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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Barriers and opportunities for closer cultural engagement between Asia and Australia

Keynote address: OzAsia Symposium Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide
10 October 2009

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Thank you Premier Rann for your introduction and the invitation to deliver the 3rd annual OzAsia Symposium keynote speech.

I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land, the Kaurna people, and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.

Can I acknowledge the Lieutenant Governor of South Australia, Hieu Van Le, my Western Australian colleague, Arts Minister John Day, and all of you here, distinguished guests, panelists and others.

I just want to add to what the Premier said about the work that we did yesterday before I begin my formal remarks in this address.

Arts ministers from around Australia gathered here in Adelaide to approve and endorse, finally, an Indigenous Arts Code of Conduct.

This is something which had been recommended by a Senate committee in 2006 and which we were committed to bringing forward as a part of our suite of election promises.

It is something which I think is going to make an extremely significant contribution to providing a safe, fair and an ethical environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander artists to continue to produce and sell their work for fair market value.

And just to continue briefly in that vain, some of you will be aware that we have now legislation in the Federal Parliament for a resale royalty right for visual artists.

Authors have royalties, composers have royalties and rights but visual artists don't in this country. So it is our desire to see a resale royalty scheme introduced which provides a small commission fee to the copyright owner of a work.

We have linked this to the Berne Convention on copyright, which means that artists, including Indigenous artists who quite often see big escalations in the price of their work after it has been sold the first time, can receive some ongoing benefits, as can their heirs and successors.

I think it is that question of inheritance of that right which will provide a sustainable economic base for families in remote communities and for Indigenous artists in particular.

So I am really proud of these two initiatives — one which we were able to see through yesterday and the other which does rely on the vagaries of the Senate, which I am hoping passes the legislation successfully by the end of the year.

Formal remarks

I do want to acknowledge the already considerable national and international profile that the OzAsia Festival.

I want to acknowledge the role and the strong commitment of the South Australian Government and the CEO and Artistic Director of the Adelaide Festival Centre, Douglas Gautier, in supporting this important platform for deeper cultural engagement and collaboration with Asia.

I also want to recognise and welcome that in only a short time the Festival has received an Arts SA Ruby Award for Best Event and also a Helpmann Award to Ecstatic Dancers for Best Chamber and Instrumental Ensemble Concert.

The Festival plays an important role in presenting work from Australians who identify with an Asian cultural heritage; supporting collaboration between Australian and Asian artists; and, importantly, celebrating the importance of cultural exchange and closer ties between Australia and our neighbours to the north.

The program put together by Douglas, where the new is fused with the traditional as east meets west in dance, music, performance and film, is exciting and inspirational.

It's great to see there's so much on offer, masterclasses and workshops for a more hands on experience, much to take in and absorb, with exhibitions from textile art to the latest in multimedia.

I expect the Festival will see new partnerships explored, new friendships germinated between artists, performers and filmmakers, and hopefully new work emerge as a consequence.

At last year's OzAsia Symposium the PrimeMinister outlined the opportunities of a deeper engagement with Asia arguing, “Engaging with, cooperating with, active collaboration with the rich economies and societies of greater Asia is critical to Australia's economic future.”

As such, the Governmenthas made it a priority to build on the strong connections Australia already has with Asia.

While these connections and transactions have traditionally been characterised by a focus on trade, defence and education, our increasing cultural engagements will, I believe, be critical to developing deeper relations with our neighbours.

The fact is we are now in what has been called the ‘Asia century’.

Asia is identified as the most dynamic region in the world; Australia's future is inextricably tied to Asia.

More Australians are engaging with Asian countries, interacting wholeheartedly in learning about and experiencing the cultural traditions of this vibrant region.

We do business in Asia.

We holiday in Asia.

We study in Asia.

And vice versa.

And each year the tempo of this activity quickens.

In the midst of continuing robust economic and political activity in the Asian region — a region Australia is a part of — a lively creative arts exchange will be critical to both building stronger country to country relationships and providing artists from the region with a wider palette of choices and opportunities.

Given the increasing ties I think there's a lot to be positive about.

It is a fundamental truth that culture lies at the heart of nation states and that the arts are at the heart of cultures.

As the Minister responsible for the Arts, I'm committed to the enlargement of our nation's creative output.

I greatly value the unique work of our artists and the many arts organisations who serve their interest.

It's this work that helps nourish, sustain and inform our daily lives.

The impulse to create — to write, to sing, to dance, to paint — is born of the same desire that moves people to innovate; an important facet of a modern economy.

Importantly, culture provides the framework for many of our values — moral, spiritual and political.

And it's these shared values with other cultures, along with a deeper understanding and respect of their depth and character that helps build constructive and beneficial relations.

I know that most artists want to share their work with as many people as possible. They want to learn from others in their field and they want to make useful contacts so they can keep creating, developing and exploring their craft.

Artists, whatever their specialisation, are in this sense akin to people in the world of business.

So opportunities to showcase Australia through its arts and culture are an opportunity to show people who we really are and what makes us tick.

It's a kind of cultural diplomacy which provides the setting for conversation, communication and potentially creativity too — with the dividend of increased understanding and trust, important qualities in any developing relationship.

You will be discussing media at this symposium.

Consider Australia Network, Australia's international television service, beaming 24 hours a day, seven days a week to more than 44 countries across Asia, the Pacific and the Indian subcontinent — I'm delighted that the Chief Executive of Australia Network, Bruce Dover, isalso contributing to your deliberations here.

And of course Radio Australia which now broadcasts in seven languages and has been on air in the Asia Pacific for many years.

We are now, I think, reaping some of the rewards of this substantial outreach inparticular with greater familiarity on the part of a wider audience in the Asia Pacific rim about Australian affairs generally.

This has meant a corresponding increase in active dialogue between nations and various stakeholders on a range of different issues — a positive work in progress, important to our efforts in cultural diplomacy.

I want now to briefly reprise the government's activities in relation to our broader engagement in arts and culture.

As many of you would be aware, following the election, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, agreed he and I would co-chair the Australia International Cultural Council.

The AICC is Australia's key cultural diplomacy body made up of leaders in arts and business with a common interest in promoting Australian arts and culture abroad.

Asia is our number one regional priority area for cultural engagement and we have a tremendous program of major cultural activities lined up over the next four years.

The AICC is currently pulling together a cultural program to coincide with Australia's participation in the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.

This program will run well beyond the Expo and travel to regional China until 2011.

The theme for the Shanghai World Expo is Better City, Better Life. This is an exciting project to be involved in and one where the Council and participants will share the unique sights, sounds and tastes of Australia as well as host specific industry events to help boost trade and investment.

Importantly, all these events will be supported by a dynamic cultural program.

The total project cost for Australia is $83 million, which is the largest investment Australia has ever made in a World Expo and clearly this will be a most significant opportunity to profile and promote our artists.

A major part of Expo will be to shine a light on Australia's living traditions.

Those traditions that have shaped and continue to shape our cultural identity, our diversity and what we must preserve and conserve for the future.

In 2001 UNESCO declared that living traditions — from dance and music to rituals and handicrafts — deserve the same protection as natural and cultural treasures like the Great Wall of China or the Great Barrier Reef.

To this end, last month, I was proud to announce that Australia has signed the United Nations Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

As the 101st signatory to this convention we acknowledge how important it is to have access to a rich diversity of cultural expressions from around the world.

Importantly, this convention also aims to strengthen links between culture and economic development.

The Convention promotes tolerance and respect for all cultures, and encourages countries to take measures that protect and promote their culture.

The Convention also emphasises that culture plays an important role in fostering international collaboration and understanding through shared experiences.

The respected cultural economist David Throsby recently stated, “… the government's action in signing up to the convention is as significant for the arts and culture as our accession to the Kyoto Protocol in 2007 was for the environment.”

Perhaps this helps explain why the Howard Government abstained from voting for the UNESCO Convention in 2005.

Professor Throsby went on to say, “… the abstention damaged Australia's reputation as a culturally committed nation, and it is only now that we can begin to restore our international standing in artistic and cultural affairs.”

And this “restoration” is something the government is fully committed to seeing through.

Last week the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies announced that Australia will be the venue for the 5th World Summit on Arts and Culture.

I hope many of you here today will be in Melbourne in October 2011.

The 5th Summit's theme of Creative Intersections highlights the current global interest in how the arts can give voice to different communities and concerns.

By bringing artists together with a range of sectors like business and the economy, new technologies, health and wellbeing, the environment and education we can create the sort of synergies that will change our thinking and, I believe, find imaginative solutions.

There is no doubt that we are increasingly identifying and understanding that the creative mind has much to offer, not only in areas of creative delivery but in areas of problem solving, in areas of technological innovation, in areas of community engagement, in areas of community healing, in social justice and in a range of other areas.

And if I could describe my long-term vision for where artists could go in this country it is not only to continue to do good work, it is not only for that work to be accessible and affordable, but it is for the character and the temperament of the artist to be able to be explored, shared, enjoyed and joined in with other Australians efforts to deal with other matters of importance to the community or to the nation.

But what of barriers to closer cultural engagement, given I've outlined a substantial template of opportunities? They are lessening over time.

Still, to the audience, success can often mask the significant challenges confronted by our curators and cultural programmers.

Apart from the obvious issue of language — highlighted by the Prime Minister last year — issues of culture and communication often test the patience and flexibility of all involved.

This can range from the difficulties of dealing with rigid and entrenched hierarchies, to stifling bureaucracies and exercises in face-saving.

But I'm confident these are barriers that can and will be overcome, with increased understanding, and effort — the opportunities are much, much greater.

You only have to witness the success of the Queensland Art Gallery's Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, with over one million visitors since 1993, to understand the demand for these types of endeavours.

However, I'd like to finish by identifying two areas where I believe there to be real potential for enlarging the relationship.

First, one of our great strengths, our diversity.

This is reflected in the rich creative output across dance, literature, visual art, music and new media, a consequence of our truly multicultural society.

And much of the work that I see coming through as Federal Arts Minister that is exciting, much of the work that can be described as cutting edge, much of the work that is reaching outside of what is sometimes seen to be the preordained silos of artistic expression, is coming from a strong, multicultural focus. And I very much welcome that.

We have myriad of expressions across a range of platforms, abundant energy and much diverse work to share with our neighbours.

Secondly, we are indeed fortunate to have the oldest, continuous cultural practices in the world — Indigenous dance, music, painting and story-telling.

Our Indigenous heritage provides a focal point for Australian identity.

Importantly, it also excites and challenges audiences across the region.

This was highlighted by the incredible reception from the Japanese of the National Museum of Australia's Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye exhibition last year.

It's hard to believe but the Emily exhibition attracted around 125,000 visitors in Osaka and Tokyo, which is staggering when you consider it was more popular than the Andy Warhol retrospective held in 1996.

The distinctive expressions and constantly innovating work of the artists has and will continue to resonate with audiences wider afield.

I think we can assert with confidence that a rich cultural and artistic life shared between nations is a pathway to increased and improved understanding.

I'm very confident of the role artists and the arts can play in the dynamic region we inhabit, confident that our shared experience of each others artistic work brings much to building and deepening our relationships.

I wish this year's OzAsia Symposium well as we continue on that journey.

[ENDS]

Commonwealth of Australia