Hon. Tony Burke MP, Minister for the Arts, Parliament House, Canberra 2600
Congratulations on your appointment to the Arts portfolio.
We, the Friends of the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA), are concerned about the present composition of the NFSA Board. We ask you to address its serious deficiency in skills and expertise.
You were recently quoted (Quinn*) as recognising the raft of inappropriate appointments, many with strong Liberal Party links, made to cultural institutions by the previous government, and welcoming the fact that a small number of such appointees had honourably offered you their resignations. The generally parlous state of our institutions was recently canvassed in another timely article. (Haigh**)
All over the world, national audiovisual archives like the NFSA are specialised one-of -a-kind institutions in their respective countries. They have the critical responsibility of preserving their national screen and sound memory to the highest standard, and providing effective and affordable access to it. After it was created by the Hawke government in 1984, the NFSA quickly became the leading institution of its type across South East Asia/PaciJic, mentoring and training others in the region. In recent years, its proJile – like its resource base - has steadily declined.
All current NFSA Board members will reach the end of their three year terms during the period of this government, allowing you the opportunity to re-populate the Board appropriately.
The Friends believe the NFSA Board should comprise a mix of people who represent the institution’s stakeholders in the screen, sound and new media industries, as well as being appropriately credentialed in academia and the collecting professions. Among them, one or more individuals with strong managerial, financial and philanthropic backgrounds are needed. While previous boards have aspired to this profile, the present Board is far from it.
Given the specialised nature of the NFSA, there would also be a virtue in having a staff-elected member on the Board. This would raise staff morale and overcome the Board’s remoteness from the hands-on workplace.
Board members should see themselves as advocating for the NFSA and publicising its work at every opportunity. The Chair and Deputy Chair, in particular, should be able to work closely with the CEO to assertively communicate the Archive’s needs to Government and the media, and build and maintain its reputation as a national treasure to be protected. In that way, they will be able to attract corporate and individual donations and ensure that philanthropic organisations keep the NFSA on their lists of possible beneficiaries.
To prevent the future danger of inappropriate appointments, the National Film and Sound Archive Act 2008 needs to be amended to ensure that the required skill sets for Board members are set in concrete and cannot be changed without Parliamentary approval. There is also a case for increasing the standard term of appointment to more than the 3-year election cycle, to help prevent any future Board stacking. The Government could telegraph its intent, because once in place such legislative changes would render
current unqualified Board members ineligible to continue, and hence encourage their resignations ahead of time.
Prior to the federal election, the Friends carried out a survey which identified strong support for the generality of the above needs and changes among independent candidates and the Greens, and several of these candidates are now members of Parliament.
The Friends would be happy to assist the Minister’s staff in identifying the appropriate Board skill sets and having these reflected in legislative changes. It would also be happy to help in progressing those changes by brieJing the cross-bench and, if necessary, the Opposition. In due course, it would also be happy to suggest the names of potential Board appointees for your consideration.
Finally, I would add that improving the quality of the NFSA’s Board is essentially a budget neutral exercise. The NFSA has serious resource needs, as do most of the other collecting institutions, and we know that at present it will be difficult to address those. However, an effective Board should be able to make the best use of the existing resource base and begin attracting philanthropic support.
Dr Ray Edmondson OAM President
11 July 2022
M: 0413 486 849
* https://www.theage.com.au/culture/movies/culture-in-crisis-arts-minister-tony-burke-slams-decade- of-neglect-20220630-p5ay3z.html (Karl Quinn, The Age)
** https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/neglected-heritage-how-has-this-been-allowed-to- happen/news-story/f00eeb5b0192b244c009cc5bf09b4e4b (Gideon Haigh, The Australian)