You are here

Heritage – National Trust

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 8 June 2023

Tags: Heritage, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes. Minister, as far as you know, is the National Trust solvent?

Ms OGILVIE - Let's get some information on that.

Ms O'CONNOR - I've just had a look at the most recent information that the Auditor-General has available which shows that the National Trust, charged with looking after our beautiful built heritage, had cash it banked of about $556.

Ms OGILVIE - Let me provide information in relation to that. We are aware of the challenging financial position. We've been working closely with the board to discuss and consider options that might be of assistance.

The National Trust, for the benefit of Hansard, receives more than $312 000 per year from the Government through a current three-year funding assistance grant. In the 2021-22 and 2022-23 state budgets, the Government provided an additional $300 000 to support the National Trust operations and to facilitate strategic and business transformation activities.

In this year's Budget, $1.5 million has been allocated by the Government for supporting Tasmania's build heritage, of which $200 00 will be provided to the National Trust in 2023-24 for essential building maintenance.

We have also previously provided additional support for specific needs, including one-off grants in 2019, a grant of $350 000 for urgent maintenance of Clarendon House.

Ms O'CONNOR - I want to talk to you about Clarendon House. I have some horrifying photos for you.

Ms OGILVIE - I thought you might want to, so I thought it was a good one to reference right now.

And also provided rent relief for Launceston office, as offered in 2020, to other Government commercial tenants impacted by COVID-19.

Do you want me to continue on National Trust or do you have something specific?

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you think they're financially secure and operating in such a way with the pubic funds they are provided that allows them to properly maintain properties? We can talk about Clarendon House in a minute.

As you detailed, significant sums of public money, and rightly so, go to the National Trust to help maintain building. Then when you look at the audit report which shows they had cash at bank at $556, you would have to be worried, wouldn't you?

Ms OGILVIE - We are keeping a close eye on the financial circumstances of the National Trust. Everybody in Tasmania would regard the National Trust as a real treasure, and particularly the membership of the trust and the wonderful people who contribute to keeping it going.

Ms O'CONNOR - The volunteers.

Ms OGILVIE - As we all age, volunteerism is declining generally across the state.

They obviously have one of these massive challenges that everybody in the heritage sector has, and that is the maintenance and care of old buildings, getting the people you need to work on them, the people who have the skills, the heritage skills, stonemasonry and all of those issues. So, we are concerned to ensure that we are doing everything we can as a Government. One of the ways we can do that is with particular project funding. We have done that in the past. I'll point to the convict hub as a really good project that the National Trust has been engaged with.

Ms O'CONNOR - I think you've dealt with the question although you didn't specifically answer whether or not you think they are solvent. But, they are certainly poor.

Minister, here are some pictures from Clarendon House, one of the most beautiful old heritage properties in the north of the state.

Ms O'BYRNE - The jewel in the National Trust crown.

Ms O'CONNOR - The jewel in the National Trust crown which has damage to a roof, bird and possum debris and poo in the convict accommodation building, grass growing out of the gutters, water damage on the stables. Clarendon used to be a property that was open widely. I think it was open seven days a week to the public. Now it has restricted access. It's been allowed to run down. Do you think it is time as minister that you exercised your powers under the National Trust Act, and do as one of your predecessors, as I understand it as Heritage Minister, did and appoint an administrator to the National Trust?

Ms OGILVIE - That is not a step we are taking. I have seen those photographs and it's very distressing for those who love beautiful buildings. But the condition of National Trust properties, of which Clarendon House is one, is the responsibility of the National Trust Board and not the Government.

Ms O'CONNOR - You're the Minister for Heritage and ultimately the responsibility is with you.

Ms OGILVIE - However, I recall that the impacts to that building you show in those photographs were due to localised storm damage. That is my understanding.

Ms O'CONNOR - A year ago - and were left?

Ms OGILVIE - I have some information on that. The repair of the significant damage to a small section, which we have seen there, of skillion roofs and verandah posts has been the subject of a protracted insurance claim which is really very difficult, but I understand -

Ms O'CONNOR - Is that what the chair of the National Trust told you, that it was an insurance claim?

Ms OGILVIE - that the repair works will commence shortly. That is what I am advised.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay, thank you. On this line of questioning, if I could persist briefly. That is interesting. What you have told the committee - and I am sure it is the information you have been provided with -

Ms OGILVIE - It is what I have been advised.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is no reflection on you at all, but as minister who has ultimate responsibility for making sure our heritage is protected, doesn't it concern you that storm damage that was caused almost a year ago has been left? Not only is it a heritage maintenance issue, it's actually a safety issue as well for people who might go to Clarendon, and volunteers who, as we know are diminishing in number, partly because of the closure of the Launceston office. Don't you agree that is completely unacceptable?

Ms OGILVIE - I am very concerned.

Ms O'CONNOR - What are you doing about it?

Ms OGILVIE - The property is owned by the National Trust.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is owned by the people of Tasmania, though, ultimately. There might be a statute there.

Ms OGILVIE - Philosophically, I would agree. We all love our heritage at that philosophical layer, but in reality, the property is owned by the National Trust and I am advised it has been the subject of a protracted insurance claim, so it is concerning that it has taken some time.

Ms O'CONNOR - What sort of accountability does the Trust have to you as minister?

Ms OGILVIE - I am able to appoint members to that board.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why won't you appoint an administrator, given that they're basically broke and losing volunteers, and I'm not talking about the people who have been part of the Trust for a very long time, I'm saying there is a management issue here where we're seeing buildings being run down and volunteers disappearing. The Launceston office closed without any conversation with volunteers, people who loved and had been part of the Trust for a long time, people like Ivan Dean. Isn't it time you stepped in?

Ms OGILVIE - No, we're not appointing an administrator but I will talk to funding, which is something that is very important.

Ms O'CONNOR - You did that before.

Ms OGILVIE - The next three-year funding agreement grant deed, which is an additional $300 000 budget allocation to the National Trust for 2022-23, was utilised in part to facilitate the development of clear strategies for its future operations.

I am not being churlish in relation to the concerns you raise. I have heard those elsewhere as well, but I do want to see a strategic and business transformational approach and focus for the National Trust and that will be reflected in the next grant deed. You are right in that we want to see improvement and we want to see our heritage cared for. It is very concerning that the protracted insurance issue has led to that damage being there for so long.

Ms O'CONNOR - There are a whole lot of other issues with the Trust.

Ms O'CONNOR - As I understand it, the National Trust has obligations under national competition law and ASIC; and it's clear that under the ASIC rules, the National Trust needs to be liquid - that is, solvent - and that directors of a company limited by guarantee will generally have the same legal duties, responsibilities and liabilities as directors of other entities registered as public companies under the Corporations Act.

Minister, I think we've established in the conversation today that there are significant financial issues with the way the National Trust is being run, under its current management. It's barely solvent, there's small change in the bank. And each year, as Ms O'Byrne said, they're going to have to keep coming back for another $300 000 dollars so they can, at least in part, invest public moneys in protecting these public buildings; although, for Clarendon it sure did take some time.

Are you completely confident and certain as minister, that the National Trust is appropriately solvent, complies with ASIC and national competition requirements and that it is doing the best possible job looking after our beautiful built heritage?

Ms OGILVIE - Ms O'Connor, my understanding and the advice I've just received is that the corporations law doesn't apply; but that doesn’t absolve anybody from doing the right thing and managing things properly.

Ms O'CONNOR - It doesn't apply?

Ms OGILVIE - Yes. That's the advice I've just had.

Mr FLETCHER - The National Trust Act provides the governance in terms of them, but they’re not subject to the Corporations Act. That's my understanding.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's not required to be solvent, under the act?

Ms OGILVIE - However, we would expect proper and prudential management and governance. We have traversed the issue that we are concerned about the management towards a sustainable future. We've been working closely with the National Trust on that. The concerns of our volunteers deeply resonate with me, and I believe they are concerns there that we have across a number of our important institutions that are volunteer-driven. The volunteerism challenge across Tasmania is very deep and real. I also am taking on board your commentary on the Launceston issue and the touch and feel of the Trust there. I have heard that from other sources so, I'm live to that, as well.

When it comes to sustainability and solvency, it's not for me to dictate where things are at. It is for me to respond to those issues. I know that we have been working closely with the Trust to build up its capability, that strategic planning exercise. That's the best response I can give you at this moment in relation to that. I acknowledge the level of challenge that we have, and particularly when we are dealing with old and august buildings that are expensive and require constant maintenance and management and investment.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister. I hear what you said about the issue of volunteers, but - and I understand this has been raised by former Legislative Councillor, Ivan Dean, who is passionate about our heritage and the National Trust.. He was on the Legislative Council inquiry. You know, I have a lot of time for Ivan.

Ms OGILVIE - So do I.

Ms O'CONNOR - One of the issues about volunteers that seems to be manifest through the circumstances of the National Trust now, is a failure to invest the time into nurturing and keeping and growing your volunteer base. Given that the base was Launceston-centred and the Umbrella Shop is there, do you acknowledge that it's not just about the statewide issue with volunteerism? You can almost track the decline in volunteers for the National Trust from the move out of Launceston, and the closure of Clarendon House for a number of days of the week. Do you agree that it's about more than the statewide volunteer shortage?

Ms OGLIVIE - I agree that there's a magnetism to great and amazing heritage places and properties that brings people together. Clarendon House is one of those; Port Arthur is another; and the Women's Factory in South Hobart as well. You find it’s a confluence of activity and volunteerism around those.

I am concerned about it. I'm deeply respectful of the Launceston Heritage Committee. On a philosophical level, I agree with you. To be engaged with the heritage sector comes from a place of deep love of heritage and history and resonance. It's a different kind of volunteer that wants to come on board. I believe that the concern about volunteerism in the heritage sector is happening worldwide. If you look at other jurisdictions, there's challenges -

Ms O'CONNOR - I suggest there's some cause and effect issues here though, with the Trust.

Ms OGILVIE - There may well be, and I'm very aware of that Launceston concern. But, there are also issues that can be addressed through internal work of caring for your volunteers. In October 2022, the National Trust filled two of three advertised property manager positions and appointed an office manager role, which I understand also has a focus on the volunteer engagement work.

I have a background in sports, and the volunteer engagement work keeps all those clubs going - football clubs, racing - and heritage is another one. It is very important in Tasmania. I agree with you that the volunteerism issue is real, and I agree there is concern coming through the Launceston ranks.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you for your answer. I have one more on this line of questioning. About four or five years ago now, a Piguenit painting - the provenance of which was uncertain -was in the National Trust headquarters and, as we understand it, was sold to Julia Farrell for about $80 000. I don't know if there was a valuation on it, but I'll bet you a Piguenit is worth a lot more than $80 000. Do you have any line of sight on this particular asset sale by the Trust, and are you aware of whether - in order to become more liquid - the Trust is countenancing selling more of the heritage of which it's the custodian?

Ms OGILVIE - In relation to the matter you raise, I don't have a specific line of sight -

Ms O'CONNOR - You might ask some questions about that.

Ms OGILVIE - I'm quite happy to do that. It's not something I've delved into. You mentioned that the provenance was uncertain; but were we certain it was a Piguenit painting?

Ms O'CONNOR - It's a question of who owned it - where did it came from, to be on the wall of the National Trust offices. I don't think that was established before it was sold cheap.

Ms OGILVIE - I hate to say this, but it's clearly before my time. I haven't looked into it. I understand that, from time to time, the Trust does consolidate assets. More generally, I'm thinking about some friends of mine who wanted to gift things to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, but they weren't of an appropriate standard. So, I have some understanding of the gifting and giving process. That's all I have to hand. I'm happy to look into it.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's more about any program of heritage asset sales by the Trust and what level of oversight you, as minister, or your delegate to the Trust, knows about whether there's a program of planned asset sales of heritage of which the trust is a custodian.

Ms O'BYRNE - I hate to interrupt but would it come under the ministerial statement of expectations? We have a statement of expectations with the Trust. Would that be something that would normally be picked up by that?

Ms OGILVIE - I will see if we have anything on this. I will be clear, I don't have a line of sight on the proposed sales. None have been raised with me and I would expect -

Ms O'CONNOR - They wouldn't be, would they?

Ms OGILVIE - I think they would be. I think we would become aware.

Ms O'CONNOR - There is some information here.

Ms OGILVIE - We do have one that has been raised and that is with, by exception, the sale of 10 Ancanthe Avenue, Lenah Valley. It is currently 273C Lenah Valley Road, which was a vacant block of land. The National Trust owned a block of land at that address adjacent to Ancanthe Park, which contains the Tasmanian Heritage Register-listed Lady Franklin Museum. I am advised that the Trust has recently signed a contract for the sale of this property on the open market. That's not the museum but the land.

Ms O'BYRNE - Does that approval come to you first?

Ms OGILVIE - My understanding is they are able to distribute properties. Under part 4, section 28 of the National Trust Act they are required to obtain the approval of the Attorney General to ensure that they are satisfied that the proposed action is just and equitable. This approval has been received in relation to this property, with the sale of the property expected to be completed in coming months. Just to pre empt the next question, the act is silent on any obligation of the Minister for Heritage to approve any land sale by the National Trust.