Interview with Christine Layton, ABC Radio Perth

CHRISTINE LAYTON, HOST: Imagine having millions of dollars of artwork hiding away in storage. Well, that is the case for the National Art Gallery of Australia. At any one time, 99 per cent of the Art Gallery's collection is in storage.

Earlier this week the Arts Minister announced a program as part of the Revive Policy that will allow suburban and regional art galleries to show artwork from said gallery.

The Honourable Tony Burke, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and Minister for the Arts, joins you now. Good afternoon, Minister.


LAYTON: Very good to have you on. Now, I understand you are a musician yourself. How important is ‑‑

BURKE: Musician is stretching it.

LAYTON: Is it? 

BURKE: I regularly play ‑ I regularly make noises with a guitar and with a piano.

LAYTON: We'll take it; we'll take it. When did you start playing? 

BURKE: Look, I had piano lessons for about a year and a half when I was seven, and then I used my paper round money for guitar lessons for a couple of years when I was about 15, and I sort of let it all go, and after about 20 years I came back to both of them; started having piano lessons again, and now I'm just inseparable from it.

LAYTON: There's room for a parliamentary orchestra; you know that? 

BURKE: Well, I do run the parliamentary band.


BURKE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. One of your own from WA, Matt Keogh's the lead singer.

LAYTON: Oh, really? 

BURKE: What we lack in talent we make up for in distortion.

LAYTON: Wow. All right. I could ask more about that another time. That's very interesting.

BURKE: We are proudly the greatest pub rock band in the entire Parliament.

LAYTON: Good to know. I might make some requests at the end of this interview.

How important have the arts been to your life, Minister? 

BURKE: It's oxygen. I can't imagine life without it. You know, at tough times I always ‑ it's always music that I go to, and, yeah, there'll be music that's familiar from years past or music that's new that I love, and live music's incredibly important to me, but as well as that, yeah, I've always got at least one novel on the go. I read a poem out loud every day, I've done that since I was about 18, and get to as many shows as I can, although ‑ in fairness, in terms of screen, I'm often well behind on what TV shows people are watching; I don't get as much of that as I'd like.

LAYTON: It's hard to do all the mediums all at once. So as someone who loves the arts, how did you feel when you discovered 99 per cent of the National Art Gallery's collection's in storage at any one time? 

BURKE: I was stunned. Like, you go to the gallery and there's more than 1,000, you know, works on the wall, or objects that are displayed as you walk through, and you think, "We've got this huge collection," and you think you're seeing it, and you sort of think, "Oh, there might be some that's resting or they're rotating through, so it's a bit different each time or something that's going on a tour." But it never in a million years, until I came back as Minister after the election, and I met with Ryan Stokes who's the Chair of the gallery, and Nick Mitzevich who's the Director of it, and they told me that that was the current situation, and they had an idea to do something about it, but I was just blown away.

It's worth a fortune, it's called the National Collection, and we've bought it so that people can see it, and 99 per cent – it’s just an extraordinary number that's in darkness, some of which realistically might never be seen by anyone other than a curator.

LAYTON: Yeah, it's a lot of space, it's a lot of air conditioning to keep it under the right temperatures, and the right lighting in some circumstances as well. So what can be done about this? 

BURKE: The idea actually came from Ryan Stokes and Nick Mitzevich during the consultation for cultural policy, and they said, "Look, we can do tours and sort of we're at each place for a few months."  But they had this idea to say, "We could also ‑ if you're on for it, it costs some money, because you've got to change the insurance policy and things ‑  but to say, let's give, let’s allow some of these works to be on a really long‑term loan”, so that they'll be in regional or suburban galleries where the artist might originally have come from, and that might be part of the local story, or it might just be a great work of art, and instead of it being in storage, they can have it for something like 10 years, so that it's actually one of the reasons you might go to that part of Australia.

I was going through the list today of some of what they've got from famous WA artists --

LAYTON: Yes, tell us, please.

BURKE: -- Howard Taylor, Miriam Stannage, Kathleen O'Connor, Rover Thomas, and I've had a look at some of the works in prep for having a conversation with you today. It's just some beautiful, beautiful art, and you sort of think, well, we've acquired it so that people can see it; these are great West Australian artists who are no longer with us, some of their finest works.

Whether it be displayed in WA or anywhere else in the country, people will be affected by it, because if it's a great work of art, you get the tourism for an area that people will make the effort to go and see it, but a great work can also just stop you in your tracks.


BURKE: You stand there, and you just drink it in, and you end up with that situation where the timelines that you originally thought you had ongoing through a gallery can completely be smashed by great works.

LAYTON: That's right.

BURKE: I love the thought that you'd go to a gallery somewhere in WA with one of these on the wall, and it's ‑ this is the National Collection. So instead of the concept where the National Collection is the gallery sucking everything in, hoovering it all up from all around the country, they're now sharing it back again.

LAYTON: And we're hungry for it. Nearly 10 minutes to 3 on ABC Radio, Perth in WA. My guest is the Honourable Tony Burke, Minister for Employment and Relations, but also Minister for the Arts.

This story came about from the Revive Program announced this week, and we discovered 99 per cent of the National Art Gallery's works are actually in storage, and what a waste. So what would it take to get some of those collections into WA museums, Minister? 

BURKE: What will happen now, the pilot will start on 1 July, and what will happen now is the National Gallery will now be working with the galleries all around the country, whoever wants to be involved, and start working through; “OK, are you interested in being in? Here's the works that we've got, what interests you?" and work out some long‑term loans.

So it will be careful decision making, and then transporting these works can be a nightmare.

LAYTON: I was going to ask, and an expensive exercise as well. So how does that work?  Will you support these smaller galleries with that process? 

BURKE: Yeah, that's right. That's right. We've set aside as part of what we announced the other day the money ‑ it's in the order of ‑ I don't have the figure in front of me ‑ it's in the order of 11 or 12 million or something like that, to make this possible. But the difference will be felt in galleries all around the country, where there will be ‑ people might want a work that's relevant to their state or to their area, they might want something that's just a great work as a destination exhibit; it will be different ways that different galleries work with it.

It's technically a pilot, so we're trialling it, if this goes okay, but I've got to say it's one of the issues that really seems to have captured the imagination. So I suspect that this will be a pilot that keeps flying for a very long time.

LAYTON: Yeah, and there are museums listening. Get in contact with – 0437 922 720. So who will actually organise this?  Who will be in charge of this massive project, Minister? 

BURKE: National Gallery of Australia. It was their idea. It came to us during the consultation for the Cultural Policy Revive, and the money will go to them for them to be able to run this, and I'm worried with the popularity of it, they'll be knocking on the door for more money sooner than I want them to.

LAYTON: Well, look, I really hope that we can get some of these exhibitions out to WA, that will be really good, and we will follow up.

Look, this week you also announced plans to implement quotas for streaming services in Australia, and we did a story on this, we did a follow on earlier this week, we spoke to Mystery Road actress Grace Chow about her reaction to it; she's a writer as well as an actor and she was talking about how important this would be to have more works made in Australia.

Yeah, what feedback have you had since then, and how far away could this be? 

BURKE: It will start on 1st of July next year. There are a few different ways of doing it, we've got to work out, how do you define exactly what makes the cut. Like there's some shows that are made in Australia that are nothing to do with Australia, Hollywood shows that are made here and things; we want to make sure that it's actually shows that are telling the story of Australia that do this, and then we've got to work out what the percentage might be, and whether you start at the end point or whether you ramp up with an increased percentage over time.

We'll spend the first six months of this year consulting with both the people who make the movies, with the streaming companies themselves, and the conversation we're having with the Australian people as the audience, because they're the biggest stakeholders in this.

Effectively at the moment, if you watch free‑to‑air TV, whether it's the ABC or commercial, you've got guaranteed Australian content. If you're watching cable TV, you've got guaranteed Australian content. If you're using a streaming service there is no guarantee at all of Australian content.

When the streamers do produce Australian content, there's some great stuff that they produce. Heartbreak High is really good, I loved on Binge the show The 12, I watched that over summer. There's some really high‑quality content.

LAYTON: Colin From Accounts is really good as well, yes.

BURKE: I haven't caught that yet. Okay, I will do that.

LAYTON: Gotta do it, yes, definitely. It will be important for the industry. I just wonder how much revenue will come back to Australian film and TV makers. Any ideas on that yet? 

BURKE: Look, depending on how we cut it, you're certainly talking in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and there’s two big impacts from that. One of those impacts is, that's a whole lot of work and a whole lot of economic activity for ‑ and jobs, much more secure jobs for the people in sector, and the other half of it is that, from Australian audience perspective, we've got a much better chance of seeing our stories on screen, whether we're seeing a story that's exactly about our own part of the country, or whether it's something set in another part of country that, you know, we just love.

I've got to say when you mentioned Mystery Road, like, I've watched all the seasons of it, absolutely adore the show, and you know, for the rest of us, just the windows, the stunning shots that are there in your state in WA, are just phenomenal.

LAYTON: It's important to have works like that on the screen. I have been asking the audience what they have in storage that they probably should get rid of. Storage confessions. Before you go, Minister, have you got anything lurking in the garage that's not been touched for a few years? I mean, we talk about the National Gallery, but you know, we've all got something, don't we? 

BURKE: Yeah, there's a bass guitar there. I don't use the bass. I always imagine that I'll have someone come over who's good at bass guitar, and I will jam with them, and so I bought one on eBay, and it has been sitting there unused for a long time, but I still hold out hope that one day, there will be this jam moment, and it will all come true.

LAYTON: Could happen in the parliamentary band, who knows?  Look, good to get you on, Minister. Thanks for your time.

BURKE: Great to talk, Christine.