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Telling Australia's story - and why it's important: report on the inquiry into Canberra's national institutions

Government Public sector Democracy History Community engagement Australian history Social history Australia

Canberra’s national institutions are a major drawcard for the nation’s capital, attracting local, interstate and overseas visitors. By preserving and promoting Australia’s history, culture, arts, science and democracy, they help to tell our national story, and to connect Australians and overseas visitors with that story. They also contribute significantly to the economy of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and to the character of Canberra as the national capital.

In evidence given to its inquiry the Committee received a resounding endorsement of the value and role of Canberra’s national institutions, including that they are ‘fundamental to our self-understanding as a people and a society’, and that together, they represent ‘who we are—to understand what it means to be in Australia and to have a greater belief in ourselves’.

Over the years a number of national institutions based in Canberra have been subject to budgetary pressures. Simultaneously, public expectations of institutions have changed with rapid technological development and audiences shifting from consumers to co-collaborators. Demand for their services continues to grow. Meanwhile the institutions must ensure that they continue to meet legislative requirements and public expectations relating to their governance and accountability. The national institutions therefore face both exciting opportunities and significant challenges to protect and enhance their work into the future.

This report reflects the outcomes of the Committee’s inquiry into Canberra’s national institutions, which examined their strategic value, their engagement with the Australian people, and their governance and resourcing challenges.

The report is structured as follows:

  • Chapter 1 briefly outlines background to the inquiry, and the conduct and scope of the inquiry.
  • Chapter 2 discusses the value of Canberra’s national institutions, including in collecting and preserving Australia’s culture and history, generating revenue for Canberra and the nation, and supporting education and research.
  • Chapter 3 examines the way the national institutions engage with the public, both within Canberra and beyond. In particular, the chapter discusses how public expectations are changing, including the growing emphasis on digital technologies. The chapter also discusses the role these institutions play in education, and their outreach beyond Canberra.
  • Chapter 4 examines the governance frameworks and processes for the national institutions, as well as processes and proposals for establishing new national institutions in Canberra.
  • Chapter 5 considers current challenges to resourcing faced by Canberra’s national institutions, and how this affects their ability to meet their responsibilities now and into the future. The chapter also discusses attracting non-government sources of revenue such as private sector and philanthropic support.
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