Australia Council for the Arts, National Strategic Plan launch

  • Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)

Good morning, I'm delighted to be here and thank the Chair, Rupert Myer, for hosting this event this morning, and I want to acknowledge the friends and lovers of Australian arts and culture.

My very dear friend and parliamentary colleague, the Attorney-General Senator George Brandis and I recently attended an opening night of the Australian Ballet in Melbourne and it was a fabulously glamorous affair. And George and I had so much fun that we decided we needed to do this double act more often as we support the arts community in this country, both domestically across this great nation, and internationally.

We are a culturally ambitious nation because we are an ambitious nation, full stop. And I think it is so appropriate that the Australia Council for the Arts strategic plan launch take place here, at the Sydney Opera House, which continues to delight and enthral visitors.

Only last week I had the pleasure of hosting US Secretary of State, John Kerry, here in Sydney, his first visit to Sydney. And we didn't want to miss the opportunity, so we put the American party on board one of our defence vessels and toured around the harbour before alighting at Admiralty House, where we held the annual AUSMIN – the Australia and US Ministerial Meeting. John Kerry was utterly enchanted by the Opera House, and this is a man very worldly, has travelled the globe, but was taking photos rapidly. I do have to confess that when we popped around the corner and I said, 'oh, that's Russell Crowe's penthouse', the Americans fell over themselves to get photographs of Russell Crowe's penthouse!

This morning, with our colleague, the Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, I launched at the Lowy Institute our Government's policy on what we call 'economic diplomacy'. Just as traditional diplomacy aims for peace, so economic diplomacy aims for peace through prosperity. And as part of our launch for economic diplomacy, that is putting economic outcomes, not only for Australia but for our region, at the heart of foreign, trade, investment, tourism, overseas development assistance policy, we launched a policy that will embrace cultural diplomacy.

You see, we have asked each one of our 95 Heads of Mission around the world, to prepare a strategic plan to promote Australia through our economic strengths - and by promoting Australia's prosperity, also encompassing regional prosperity. Each one of our 95 missions has produced a plan and there are some 2,000 really practical ideas on how we can promote economic diplomacy and a vast number of them related to our cultural sector. Because as the Attorney-General said, we do this so well. We are world renowned in so many areas of our arts and cultural community.

I was thinking of a few examples on the way here. I was in South Korea recently, and I couldn't believe that the most popular foreign identity in the arts in South Korea is Sam Hammington and this television program called 'Real Men'. And I don't know that you actually want to see it, but nevertheless it's an Australian program and they are obsessed with this Aussie Sam Hammington.

I was in New York recently and only an actor of the status and global pulling power of Hugh Jackman, a very proud graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, could convince the owners of the Empire State Building to light up the Empire State Building in green and gold on Australia Day. I mean seriously, there are 190 nations around the world. Everyone wants the Empire State Building in their colours – only Hugh Jackman was able to deliver that for Australia.

Also in New York, the hottest exhibition in town was an exhibition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art by women. Everybody wanted to see this exhibition, it had such global reach. And I have been talking with George and the Indian High Commissioner about the coming visit and tour of Australia's World Orchestra to India next year. This will be a huge event and I must say I'm very excited about the Australian World Orchestra - an idea whose time has well and truly come. I guess if you needed a sporting analogy, it's kind of like a State of Origin game – getting the very best of our artists, who are in other companies around the world and bringing them together for performances under the Australian banner. You see I'm not the Arts Minister, so I can pick out individual arts companies and names.

I come from Western Australia and have been involved in the arts community for a long time – the West Australian Opera, the West Australian Ballet, and The Maj as the home of our artistic community. But it is always such a joy when we have major performing arts companies come to the west, whether its Opera Australia or the Australian Ballet. It's so well received and I know that across this country, people are very proud of our performing arts companies, of our individual artists.

The wonderful thing about it – this is what cultural diplomacy is all about – it's beyond the individual enterprise and effort of the artist. The arts speak a universal language; the arts are a bridge across any divide. And so, I'm delighted to join with my friend, George Brandis, in welcoming and endorsing the Australia Council's Strategic Plan: A culturally ambitious nation.

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