Friday 26 November 2004

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - I am sure that members of this House need no reminding that the National Trust in Tasmania has been built up over many years by the devotion of thousands of volunteers. One of tourism's big tourism drawcards - that is, our State's built heritage - would be sadly diminished by now if it were not for the efforts of the members of the National Trust. It seems to be highly unlikely that those who work so tirelessly for a national trust and elect their representatives on it are going to give their same devotion to an administrator appointed by the Government. At best as the trust's State President, Patricia Woods points out, the outcomes of the Government's actions will be a compliant group of volunteers running National Trust houses free of charge for the Government.

As you are probably aware, four motions were carried at last Saturday's annual general meeting of the National Trust and I would like to read those into Hansard:


'That the governance structure be changed in accordance with the wishes of the majority of members' -


'That any State Council, board or governing body has its members elected by the membership;'


'That the Minister for Heritage be advised that the Membership endorsed its elected representatives the President and Treasurer to deal with government on their behalf;'


That the Members call on Mister Ken Bacon to demonstrate his understanding of democratic processes by insisting that his department and all National Trust groups work towards holding meetings of members so that they may determine their own structure and governance.'

The president of the trust also points out that the National Trust held many of its current and substantial assets before the National Trust Act 1975. The members believe that these assets were put together by the efforts of its members, and the control of them should remain with members. However, with the passage of this bill this will of course be in doubt. Having said that, I signal to the Government that I will be giving close scrutiny to the administration of this process during the budget Estimates process.

[4.52 p.m.]
Mr AIRD (Derwent - Leader of the Government in the Council) - Mr President, I thank honourable members for their contribution. A number of members have said that they are going to look at this process with a great deal of detail and so they should. I encourage them to do so.

The fact is that if you go through all the options - and I am not going to canvass all the options - this is the most precise, transparent and accountable action a government can take. It is an intervention strategy. We needed a method of intervention. The New South Wales model gave a clue of how we should deal with this. There have been a number of accusations within the organisation of the National Trust. I think I am former financial member if we went back years and years ago.

Mr Wilkinson - Don't say that or they'll chase up your subs.

Mr AIRD - I think it is bit late. I think I might be one of those lapsed members that would be re-encouraged to join if I knew that the governance model was going to be of value in terms of the outcomes that they are supposed to support.

No-one can doubt that our cultural heritage needs support. The National Trust have done a fantastic job over a number of years in terms of establishing the asset and maintaining the asset but they are in hard times and their governance model is not serving them well.

The Government has taken an interventions model, which I am sure will deliver an appropriate result, particularly in the level of modern governance, and established a capacity to get some cash flow into the business. I hope that it can be sorted out. Regarding the issue of funding, there is a total of $650 000 allocated and $150 000 is to retire statutory debt including insurances and taxes and that kind of debt. There is $250 000 for two years of recurrent funding and working capital, if you like.

I guess part of that would be to service other debt. The money will be used to service operating costs and the minister has requested that the money be tied to specific outgoings such as wages, insurance and tax obligations. We are putting in some considerable resources as part of that strategy. I am sure that we will have an ongoing and viable national trust. We want that to occur. We certainly appreciate the level of volunteer commitment, as honourable members have paid testament also to their influence and passion. It is quite amazing the level of commitment to those buildings that they feel a part of in some sense. They have been there all the time doing those things that have helped maintain that service.

Mr Finch - Leader, that is one of the concerns that I am sure is shared by the president. Those volunteers who work in those homes and at those locations, particularly Franklin House, are really uncertain about their future. The sooner we can allay their fears and concerns, the better off we will be in respect of their ability to contribute into the future.

Mr AIRD - I agree with that. That is why we have taken this action now to develop that intervention, put in an administrator and then it becomes a management issue. If you analyse the whole range of volunteerism in Australia, it is on the decline; it is an ageing population in terms of volunteers. It is quite an interesting demographic. So the notion of volunteerism is under some pressure, therefore in establishing a new model it is going to be part of the exercise to see how volunteers fit into the system. Volunteers need support; they need good, modern administration; they need resources; they need training. They need to be promoted and valued. Because they are not paid does not mean their value is diminished in terms of their contribution to the organisation. That is a management skill. At any time of change there is always anxiety. I understand anxiety and I sympathise with it and therefore the sooner we get on with this the better and they can be fully in the picture and fully apprised about their role in working with the organisation.

Mr Finch - I think it was unfortunate that through the process the people who were elected by those volunteers to represent them were not consulted by the minister. I thought that process of negotiation, discussion and moving forward with the group was unfortunate.

Mr AIRD - I have heard the assertion that 'the minister won't talk to us' but, quite frankly, there was difficulty amongst members of the National Trust themselves talking to their own people working for them. So it comes a bit shallow in terms of having a crack at the minister for his lack of communication when the organisation itself did not have the capacity to manage its own communications. That has all been said; it is all water under the bridge. This is the model and I appreciate the support for it. Once we have put this into place, we have a capacity to engage. There is still a level of connection with the existing membership in terms of advice and so on which is going to be essential in terms of support for the administrator in policy and other matters. There will be that connection in this model.

Mr Finch - That is what concerns me also, Leader. It has not been done in the past and I am not confident that it is going to be done in the future.

Mr AIRD - You have no reason not to be confident. In appointing an administrator, the ability of the administrator to communicate with the Government, the membership and those who want to make a worthwhile contribution to the future development of the National Trust would be there because of that capacity to have the administrator there, assuming all the functions that exist with the president and with the council, and so I think we have the capacity to cut through, and I hope whoever gets the job as administrator is like the bloke at the bar. He has a job in front of him or her, but nonetheless it is a great challenge. It would be an exciting job because you are dealing with a valuable asset to the State. You are dealing with something which everyone appreciates and has got to be an integral part of how we develop our promotion of our State in the future. So it is a job that I could really see some real merit in doing.

Mr Finch - You're not leaving us, are you?

Mr AIRD - No. I have not put my hand up for the job. I am very happy doing what I am doing. But if you get a person who has the capacity to be a change agent and take people with him, it could be a very rewarding and satisfying job, and I cannot think of many more worthwhile organisations to be involved in to achieve that change, and to pass the baton on to a new governance model.