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18 May 2009
Thank you Patricia [Sabine, President of Museums Australia] for your kind introduction.
I would like to add my acknowledgment to the traditional owners of this land, the Awabakal and Worimi people; to their elders, past and present.
I also want to recognise distinguished guests here today: Federal Member for Newcastle, Sharon Grierson; Minister Assisting the Premier on the Arts, Virginia Judge; Director of the Powerhouse Museum, Dawn Casey; Chair of the National Curriculum Board, Barry McGaw; film-maker, Philippe Mora; Director of the Newcastle Regional Museum, Gavin Fry; Newcastle ABC Radio Manager, Phil Ashley-Brown; and, of course, conference delegates.
I'm delighted to address the Museums Australia 2009 national conference; the first occasion in ten years the conference has been held outside a capital city.
As a regular visitor to this part of the coast, I can think of no better town than Newcastle to host this year's conference - it's a dynamic and vibrant city, with a unique culture that reflects its coastal location, indigenous and industrial heritage.
In particular I want to acknowledge our Indigenous delegates, as well as those from regional and remote areas of Australia.
Many of these delegates have been able to make the journey thanks to the Indigenous, regional and remote bursaries provided by the Australian Government - something this Government is very proud to support.
I note this year's conference program covers a diverse range of topics ranging from the national curriculum - which I will touch on later - to the challenge of digitisation, the importance of Indigenous heritage and the critical need to build audiences and increase access to our valuable collections, especially in regional areas.
In the Declaration of the Value of Museums to Education the broad scope of institutions that Museums encompass and the remit of these institutions was eloquently expressed.
It is this scope and the central role museums can and do play to deepen our understanding of our heritage that Australians need to hear more of, and I hope too, to hear of the potential partnership roles that can be delivered to further the reach and impact of the work that you do.
We gather at a time of considerable challenge as we confront the most severe global recession in our lifetimes.
This is an economic downturn which has affected every sector in the community, including the arts and culture sector.
As many of you here would know first-hand, this has reduced the capacity of corporations and private donors to provide much-needed direct philanthropic support to our cultural institutions.
We can be thankful that the Australian balance between public/private support, with government providing the foundation of support, enables our institutions to better withstand the travails of economic downturns.
But it is also the case that during times of economic upheaval that more and more people turn to the arts and our country's shared heritage to find nourishment and solace.
Indeed, we have witnessed record numbers of people visiting the nation's collecting houses. So this is a time of opportunity and outreach for museums as well.
Our national collecting institutions play a vital role in capturing and sharing our identity, as well providing spaces where we can reflect on who we are as a people.
Visitors to the National Museum of Australia reached record levels last year, with over one million visitors. At the National Gallery of Australia visitation has jumped from around 370,000 to more than half a million people over the last five years. And down the road at the newly opened National Portrait Gallery, visitor numbers have exceeded all expectations with over 300,000 visitors in its first five months of operation.
This activity is a critical component of sustainable tourism and a prime driver of regional economies.
The fact is the arts and culture sector is a key economic driver in this country: cultural industries are worth approximately $32 billion or 3.5% of Australia's GDP and support around 474,000 jobs in 102,000 enterprises. And, in 2007 the International Visitor Survey found that half (51%) of all overseas visitors attended at least one cultural attraction while in Australia.
It's worth recognising that this conference, apart from being the largest annual event of the museums sector, also provides a key training and development opportunity for those Australians working and volunteering in smaller country towns and rural areas; places where we need to support job creation.
Critically, the conference expands opportunities for innovative skills-boosting and job development provided by key specialist staff from national and state institutions.
I want to place on record my very strong support and appreciation for these valuable initiatives.
Of course Governments have a crucial role to play in supporting the creative endeavour; from our national collecting institutions, to our major performing arts companies as well as individual practicing artists across all art forms - the Rudd Government is firmly committed to enlarging and celebrating creative expression.
The recent Federal Budget recognised the critical role of the arts and, despite operating in a tight fiscal environment, managed to consolidate a number of important existing programs as well as increase current levels of support for young and emerging artists and Indigenous artists.
I want to take a moment to outline some of the Australian Government's programs, policies and initiatives that are specific to the collections sector.
One critical new initiative from this year's Budget is the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach program.
For nearly thirty years, the Government has indemnified major art exhibitions in Australia's big galleries, where the cost of insurance can be prohibitive.
From 1 July 2010 we will be refocussing the Art Indemnity program and replacing it with the Australian Government International Exhibitions Insurance Program, which will open up funding to purchase commercial insurance for eligible organisations, including Commonwealth, State or Territory Government collecting institutions, incorporated not-for-profit Australian collecting organisations and incorporated not-for-profit organisations that have experience in developing and touring international art and cultural exhibitions.
Restructuring Art Indemnity has also allowed us to allocate $1 million a year over four years to establish a new touring program called the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach program.
It is primarily designed to tour collections from my portfolio's national institutions to other parts of Australia, and particularly to regional areas.
Another key objective of the program is capacity-building, brought about through mentoring and partnerships between large and small institutions.
Through the new National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach program, regional galleries and museums can gain experience in curating and conserving exhibitions.
I know the benefits will flow both ways; as is often the case, the smaller arm of any partnership can generally impart knowledge in return - and stories from regional and remote Australia have always underpinned our national story, no matter how urbanised we have become.
I note that the first conference session this morning includes a discussion on the National Curriculum to be delivered by Professor Barry McGaw, Chair of the National Curriculum Board.
As many of you would be aware, at the recent Meeting of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs in Adelaide, federal, state and territory ministers confirmed that performing and visual arts will now be part of the National Curriculum.
I have for some time been emphasising the importance of an arts-rich education for Australian school children and was pleased to be invited, on behalf of all arts ministers, to address the Ministerial Council.
In that presentation I highlighted the key issues; creativity, lateral thinking, innovation and cultural understanding that are vitally important skills for new and emerging industries in the 21st century, and it is my strong conviction that to access an arts-rich education will strengthen the capacity of Australian students to develop these skills.
Consequently arts education will be included on the second phase of curriculum development, alongside geography and languages.
This is a very positive outcome not just for our students but for the sector as it will assist with the development of new audiences by introducing our young people to the rich storehouse of arts and culture.
There will be ample opportunity for stakeholders to provide input as the curriculum is developed and I would encourage you all to be part of the consultation process.
The development by the Museums Australia National Education Network of its Declaration on the Value of Museums to Education I expect will produce a thorough and engaging discussion on the important contribution of museums to learning.
I wish you well for this conference. I can see the program is packed with papers and events that reflect what a diverse and active sector you really are and how deeply you can reach into your local communities.
I consider this outreach role to be absolutely critical and encourage new ideas, innovative approaches and new partnerships that I know will emerge from this gathering, and which are so important to tell the story of the riches and skills that make up our museums - a 'work in progress' that you will undertake with relish.
I wish you a successful conference and I look forward to receiving a report on your deliberations and working closely with you in the future.