Published: 18 January 2018

Legislative Council Wednesday 29 November 2017

Ms  FORREST (Murchison ) - Mr President, I am happy to support this bill.  I have some questions, but I do not know that the Leader will have some responses to them at a later time.  I also wish to declare my interest in the arts.  We all have an interest in the arts.  I am on two arts-based boards, one being Junction, the other being Unconformity.  I am missing a board meeting this evening as we speak.  That is the nature of the beast here.

I think there has been broad consultation on this bill.  I, like the Government, am an absolutely strong supporter of the arts.  There is absolutely no doubt about - and there is clear evidence of - the health and wellbeing benefits of engagement with and participation in the arts.  It has a positive impact on people's health and wellbeing.  It reduces cost to the health system by the very fact that the people do not have to be directly participating in the arts, even just being an observer of the arts can be enough.

I know personally, for me, I can feel that benefit.  When I went to the launch of the ABC Giving Tree last Friday, in the forecourt of ABC studio, they had the Albuera Street Primary School students there.  They sang a couple of Christmas carols.  When I hear children in choir singing - that is why I love going to the end of the year school functions - I physically feel things happen inside me.  Most of my whole body I can feel it.

I love live musicals and shows like that.  I remember taking my kids to these shows in Melbourne, in Hobart, on the north-west coast.  We have a great arts community all round our state.  Just being able to feel inside you the impact that exposure to those performances have.  Sitting watching Billy Elliot in the front row in Sydney, with the conductor where I could touch him - I did not - but he was right there.  Seeing the kids who were playing Billy Elliot and his little mate, you could see their faces and the joy on their faces as they performed.  It is just so special.  But when I was listening to those kids singing, Albuera Street Primary, I could feel it.  It is just beautiful.

Ms Rattray - Through you, Mr President, I went with my brother-in-law and sister to see Billy Elliot in Melbourne.  My brother-in-law thought he was some relation to Col Elliott.  Slightly different story line there.

Members laughing

Ms FORREST - Yes, slightly different.  I did love the Maggie Thatcher song, it was priceless.

Ms Rattray - But he did enjoy it.

Ms FORREST - Did he?  I loved the miners in tutus as the best scene.  John X was in it when I saw it.

Mr Finch - Through you, Mr President, I remember being in the front row of Her Majesty's Theatre in Sydney to watch Barry Humphries.  At the end of the show he threw a gladioli at Carole and said, 'Here you are, blue eyes'.  Charming.   Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.

Ms FORREST - I also went to watch a live performance in London when I was there about Piaf.  I think Piaf was the most incredible singer.  They called her the Little Sparrow because she was about as big as a sparrow.  She was literally born in the gutter in - I think - Paris, literally in the gutter.  Her mother gave birth to here in the gutter.  She was dragged up.  The actor who player her was just phenomenal.  She did not leave the stage for the whole of the performance.  Even her costume changes occurred on stage.  It was amazing.

I know the impact it has on me.  I know it has the same impact on my children.  My children are all involved in the arts.  My daughter runs an arts events company, organising events.  People in the arts are often a bit arty, as we know, and not all that good with the details sometimes.  She is good with the detail as well as the artiness.  She performs herself.  I was very lucky my daughter married an opera singer.  I mean, how special is that?  Sorry, I am getting distracted, but there is such power in the arts.  I think it is great that the Government has recognised that and accepted the importance of getting the structures right around support of the arts.

I think it is important to retain that independent peer-assessment process that underpins the provision of funding to the sector.  There are a lot of competing demands for funding.  Every festival, every small arts group, every small theatre group, every small-whatever-group, engaged in the arts has great things to offer their local communities.  The bucket of money is only so big.  We need to be sure there is a proper process around that.  I will ask a few questions about some of the things in the Leader's second reading speech and how they might actually work in reality.  Obviously some of it is a 'suck it and see' thing.  We do not always know until a potential problem can arise.

Mrs Hiscutt - I will try not to give that answer.

Ms FORREST - Fair enough.  This bill seeks to implement the outcomes of the legislative and governance review of the Tasmanian Arts Advisory Board and Screen Tasmania Advisory Board.  I think it is good they are being brought under the same umbrella.  The arts continue to evolve and expand.  What we traditionally saw as the arts 50 or 100 years ago, there was no concept of some of the digital world of arts that we are now seeing, and all those other opportunities that are presenting in the arts world.

It does need to be contemporary, it does need to have that degree of flexibility.  What some people see as art, other people think, I do not think that is art.  Some of the things that Dark Mofo -

Mrs Hiscutt - Art is in the eye of the beholder.

Ms FORREST - That is right and some people may have preferred not to go to some of the Dark Mofo events for fear that it was not art they were seeing.

Mrs Hiscutt - That is their choice.

Ms FORREST - It is an individual approach.  It is interesting, on that point, I heard Leigh Carmichael speak at an event I had organised with a couple of others, talking about Action 35 - something like that, whatever it was -

Mrs Hiscutt - Fifty, it might have been.

Ms FORREST - Action 50 - 150.Action. Yes.  It was very confronting in its use of a bull carcass.  They did not slaughter it - it had been slaughtered before the event took place.

Mr Valentine - He made them slaughter it.

Ms FORREST - Yes, but he talked about the vision of David Walsh in determining how that particular performance fitted in with what he was trying to achieve.  It gave the group of people there a whole different insight into how different people see art and how it fits into what they are trying to say in the community.  Not everyone would agree with it.  Not everyone liked it and not everyone went.  Some people wanted it to be completely withdrawn.  It takes a broad range of tolerance in some of these areas, but you do not have to go.  That is the other thing.

Mr Valentine - It caused debate.

Ms FORREST - Yes, it certainly raised -

Mr Valentine - Raised discussion on art.

Ms FORREST - That is good.  It is good that people talked about it.

Mr VALENTINE - It almost did its job by the time the debate finished.

Ms FORREST - That is right, it certainly broadened people's minds somewhat. 

I appreciate that the current process is somewhat burdensome, particularly for applicants, and brings with it a range of inefficiencies and missed opportunities.  We do not want to those opportunities missed. 

It is important that the funding grants will remain peer-assessed by an independent advisory body that will establish panels.  I understand that some might be appropriate to be standing panels and others may be ad hoc panels - that makes sense.  It is important to take a long term view for the sector and to try to be forward-thinking in this.

The bill provides that the responsibility to approve the funding programs rests with the minister, but it was not implicitly said.  I know that is not going to be made without advice from the panels.  There was one case where it said that if the panel were unable to make a recommendation or unable to discharge any of its functions, it could resolve to refer the matter back to the secretary of the department for determination.  What sort of circumstance might lead to that?  Surely if the panel cannot reach a decision about something, how is the secretary going to?  If a panel could not reach a consensus or a view on a particular recommendation on funding or other support, I find it staggering to think that the secretary could.  Why would it not just be rejected?  That is a question the Leader might like to address that.

Mr Valentine - They might not have the numbers to reject it, that is the problem.

Ms FORREST - The Leader can respond to that.  The panel is the only body that can formulate and determine recommendations provided to the minister.  I understand, too, that there was some suspicion about this change initially, but I think the consultation has generally sorted that out. 

In my view, the arts have been over time chronically underfunded.  I thought I would never forgive George Brandis for what he did in slashing arts funding when he did.  He had a very big black mark against his name, but he has somewhat redeemed himself in recent months, Mr President.  I find I agree with the man quite often.

Mrs Hiscutt - Careful.

Ms FORREST - He has redeemed himself.

Mrs Hiscutt - It is a weird feeling to find yourself sitting over there with someone different.

Ms Rattray - She is recalling yesterday when she was being -

Ms FORREST - Being redeemed?  Yes.  Anyway, it is interesting.

Mr PRESIDENT - We do not have to agree with everybody all the time.

Ms FORREST - No.  I was just mortified with that absolute slash-and-burn approach he took to arts funding.  It just decimated the arts sector - not just in Tasmania but around the country.  I thought it was a dreadful decision.  Anyway, here we are and at least we are paying attention to it and focusing on it.  It is right that the experts who engage in this process are experienced, qualified and well respected within their particular field as well as within the industry.  There are many people in Tasmania who fit those criteria; I do not think we will have too much trouble finding the appropriate people.

The other question I wanted to ask the Leader to respond to - and I know one of her staff has done the work and provided a response to this - is in relation to clause 11.  I am happy to do it in the Committee stage or the Leader can respond in her reply.  This relates to the offence to attempt to influence the panel.  It says -

A person must not attempt to influence, by any means -

(a)     the Secretary in appointing an expert panel under section 9(1); 

No-one should try to tell the secretary who they should appoint to the panel once the panel of experts has been determined by the minister.  It goes on -

(b)     a panel, or a member of a panel, in the consideration of an application for assistance, unless his or her advice is sought in accordance with section 10(2)(b).   

There is a 50 penalty unit fine for breaching that.  I want some clarity on what 'influence' means here.  Tasmania is a small state and those of us who are engaged in the arts sector know people in the arts sector, and some of these people are likely to be on the panel.  For me, as a board member on a couple of arts organisations, I may run into a panel member; I may not even necessarily be aware they are a panel member, but if I am, I am not able to talk about what a great job The Unconformity is doing or what a great job Junction is doing because funding rounds are up again.  Is that deemed as influence?  Surely, members of the board of these organisations should at least be able to put a case forward.  I understand this clause needs to be there but I want some clarity around its intention.

I have a response from the Leader's office but I will let her respond.  I support the bill.  I admire the Government's action in supporting the arts industry in a constructive way.  I believe it is only good for the state.  I look forward to seeing more arts opportunities emerge over the coming years, and some quite diverse opportunities within the arts.  Having said that, I move -

That the debate stand adjourned.

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