Let me begin by acknowledging and paying respects to the traditional owners of this land on which we meet today, the Cadigal people, and thank them for their continuing contributions to the Australian community.
I would also like to acknowledge:
Ms Annalouise Paul, Chair of Groundswell
Members of the Groundswell committee
Lisa Havilah, Director of Carriageworks
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
I am very pleased to be here at the Multicultural Arts Forum 2012 and I would like to thank Groundswell for inviting me to speak today.
The theme of the Forum is—Facing the Challenge, Creating the Future.
The idea of creating our own future has resonated with the multicultural sector since the 1940s when a similar idea sparked the change which created the wonderful society we have today.
At the time the slogan used was— ‘populate or perish’—the idea being that we needed to start working then in order to create the Australia of today, more than 60 years later.
In essence, we needed to create the future—and what a wonderful job Australia has done. We’re now one of the most diverse, harmonious and forward looking nations in the world.
We’ve come from a nation of some four million people to the more than 22 million we have today.
The effective migration and settlement of more than seven million people, including some 750 000 refugees and humanitarian entrants, has played a vital role in our growth as a nation.
I’m also particularly pleased to be here today because more than 60 years of planned migration is not limited to mere population numbers.
We have made enormous gains economically, but more important for today’s discussion are the social and cultural changes that have come from the growing diversity of our society.
Jackson Pollock once said—Every good painter paints what he is.
As a nation, what we are is an important question.
Australia’s multicultural policy
Multiculturalism is a key tenet of the Australian way of life. Social, cultural, political diversity is ingrained into our society, which has a wonderful diversity of more than 270 ancestries and more than 260 languages.
Our modern history is one in which, in partnership with the First Australians, we have all worked together for the betterment of all.
The history and identity of Australia is tied to immigration, creating plenty of contemplation and a steady flow of questions around nationality, ethnicity and what it means to be Australian.
These are important questions and the Australian Government has an important role to play in addressing them.
The Australian Government launched our new multicultural policy, The People of Australia in February of last year.
This policy acknowledges the amazing breadth and diversity within Australian society, the way our society evolves and embraces difference, and the constant changes in how we understand ourselves, our neighbours and our world.
In this way our multicultural character is acknowledged as a fact. By definition, we are multicultural as a nation and each and everyone of us belongs and is part of this diversity.
The People of Australia reaffirms the Government’s unwavering support for a multicultural and socially cohesive nation. It recognises and values diversity, and it encourages the accompanying economic and social benefits.
Arts and culture unsurprisingly has a key position in our multicultural nation.
Australia encompasses not one but many cultural backgrounds. The People of Australia policy is as much a re-affirmation as it aims to touch all art, all culture, all Australians.
Australia’s diversity is one of its key strengths, and there is no greater means through which our diversity can be expressed and celebrated than our arts sector. This informed the Multicultural Arts and Festivals Grants. Support for iniatives that create opportunities to share cultural and artistic traditions, participate and celebrate in the many new and emerging communities are, like previous waves of migrants, building their capacity and small grants like this program help. Performing arts are often the best way to start the conversation about identity in a new home.
Wonderful artworks in our national, state and local museums and galleries are inspired by cultures all around the world and the range of backgrounds of our artists demonstrates our true multicultural heritage.
Australia prides itself on being an environment where all Australians can contribute freely. In political, economic, social and cultural life, its a place where artistic excellence and merit must come from all cultural traditions to be an honest representation.
I believe that there is no better reflection of our nation’s beauty and it’s self-confidence than through its artworks and creative expression. And we have generations of Australian artists with truly and ability to reflect Australia back on itself in so many enlightening ways.
Take for example Hans Heysen—one of Australia’s best-known landscape painters who was born in Germany and whose remarkable work won the Wynne Prize a staggering nine times.
In 1945, he was awarded an OBE for his work as trustee of the Hobart National Gallery and received a Knight Bachelor in 1959 for service to art.
Hans Heysen changed the way we view the Australian landscape, with his distinctive gum trees becoming a part of our national imagery. His work shows a real love an appreciation for his adopted home.
There have been many other artists from many different places in the world who have migrated to Australia, or arrived as refugees. Through their uniqueness and their art, have ensured that the real beauty of Australia’s diversity can be seen by all.
More recently had the privilege of launching the Hand-in-Hand exhibition – a collaborative project with newly arrived refugee youth working with indigenous young people to explore their identity culminating in photography.
But there is still more to do.
Our cultural diversity is recognized through a rich tapestry of arts and cultural institutions around the nation.
This tapestry will soon be joined by The Islamic Museum of Australia and the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne Victoria Antipodes Centre.
On the 25th of February, I jointly announced, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Arts Minister Simon Crean a two million dollar investment towards this Antipodes Centre for Greek Culture, Heritage and Language in Melbourne.
The Australian Government has contributed to the development of these projects because it understands the importance for all cultures to have a place to celebrate and portray their history, values and beliefs.
These two institutions promise to explore unique Australian stories, making the cultural traditions accessible to all.
National cultural policy
The Australian Government is also finalising the development of a new National Cultural Policy.
This policy—the first in nearly twenty years—will provide a comprehensive framework that guides government investment for the next ten years in the arts, culture and the creative industries.
Last year’s public consultation drew an enthusiastic response from thousands of Australians from all walks of life.
This wide-ranging response conveyed a particularly strong message to government—that the new policy must support and reflect Australia’s cultural diversity, and our unique Indigenous art and cultures.
The government does already provide support in a range of ways—for example through regulation, legislation, and direct funding from departments and portfolio agencies.
These funding pathways include for instance, the Office for the Arts’ suite of Indigenous arts and culture support programs, and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s Multicultural Arts and Festival Grants.
We are looking to build on existing measures, better deliver coordinated support and broaden support for arts and culture—which is why the National Cultural Policy is being developed in consultation with a range of government agencies.
We want to ensure that the policy is a whole-of-government undertaking, and I know that Minister Crean and his team are working to deliver a cultural policy to meet the diverse needs of Australian artists and communities—across all the arts.
It is expected the policy will be announced in the next few months.
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed through the consultation stages of the policy’s development. I was pleased to play a roles in these consultations through the digital culture public sphere and encouraging community organisations actives and engaged in the multicultural arts space to contribute.
I would like to congratulate Annalouise Paul and all of the Groundswell team for presenting this forum. I hope that all participants enjoy what I am sure will be a highly informative event.
Most of all, I look forward to seeing some outcomes which will ensure the future of the Australian art space is as rich and as beautiful as our character as a genuinely multicultural nation.