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Question on National Academy of Music

Senator MILNE (2.29 pm)-My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Senator Wong, and relates to the closure of the Australian National Academy of Music. Minister, can you explain why Minister Garrett has repeatedly raised the two independent reviews of the academy-the Mills review and the Grant review-as justifications for his decision to defund the academy, when both reviews clearly and explicitly called for increased funding for the academy to enable it to grow? Isn't Minister Garrett misleading the Australian community?

Senator WONG-The response is no. Minister Garrett has made clear the Australian government's-

Senator Brandis-I think you are a music sceptic, Penny.

The PRESIDENT-Senator Wong, ignore the interjections and address your comments to the chair.

Senator WONG-In response to the assertion of misleading, the answer is no. Minister Garrett has made clear his and the government's continued strong commitment to providing training for our best classical musicians, to bridge the gap between tertiary study and professional practice. I am advised that the delivery of this training through the newly established Australian Institute of Music Performance, in conjunction with the University of Melbourne, is the best way the government can provide this assistance. I am also advised in relation to this issue that the Australian government will continue to work closely with the University of Melbourne to ensure that clear transitional arrangements are in place which will provide a continuity of training for ANAM students.

In relation to the reviews, it is the case that Minister Garrett has considered the recommendations of two independent reviews. I am advised that the reviews have noted that the ANAM failed to provide national leadership in the elite music education sector and also had failed to build teaching and artistic relationships across the sector, including with other conservatoria. I am also advised that the reviews noted the need for the academy to amend its training programs to offer accredited courses where appropriate and to better meet the needs of the classical music industry. The reviews did find a need for the academy to broaden its funding base and to develop a properly national program- (Time expired)

Senator MILNE-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for her answer. I go to the two reviews. Will the minister clarify for the Senate that both of those reviews recommended increased funding and neither recommended that the academy close? Further, can she inform the Senate when the minister or the Prime Minister or any other representative of the government had discussions with the University of Melbourne, particularly University of Melbourne's Glyn Davis? When did those meetings occur, who was there and how often did those meetings occur before the decision was made to close the academy?

Senator WONG-With respect, Mr President, I think there were some five supplementary questions in that question. I will just make the point that, first, in relation to the reviews, I have given you the advice that I have received about the aspects of those reviews which the minister took into account. He also, as he has previously indicated publicly, considered the importance of continuity for training for those students being considered for 2009 and has obtained a commitment from the University of Melbourne to provide a range of training options for the new Australian Institute of Music Performance. I am also advised in relation to this issue that the university will shortly be providing information on these options to students and that, when established, this institute will deliver a truly national program. I have no information with me, Senator, in relation to the discussions which may or may not have occurred around continuity for training. (Time expired)

Senator MILNE-Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I would certainly ask the minister to take on notice the question about the meetings that may have occurred with the University of Melbourne before the decision to close, but my supplementary goes to the transitional arrangements. I note that our top young musicians are going to be stranded for six months without the level and kind of tuition that they enrolled for and were expecting to be delivered. So I would ask the minister: excepting in cases of significant malpractice, can the Minister provide the Senate with a single precedent for closing a teaching institution in such a way as to seriously disadvantage existing students without the provision of an equivalent alternative facility immediately?

Senator WONG-First, in relation to continuity, I will simply say, Senator Milne, that I think it would be entirely reasonable for this minister to have ensured that arrangements were put in place to enable a transition to the institute. So any such discussions would be perfectly reasonable. Secondly, in relation to transition, I have made clear on behalf of Minister Garrett that the government is seeking to enable there to be an appropriate transition to the new Australian Institute of Music Performance. There are three issues that I can go to there: students will be able to access flexible and individual tuition reflecting their training needs; students can take part in one of the university's current music performance degrees; and the university will also assist academy students to seek placements with interstate academic institutions where this is relevant. So, clearly, the government is working to ensure that there is an appropriate transition available for Australia's classical music students. (Time expired)

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