Doorstop interview at Wanneroo Regional Gallery

TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Thank you so much for being here. Today is a great day for Western Australia, and it’s a great day in making sure that we democratise art in Australia. One of the artists all around the world who made clear that art should be for everyone was Andy Warhol. I’m really glad that that’s the artist that’s been chosen to make it clear that if it’s going to be truly a national collection, it can’t just live in Canberra. If it’s going to be truly a national collection, it has to live here in places like Wanneroo here in Western Australia as well.

I want to congratulate the National Gallery, both the director Nick Mitzevich and the Chair, Ryan Stokes. It was their vision that made sure that Prime Minister Albanese and myself put Sharing the National Collection in as part of the nation’s cultural policy.

Two years ago it would have been impossible to think that you would have some of Australia’s most valuable art held by the National Gallery anywhere but the National Gallery. At any point in time, about 98 per cent of the entire collection is in storage, and that is a waste. We don’t buy the art so it can live in a cupboard; we buy the art so it can be seen by Australians no matter where they live.

A few months ago I visited Elvis. He was in a basement way down the bottom of the National Gallery. Now he’s here in Wanneroo, and that whole concept is finally living and breathing here in Wanneroo – that if it’s truly national, then Western Australia has to be part of it. If it’s a national collection, no matter where you live it should be available for you. That’s what becomes real today.

I also want to thank the council and the mayor for their role in having a gallery of this quality to make sure that this is possible. I really want to acknowledge Tracey Roberts, the local MP, who was at me and at me making sure that she got her fair share, which ended up resulting in the fact that one of the first examples of sharing the collection is happening right here.

Happy to answer questions.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us about the collection?

MINISTER BURKE: There’s 53 – we hold more than that, but some of them are being rested – so there’s 53 different items that have come across here. The most valuable is the one behind me – the Elvis. Some of the others, like the Campbell Soup part of the collection are on paper. The fact that they’re on paper means that you can’t keep them continuously on display for the full two years, but that actually provides an opportunity. What’s going to happen is the works that are on paper are being rotated through. If you look around here now, not all 53 are on display. What that means is if you come today and love what you see, you’ve got four more trips ahead of you as the different works all get rotated through.

On the back wall over there there’s who have we got on the back wall? Marilyn Monroe is there on the back wall. There’s a series of different celebrities. But one of the great things about the Warhol collection is you go from the mega celebrity to the Campbell’s Soup, and if anything says art is for everyone, it’s what Andy Warhol was saying with that.

JOURNALIST: When was the last time we see Andy’s work on display here in the West?

MINISTER BURKE: I don’t know the answer to that. Certainly the Marilyn Monroe that’s over there that’s not from the national collection; that is from one of the galleries here. So there has been some Andy Warhol here, and I wouldn’t want to pretend there’s been none. But 53 works is just off the charts, and the Elvis behind me is one of our most valuable works in the whole national collection.

One of the things that I’m really pleased about, the stuff that’s in storage down below at the National Gallery isn’t there because it’s not great; it’s there because we’ve just got so much great work, and we’ve been building that up across the history of the National Gallery. It’s time to say if we want to keep building it, it’s also time to start sharing it.

JOURNALIST: How do you ensure security of these valuable items here in Wanneroo?

MINISTER BURKE: The reason that there’s government funding is it deals with not only transport and insurance but it also deals with security. Giving a full description of security is never a helpful thing to do, only to say that the gallery has a high level of caution over its own works and making sure that they’re safe. The price of making sure that they’re safe should never be that no one gets to see them. That’s what you’re balancing up and look around the walls here, I reckon we’ve got that balance right.

JOURNALIST: On another topic, do you think it passes the pub test that you spent $57,000 on a four-day trip to the US? I mean, why did it cost that much?

MINISTER BURKE: The first thing I’ll say is there are aspects of the story today that have been left out that actually explain the importance of that trip. In American terms the equivalent of Leader of the House is their House Majority Leader. We have very important legislation that has now passed to do with AUKUS that there had to be meetings that would take place about. The article today has not referred to the meetings that were held at the White House. It hasn’t referred to the meetings that were held with the AUKUS caucus, which goes across the aisle, and it has only referred to one of the meetings with individual congress people. That’s for them to decide what they publish. I’m not precious about that, but only to say it was an important trip in the national interest. My decision when I spoke to the Prime Minister was to make sure that both the Defence Minister and myself as Leader of the House were there, and that was the right thing to do.

JOURNALIST: Can you understand that it does sound like a bit of an obscene amount of money for four days?

MINISTER BURKE: The process once a trip has been determined goes very specifically in a normal way where the fares and everything are organised by the department according to the rules. It then gets reported according to the rules and it then gets published according to the rules.

JOURNALIST: I’ve just got a few more, if I might. In a speech this morning Peter Dutton said the government’s interventionist and heavy-handed regulatory agenda is suffocating our national agenda. A response to that one?

MINISTER BURKE: I think Peter Dutton hates the fact that wages are going up. I think it really irritates him. The Albanese government has been determined to make sure that Australians earn more and that they keep more of what they earn. Here in Western Australia wages are growing at 4.7 per cent. It’s something like $170 a week or something like that that Western Australians are earning more since we came to office. That annoys Peter Dutton. I don’t really know why. That’s for him to answer. He thinks people should be on call 24 hours. He thinks people should work longer for less. I think that with everything that’s happening with cost-of-living Australians have deserved for their pay to go up, and this Government had no hesitation in changing the laws to make sure that happened.

JOURNALIST: One more separately from Andy: do you agree energy policy is the top way to boost productivity in the country?

MINISTER BURKE: There are many ways to deal with productivity, and each person has a responsibility in their own portfolio. There’s a whole lot to do with workforce flexibility and making sure that people’s working hours work for them as well in changes that we made – that didn’t get much publicity – but in changes that we made to the Secure Jobs Better Pay legislation. That’s been part of my responsibility. The one productivity argument I always reject, though, is when people try to claim that the key to productivity is for people to earn less. That’s the one that is not on our agenda and won’t be.

JOURNALIST: Can I bring it back to Andy for a moment? These artworks are – you can almost reach out and touch them.


JOURNALIST: Are there going to be security guards at some point?

MINISTER BURKE: Look, they’re behind glass. The security that’s there is appropriate. I won’t go through all the different aspects of security, but both the National Gallery and the gallery here at Wanneroo have a real understanding of the responsibility that is carried by presenting works of this scale.

I’d also say Australians, when they come to visit, appreciate that they’re able to be in rooms with these works. We’re not a country where you’ve had massive barriers between Australians visiting and artworks. In some countries of the world that happens. In some countries of the world you end up so far away you can’t even see the thing properly. So all these issues are issues to balance, but I’m very confident that both of the galleries have got that right.

Thanks, everybody.