the ongoing issues being continued. And I said that in opposition, my position hasn't changed as the Prime Minister, and I have indicated that in an appropriate way. I encouraged the High Commissioner, Stephen Smith, to visit Mr Assange and he did so, and I have not spoken to Steven Smith since then, because Katy Gallagher’s got me locked up in ERC.