“It’s a cultural thing — isn’t it?”

Cultural policy Tourism Arts funding Museums Libraries Art galleries Australia Canberra

Most visitors to museums and galleries care little for how these places are funded as long as they deliver a “fulfilling visitor experience,” in the cultural-industry jargon. But Canberra’s national institutions — places like the National Library and the National Gallery — are in grave danger of not delivering that experience; and senior executives in any of them will tell you this is due to lack of money. “We’re doing less with less because we have to operate with the capacity that we have and do the best that we can,” the director-general of the National Archives of Australia, David Fricker, said in March. “So without question we’re delivering fewer public services now than we were five years ago.”

And the response? Cue the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories, a twelve-member parliamentary committee chaired by Liberal MP Ben Morton. The committee held three little-noticed public hearings in June and August, at which Morton and his deputy, Labor’s Gai Brodtmann, did most of the questioning. (Only two other members attended on any day, and Morton himself was absent on 24 August, when his party’s leadership was being settled elsewhere in the building.)

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