Press Conference, NIDA Sydney

LIZ HUGHES, NIDA CEO: Hello there. Thank you so much, Uncle Matt, for a wonderful welcome. It's terrific to have Matty Doyle, as we call him, Uncle Matt here as the Elder in Residence at NIDA. My name is Liz Hughes and I'm the CEO of NIDA. And it's been really terrific to welcome you all here today. Terrific in particular to welcome Minister Tony Burke. He's no stranger to this place. He's known this place for years, so it's fantastic to welcome him back.

Many of you will know that NIDA has an incredible history of really training the kind of the leaders in dramatic arts training, whether they be performers, behind the scenes roles, the creative content makers, the general commercialised IP as well. We really train the whole suite of creative roles here at NIDA, and our alumni really speak to the success of the training. And we feel very privileged to have that ability to really, through our alumni, contribute to enabling the creative and cultural industries that we have today. I just want to mention a couple of things that you might not know about NIDA. Namely, NIDA is actually -- NIDA is world famous. NIDA is in the top 25 drama schools in the world, and we're number 14, The Hollywood Reporter says, and we're the only school that actually is in that category outside of England and USA. So, we're very happy to be in that company.

I think that it's really important to talk about, really the importance of what this Government has done. It's been amazing to see very quickly the National Cultural Policy Revive being constructed and talked about in a framework for engaging with the arts. It's amazing to see the Prime Minister himself and, of course, Tony Burke talking about the importance of the creative industry and the importance of creativity for telling our story, for enabling us to find ourselves and our many different identities. I think it's also important to acknowledge that places like NIDA, of course, we train the creative people and the artists, but these people almost all have jobs. So, in our bachelor's course, we have 95 per cent employment with people graduating within six months of completing their studies. We also have, in our vocational education and training, 97 per cent of students who graduate find jobs in the industry. So, it's an incredible track record. Of course, we cannot operate without the support of government, and we're incredibly grateful for that support. We're very grateful, most recently for the support that was announced on Tuesday night's Budget. And it's incredibly important for us, and I just want to say thank you for that. We're also very excited about the Government's considered approach in terms of supporting the very important skills training that NIDA has. We know that NIDA is really critical to enable the Revive National Cultural Policy because we provide the skilled workers, we provide the imagineers of our future. They really imagine the future of the entertainment industry. So, without further ado, I just want to say thank you for coming. And also, I'd like to introduce Minister Tony Burke.

THE HON TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Thanks so much. Well, once again, thanks, Uncle Matty, for welcoming us to Country. It's a very generous thing to do and I have a real faith in the generosity of the Australian people and certainly hope, as part of the Government, that's reflected in how people vote in the referendum later this year.

Liz, for your role here at NIDA, thanks so much. The Government's been really pleased to get behind the work of NIDA and all our training institutions, and it's for a simple reason.

NIDA trains essential workers. That's what happens here. Essential workers who Australians all rely on, whether it's actors, whether it's set designers, costume designers, people involved in all forms of technical production, be it stage management, be it directors, whatever they might be doing. NIDA trains the people who we rely on to be our storytellers. If we're serious about wanting to make sure that work in the arts is not only available to people who can afford it, then we need to make sure institutions like NIDA and the other training institutions are properly funded.

Now, as part of Revive, the Government is determined to restore the place of culture in how government operates and in how it's appreciated throughout Australia. As part of that, we needed to make sure with the collecting institutions in this Budget, that we've done a sustainability review and we could make long term decisions for the sustainability so that those organisations could plan. We've taken a similar approach to the training institutions. A sustainability review will be done as part of the Budget to make sure that we get the decisions right for the long-term sustainability of funding for all our training institutions, including NIDA.

But think about it this way, just to continue for the next 12 months, NIDA needed to get an injection of the $5 million that we’ve provided. Now, NIDA’s base funding is $10 million, so it's $5 million on top of that just to get through the next 12 months. That gives an indication of the extent to which arts organisations have been facing a funding cliff on the 30th of June had there not been a change of government that believed in places like NIDA and believed in the careers of the people who were trained here. There's a lot that we've done in the cultural policy that will follow through in First Nations productions, in places for every story, that will provide opportunities in dance, in theatre, on screen, with all the different parts of Revive that we're rolling out. To do that, we need the best trained workforce, the best trained creatives, the best trained storytellers.

The young people who performed a few moments ago here today, I remember growing up – not an Australian show – but I was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, true example of Generation X. They had one episode where the whole show turned into a musical. I lived that seconds ago thinking I was at a coffee shop, that I've been too many times over the years. But that joy that we all felt the moment that performance became part of our lives when we weren't necessarily expecting it and certainly for even those who might have known around – and I'm sure some did – just that quality of energy and performance and joy was the perfect reminder of why the Albanese Labor Government has made sure that we've got Revive in place for cultural policy and why we've made decisions like we have today.

Today it’s an investment in the next 12 months while we do the sustainability review. But it's also a decision. It's a decision about the essential nature of training our next generation of storytellers and NIDA being one of the world class institutions to do that. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, how close did NIDA get to closing? Given the 50 per cent increase in their funding?

BURKE: I don't believe NIDA would have closed, but I think NIDA would have had to do a whole lot less. A whole lot less. They would have had to make decisions about how many people they trained, about what courses they ran and about how many people they were employing and the quality of what they were providing. There would have been no easy decisions and I'd kept the CEO Liz Hughes in touch as decisions were being made because I didn't want NIDA to, in advance of the official announcement, be forced into making early decisions that were ultimately going to be okay because of the Budget that was coming. But there is no doubt that NIDA, as we know, could not have been sustained without additional funding.

JOURNALIST: What would that have said about Australian culture?

BURKE: It would have shown a lack of confidence. It would have shown a lack of confidence in Australian culture and in Australian stories. It shouldn't take much sense of self belief in the possibility of our country to say we want to train storytellers. The previous government did a reasonable job at providing money for Hollywood stories to be told in Australia. But when it came to telling our own stories, the lever for the culture war was always available. You won't find that culture war coming from this Government.

JOURNALIST: How does doubling the Location Offset help tell Australian stories? Most of that money will go offshore to Hollywood.

BURKE: No, what will happen with that money is that money will deliver a whole lot of Australian jobs and it needs to be seen in the context of all the other decisions that the Government's making. There'll be people who are being trained right now where a whole lot of their work is on those productions, and we might say Hollywood productions. The most recent one on the set that I visited was the new Mad Max film Furiosa, where in terms of Australian involvement in that story, I think it does stack up.

But you need to make sure two things. One, you need to make sure that you've got everything in place for our stories to be told. That's what Revive is about, and that's why right at this moment, we're having the negotiations and the consultation about how we will guarantee Australian stories being told on the streamers, where currently they have no regulation at all, no demand whatsoever that Australian stories will be told that. So, I don't think you can just look at one lever without looking at all of them. But certainly I also want to make sure that as those Australian stories are told, they're told by a workforce that is able as much as possible to work in the industry full time. Too often I'll be in a coffee shop being served by someone who the last time I saw them, they were on stage or on screen. I want, as much as possible, there to be enough work that our best storytellers are constantly in work. If some of that is supplemented by overseas money helping pay for Australian jobs, I'm okay with that as well.

JOURNALIST: You've mentioned Mad Max. Another film that's being shot in Sydney this year, I think it's probably wrapped up now is The Fall Guy. That's $30 million of federal government money, $14.4 million of state government money going to Universal, a multibillion-dollar multinational based in Burbank, California. Why should Australians be paying for that?

BURKE: Because if you look at the total economics of it, the Australian economy is better off as a result of the foreign investment that comes here. And if I've got a choice and when you say money going there, you're actually talking about a tax offset. So, it's not like a grant or anything like that that's happening. It's a tax offset for money that otherwise, for an investment that otherwise would go to another country that provides an almost identical tax offset, if we don't. That's the real world. These stories are going to be told, these movies are going to be made. The jobs either live here or the jobs live overseas. And that's a decision that government had to make. My view is I want Australian stories being told. Revive makes that absolutely clear. Our decisions on streaming quotas make that crystal clear, crystal clear. And then if you can get more work for the sector by foreign investment and when countries are saying, well, we don't mind where in the world we make this production, can I provide a whole lot of jobs for Australians as well? Tick, we'll do that too.

JOURNALIST: That 44 million that I was quoting is not tax offset, it is cash payments. That is the Location Incentive, not the Location Offset.

BURKE: That's right. But you also are asking about the Budget change where we've taken it to the full 30 per cent and changed the situation where up until now, the Minister had to sign off on that personally. We've changed that. So, it's now working as a normal part of the tax system.

SPEAKER: We've got Eric Tlozek just from the ABC here. Eric, you're just on speaker if you're there.

JOURNALIST: Thanks, Minister. I don't know if you've gone over the Fair Work appointments yet.

BURKE: No, I haven't. So, you're the first. Could it come closer, please?

JOURNALIST: From Canberra, so they want to know – you were very critical of the Coalition's appointments to boards and commissions. I know you've said that this is a rebalancing to have employer appointees, but how are these going to be viewed as anything more than jobs for the boys, given their union associations?

BURKE: I'm glad you put the question to me, so I'm not criticising you for putting the question, but as an argument, I find the argument absurd.

The argument that we should go through a period of nine years where the previous government refuses to have anyone who has represented employees being seriously considered to be a commissioner, whereas we previously had been balanced in our appointments. So, you got a long period where Labor appointments had been balanced from both sides of the bargaining table. You then get Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison and in that time, they all but stop appointing people who've ever represented workers. And then to say, ‘we should just go to even balanced appointments again’, and you never correct that balance.

That would just be conceding that somehow the stacking of the Fair Work Commission was a reasonable action. It wasn't. I made clear before the election we were going to correct the balance on those appointments. I can't wait for the day when I get to do even handed appointments again. I want to, but I am not going to leave the Fair Work Commission in a situation where it is disproportionately represented by people who have only been on the employer side of the bargaining table.

JOURNALIST: I think more broadly, I think you've already been criticised for saying --  essentially the criticism has been made that it looks like it's a prerequisite to have worked for a union to be appointed to a board or commission under this Labor Government.

BURKE: Well, I think there's a whole lot of people on that list that you're ignoring, for a start. Like they've been involved in different ways. Some people have been involved through the legal profession if you go through the list, so the claim that you've made doesn't stack up if you go through the CVs of the people I've appointed. But the fact is, if you want people who have represented the workers side of the bargaining table yeah, a few of them are going to be union officials. That's what they will be, because their job is to represent workers. In the same way as when the other side only appointed people from the employer side, some of them came from employer organisations. I think that's entirely unsurprising.

JOURNALIST: Okay, thank you. Can I ask you about your comments in The Australian today regarding the APY Arts Centre Collective and the calls from the NT Arts Minister calling their actions cultural theft and corruption. You've indicated you're open to an investigation. What are you proposing please?

BURKE: The Government that provides the recurrent funding to that particular arts centre is the South Australian Government and I've been in cooperative conversations with the South Australian Government. The National Gallery of Australia has commissioned a review and the review that they've commissioned doesn't come down ‘til either the end of this month or the beginning of June. When that comes down, we'll have more facts than we have at our disposal at the moment. It'll be a decision when Ministers meet next week, we will decide either to wait for that report before we take further steps or they may want to initiate something. But I'll deal with this cooperatively with the states.

The thing that I won't do is I won't be telling First Nations artists whether or not they are allowed to be assisted. I won't be doing that, and I won't be telling any creators what they can and can't create. That's certainly not my job, that's certainly not my style. There have been some people in my job over the years who have wanted to tell artists what to do. That is not how I approach it and certainly not, certainly not, with First Nations artists. What matters is to make sure that people have creative control. That's what matters. And to the extent that there are allegations that there was not creative control then that's important for us to be able to work through the facts on that. But I certainly have no intention of implying a standard and set of rules around First Nations artists that are not applied to any other artists in the world or throughout history.

JOURNALIST: Higher education is Federal Government responsibility. Under the previous government the cost of arts degrees went up enormously. What is the Labor Government doing to bring the cost of those degrees down again?

BURKE: We haven't been able to address that one in the Budget. It's a genuine issue. It was part of the cultural war from the previous government. We're simply not able to fix everything in one go. It's a serious issue. I was critical of it at the time.

JOURNALIST: Can I draw you back to the sustainability review for the National Training institutions? Do you have any understanding or options that you're looking at at the moment, which is looking into how they can become more sustainable? Could an expansion of the federal funding be permanent?

BURKE: I don't see how they can be sustainable without us making some permanent funding decisions. But we'll wait ‘til we get the review. There's always an extent to which philanthropy can help but the Government's got some obligations here but we want to make sure we've got the numbers in front of us as to exactly what's required for sustainability.

To give an example from the collecting institutions where we have made the decisions; when the Prime Minister and I held a similar announcement to this about the decisions we'd made in the Budget for the collecting institutions together with Katy Gallagher. The person who showed us throughout the National Gallery was the director of First Nations Art. His wage was being privately funded because they didn't have enough money to fund that position. Now, that's how bad it had become under the previous government. That's where a culture war leads you. I think we should have enough national pride and enough sense of confidence of our future as a nation that we're willing to fund our collections and willing to fund our storytellers.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried that fees would need to rise for NIDA for all these young talented --

BURKE: Certainly that would have been one of the issues facing NIDA had we not made the decision we've made today. I think we can wait for the sustainability review before we look beyond that. But what you've described just there in terms of do they cut their courses? Do they increase fees? What do they do? All of those horror scenarios were issues that the board would have had to consider had we not got to where we've got to today.

JOURNALIST: And when do you expect the review to report?

BURKE: Well, certainly the intention of it is to be available for budget decisions and it'll be a report to Cabinet.

SPEAKER: One last one on the phone.

JOURNALIST: Thank you. Sorry about this, it keeps dropping out. There's been some concerns raised about the scope of the National Gallery investigation and I want to know how seriously you regard these allegations against the APY Arts Centre Collective and whether you would consider doing something more broadly to look at the issue of cultural integrity, which is what the NGA is accused of overlooking in its investigation.

BURKE: In terms of what we do on any steps that governments take, that's a conversation that will happen at the meeting of Ministers that's happening next week. Certainly any shortfalls that might be perceived to be there for what the National Gallery has done, I'm reluctant to make any determination on that until we see the report.

JOURNALIST: Is there anything further you can tell us about the timetable for the streaming legislation? You mentioned, one of the things you're working on at the moment.

BURKE: Yes. For the Australian content obligations on the streamers. If I can explain quickly, if you're watching your TV, if you're watching pay TV, there's Australian content obligations. If you're watching the ABC or SBS, you’re guaranteed Australian content. If you're watching commercial TV, you’re guaranteed Australian content. If you're watching the streamers – completely unregulated in terms of Australian content.

We decided when we released Revive, that cannot continue. The timeline that we set down is this: in the first half of the year, we will consult with key stakeholders. In the second half of the year, we want to get legislation in front of the Parliament. On the 1st of July next year Australian content obligations will commence for the streamers. That's the timetable. That's what we've committed to. Exactly what that looks like – definitions, timetable, percentages none of those decision have been made.