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Speech: South Australian Museum

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise on behalf of the Greens to support this motion calling for a standing committee to take on a referral instead of setting up yet another select committee. The South Australian Museum restructure is an issue that has quite rightly drawn much public debate and attention. I also indicate that the Greens will be supporting the Hon. Frank Pangallo's amendment to also include the Art Gallery of South Australia, and I note that recently there have been some concerning rumblings from that North Terrace institution as well.

We have a cultural boulevard in this capital city, and it is a beautiful one. It is one that people come and marvel at. It is one that is accessible to the public. It is one that is much loved. It is one, in the case of the Museum currently, that is chronically underfunded and yet it still beats all of its KPIs and has bigger crowds going along now than it had even prior to COVID. It is hitting its marks on very little money—indeed, when you consider that it has not had an increase in funding and then you factor in CPI, it has actually had an ongoing decrease in funding.

We all know that currently it costs more to do the same. The Museum has been pumping out and performing with less and less resourcing for far too long. It is at a crisis point, which is why the board has taken the decisions that they have. But a decision to sack 27 people and ask them to reapply for a lesser number of jobs is some sort of perverse musical chairs approach that is not befitting of our beloved Museum.

I would just draw attention to people who might not like the mummy room. I grew up in New South Wales. I grew up with a museum that had quite an extensive Egyptian collection and touring exhibits, and they were very different from the mummy room at the South Australian Museum. The mummy room at the South Australian Museum is unique to Adelaide and South Australia. It is indeed now an institution in and of itself. The fact that it is so old has become part of its attraction.

While I note that the minister has said there has been a lot of misinformation out in the public, and she said the mummy room is not under threat, in the Budget and Finance Committee, when asked outright by the Hon. Michelle Lensink whether the mummy room was under threat, the new chief executive or it may have been the chair's response was, 'No, everything is on the table and the mummy room is potentially for the chop.'

The minister says one thing, and says that it is misinformation to say that the mummy room is going, but the head of the Museum to a parliamentary committee has said, 'Yes, the mummy room may go', so where is the truth here? I have to say, I do not trust a DPC-chaired supposed external review to get to the truth of the matter. I do not trust that process.

I note that the problem here is actually the funding. That is why these decisions are being made. They are driven by a lack of resources. Do you know what could happen? Do you know what the Premier could do? He could actually fund the Museum to its need, but, no, he is happy to pay consultants to do yet another review, and they can take some money. Meanwhile, the Museum continues to limp along in a manner not befitting of our cultural boulevard, not befitting of our ambition to show off our treasures of North Terrace to tourists and locals alike, and not in a way that will be in time for the state budget. It simply kicks the can down the road for yet another year.

Meanwhile, the staff live with uncertainty, the donors live with uncertainty, and continue to be treated with contempt. Do you know what? It is not even just about government money. Donors have noted that one philanthropist actually donated some $400,000 or so for a marine biology position. That has not been used for the purpose that the donor gave the money. Do we think that this will be uncovered by the Premier's so-called external review, chaired by the head of Department of the Premier and Cabinet? I doubt it. Certainly the public will not get their say, the professionals will not get their say, and it is three men who are driven, in this case, by science.

Do you know what? We have a Museum which is beyond an arts institution in the arts budget, and we are cutting pretty much 27 scientists, putting their jobs at risk, giving them job insecurity, and then expecting them to continue to do more for less, and offering them lesser number of jobs at lesser pay, and expecting that somehow we are going to get an improved outcome. This is extraordinary stuff. I cannot see that we are doing the people of South Australia a justice without opening this issue up for a proper public consultation; not one through the Industrial Relations Court, not one through the Premier's own office, but a proper public debate.

I think it would be unheard of for the South Australian Museum to start charging an entrance fee, but that is one of the possibilities here if they are not adequately funded to do what they need to do to offer the appropriate level of experience, to keep the collections at the level that the public would expect but, more importantly, to take care of the precious resources.

The Hon. Frank Pangallo has mentioned the DNA collection. We have the largest Aboriginal collection in the entire world and, again, the heads of the Museum were uncertain of that fact when they presented to a parliamentary committee. That is extraordinary stuff. They were uncertain of whether it was the largest collection in the world. Well, it is the largest collection in the world. It is something that we have right here in South Australia, and it is one of the reasons that we were talking about Tarrkarri, something that means 'future'. Now Tarrkarri is up in the air. We do not know what happens next with Tarrkarri.

We know that down on the end of the cultural boulevard in Lot Fourteen there is a big, empty, gaping space. We also know that a lot of capital city funding was devoted to that. We also know that there were conversations about the collection that is currently held within the Museum to be part of that experience, so where is the public conversation about Tarrkarri in the Premier's stopgap, bandaid measure to fix up a minister's mistake? It is not there.

The public conversation is what is important here, and I will just draw members' attention to a few factors that certainly have been of great concern to me. I have received correspondence from Birds SA, which are alarmed to hear of the proposed changes to research capacity and collection management at the South Australian Museum.

They have learnt that currently there are 27 positions in research and collections, natural science and humanities. These are 37 per cent of the total Museum staff of around 73. Under the proposed new structure, all 27 positions are to be abolished and replaced by 22 new positions with different job descriptions, many of them significantly different from current roles. The reality here is that we are losing scientists as part of this process, unless we stop this process. How was this allowed to happen? The parliament surely cannot let this happen.

I have drawn to the attention of members in this place and in the Budget and Finance Committee the South Australian Heritage Committee's grave concerns that not only were they not consulted prior to the news becoming public about these cuts but they have written specifically saying that the staff in the humanities section that they have spent years developing a relationship of trust and expertise with have been responsible for repatriation of their ancestors. They are deeply concerned that that repatriation work is impacted adversely by the measures that the board is currently considering and that the minister appears silent on.

Again, that is apparently not at risk, but the jobs of those people that the communities and the different nations have been working with, who took a long time to develop those relationships of trust, are now on the line. They may go to someone else. They will certainly be paid less, should this process go through.

How is that respect for the expertise and the experience and the connections of true reconciliation that have been created through the humanities section of our South Australian Museum? It is world leading, it is best practice and it is being potentially slashed and burnt. How will that get a guernsey with some scientists looking at this from that science lens? How will that repatriation work be assessed by these three men, one of whom works for the Premier, which is hardly independent or external?

I draw members' attention to the fact that the Royal Society of South Australia for the advancement of science has expressed their concerns. So many of the donors and philanthropists have expressed their concerns, and they will take their money out and then we will need even more money to support our institution, if we are not careful. This is all about relationships. This is all about public ownership of our much-loved SA Museum.

As I said right at the start, it is not as if people are not going. They are going in greater numbers than they ever have. The KPIs are being met, but the reality is that the arts budget gets cut and cut and cut and the poor old South Australian Museum, which is far more than just an arts institution, is suffering from those cut, cut, cuts and suffering from that negligence and could be supported by this parliament so much better. It will be supported. Those people, those professionals, those communities, those scientists, those humanities professionals will be given a voice by the parliament in a cross-party public forum of a standing committee. Those voices will be silenced should we only have the Premier's intervention.

With that, I urge people to support this referral to the Statutory Authorities Committee. It is in fact doing what the Statutory Authorities Committee should do. The SA Museum is a statutory authority of this parliament. We already had the SA Museum coming before that committee, but this will allow not just the Museum's board to be heard, not just the chair and CEO, but the staff, the donors and philanthropists, the consumers and the public, and the children of the future will actually get a real say, with a true consultation. With that, I commend the motion and the amendment by the Hon. Frank Pangallo

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