Wednesday 22 November 2006
NATIONAL TRUST BILL 2006 (No. 46)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, the sooner the National Trust exits administration the better it will be. The date has been set for 28 December and establishing the trust as a body corporate, as this bill provides, is probably the best of several options.
There has of course been some strong opposition to this move but my impression is that it is not widespread. However, Mr President, a number of legitimate concerns have been raised, as have a number of suggestions. One has been for a select committee to be established to look at how the National Trust has come to this stage. Although that is a fair suggestion and I would suggest that all members have considered that very carefully and I will be interested to hear their views and their thoughts on this bill, I can only see a select committee raking over the ashes of long-dead fires. In the end, it would have to come up with suggestions for the future and one of them would likely be what the minister is now proposing in the National Trust Bill 2006.
Since 1960, and that is over 45 years, National Trust volunteers have worked tirelessly to preserve Tasmania's heritage. They started at a time when Tasmania seemed to be bent on pulling down its heritage. I can recall my first visit to Franklin House at Franklin Village just outside Launceston. I remember seeing the photo that I think is still on display there of what Franklin House looked like before the National Trust took it on as a project. If you had been a member of the local council or a resident, you would have been making suggestions that they pull it down because it was an eyesore. It was a disgrace. But of course through the work of those volunteers and people who love their built heritage and know the connection of that building back to the history, we have seen that restored to the magnificent representation it is today of our built heritage.
The National Trust has done a great deal to educate Tasmanians about the importance of that built heritage and I think our tourism industry, for one, owes it a great debt. I remember living in Port Macquarie at a time when the chap that I worked for, Bernard Harte, was the manger of the radio station there, 2KM. He was on the Chamber of Commerce but lived at Port Macquarie and he was working assiduously to try to convince the local developers at Port Macquarie that they should retain the historical buildings that they had in Port Macquarie that went back to the convict times. They had a bakehouse, a courthouse and a jailhouse and all kinds of buildings, spread around Port Macquarie with a link back to the history. He could not convince them not to allow the developers to have their way. Subsequently, you went to Port Macquarie and you received a pamphlet which listed the historical buildings, 1 to 20. You moved around and there were little plaques, 'this is where the court house used to stand.' You look up now and there is a building or a block of flats. They just could not stop that.
Through the National Trust, we in Tasmania, I think, got the balance right. The National Trust has accomplished its important work through those volunteers that I have mentioned and its own fundraising, usually with inadequate support from the Government. I think that is really part of the reason that we are seeing the National Trust in the situation that it is in. Volunteers from the community are vital for its continued existence and some have argued that this new national trust act will deter future volunteers, but I think not. A well run, accountable and efficient organisation with updated governance arrangements is more likely to attract than deter volunteers in the future.
Mr President, I note the assurance of the minister that, although the initial board will be appointed by the Government, directors will be required to act at all times in the best interests of trust members and the volunteers. Further, the board is to hold regular, regional forums to meet with trust members and volunteers to discuss their ideas. Good initiatives.
I also note that trust members will start to elect members of the board after its first year of operation with a new member being elected each year for three years. So this gives a four-year time scale, until three of six non-executive board members are elected by the membership. I see that four-year time scale as highly relevant.
If I can quote the minister at this stage, a quote that I think is compelling, she said:
'The long-term goal for the trust is that it becomes sufficiently self-sustaining to be independent of government. The bill makes provisions for the responsible minister to relinquish responsibility for appointing three board directors, if and when the trust is judged to be self-sustaining. This will result in the trust members being responsible for electing all six directors of the board.'
That is what the minister envisages, sometime after that initial four-year period as the trust membership builds up its representation on the board. The Government, as we have heard, has allocated almost $1 million - $970 000 - in funding for the trust over that four-year period. I would have thought, Mr President, that under a good board and a managing director with flair, the trust should be sufficiently self-reliant to be independent of government within four years from now. Under the bill as it stands, it will be up to the responsible minister to relinquish responsibility for appointing three directors when the trust is judged to be self-sustaining - by the minister, one would assume. That is an interesting part because that could go on for years. To me, it sounds a little bit too open-ended. Presumably in four years, when the $970 000 allocation has run out, the Government will have to make a new decision on the funding. Let us just hope that it will be more generous than it has been in the past because that has been the criticism that has come through to me . The funding in the past just has not been sufficient and has caused, in some way, the trust to be in its current position. I suggest, Mr President, that this is the appropriate time to give the membership full responsibility for electing all board members, that is after that four-year period. The decision should be taken this time by Parliament rather than the minister with all the relevant information before us and the audit process in the bill will facilitate this. Setting such a schedule with that decision up to Parliament, I believe, would go some way to allaying concerns about this bill. I am looking to support this bill but I am also interested in what other members have to say.