Honest History’s submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Canberra’s National Institutions

Honest History made a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories’ Inquiry into Canberra’s National Institutions, submissions to which closed on 8 May 2018. The submission is No. 14 here.

At cob 11 May, the Inquiry had posted 58 submissions.

A discussion of issues relevant to the Inquiry.

Summary of the Honest History Submission

National institutions should be managed efficiently and effectively, treated equitably by government, and be properly accountable to the Parliament for their actions.

The Inquiry should avoid recommending the replication of strategies across institutions unless it first undertakes a thorough examination of how these strategies are working at present.

While ambitious public outreach programming is commendable, it has the risk that institutions undertaking it lose sight of, or lack the resources to properly carry out, their core functions.

Marketing also risks over-claiming. This has been evident in the slogans used by the Australian War Memorial.

There are clearly benefits in Canberra-based institutions joining forces in ‘roadshows’, making carefully selected and complementary exhibits available outside the capital.

It would be bizarre if the Australian War Memorial’s bid for $500 million to pay for an extra 5000 square metres, most of which would be parking space for large pieces of military kit, were to reduce the funding available to other national institutions for digitisation.

It will be important to have agreed methodology for measuring the success of funding efforts. Misleading figures should not be used to support a funding case.

National institutions should each develop and publish a code of practice for public and corporate donations to the institution.

It would be worth exploring the feasibility of a government guarantee of a set proportion of government funding for national institutions.

There is a need to regularly review the appropriateness of the placement of institutions within portfolios. The Australian War Memorial should be returned to the Arts portfolio.

Governments need to regularly review the appropriateness of the membership of governing councils and the consonance of institutions’ holdings with today’s multicultural Australia.

The corporate planning process should not be used to narrow or broaden the institution’s remit as set out in its enabling legislation.

There is a need to ensure accountability to Parliament, through accurate Annual Reports and adequate consideration of institutions in Estimates Committees.

There is no justification for allocating funding between national institutions on the grounds that some are more worthy, or more crucial to the national psyche, or more ‘sacred’, than others.

Recommendations in the Honest History Submission

RECOMMENDATION I: Government should require each national institution to develop and publish a code of practice for public and corporate donations to the institution (paras 19-21).

RECOMMENDATION II: Government should explore the feasibility of a government guarantee of a set proportion of government funding for national institutions (para 22).

RECOMMENDATION III: Government should regularly review the appropriateness of the placement of institutions within portfolios (paras 23-26).

RECOMMENDATION IV: Government should return the Australian War Memorial to the Arts portfolio (para 27).

RECOMMENDATION V: Governments should regularly review the appropriateness of the membership of governing councils and the consonance of institutions’ holdings with today’s multicultural Australia (paras 28-29).

RECOMMENDATION VI: Portfolio ministers should ensure that the corporate planning process is not used to narrow or broaden the institution’s remit as set out in its enabling legislation (para 30).

RECOMMENDATION VII: Parliament should pay particular attention to the accuracy of institutions’ annual reports (para 31).

RECOMMENDATION VIII: Estimates Committees should extend the time they devote to national institutions (paras 32-33).

RECOMMENDATION IX: The JSCNET should explicitly reject the notion that some national institutions are more ‘sacred’ than others (paras 36-38).

RECOMMENDATION X: The JSCNET should state the principle of equity between national institutions, with institutions’  funding differing only according to how efficiently the institution has spent its money, how well it is achieving its objectives, and the probity of its activities (para 38).

Update 13 May 2018: comment in Fairfax.

Update 15 May 2018: a handy private donation to the National Museum of Australia.

Update 21 May 2018: Sally Whyte in the Canberra Times on the submission from Medical Association for Prevention of War.

Update 23 May 2018: comment in Guardian Australia.

11 May 2018 updated

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