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Evidence of meeting #9 for Canadian Heritage in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was australia.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Excellency Justin Hugh Brown  High Commissioner for Australia to Canada, Australian High Commission
André Picard  Vice-President, Public and Corporate Affairs, Just For Laughs Group
Louise Pothier  Director, Exhibitions and Technologies, Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Calandra.

We will move on to Ms. Boutin-Sweet.

9 a.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Thank you.

You spoke of public lectures in which history was looked at with a critical eye so as to learn from the past. I'm intrigued. I'd like you to give us more details on that matter.

9:05 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

Merci.

There were a number of events, some officially part of the centenary, and others that were what I might describe as unofficial events at the time of the centenary. Many universities, for example, hosted conferences, conventions, and symposia looking at Australian history.

A sidebar comment here is that Australia is a country that doesn't talk as a country about its history very much at all. It was quite a new approach for our community to actually reflect on our history as a country.

There are quite sharp divisions between parts of the community on the events of the past, particularly in relation to the indigenous community. At the time, we had a Conservative government that felt very strongly that there was too much focus on the problems of the past, the shortcomings of previous Australian governments and so on. There was a very robust debate, as you would expect in Australia, with both sides putting their views, and there were many articles written in various publications, for example, airing different views about Australia's history.

I don't think any of these reached a particular climax, if you like, but it was part of the effort to improve the way that we as a nation thought of ourselves and to improve the level of understanding, particularly in the general community and among schoolchildren, of some of the basic facts of our history. I don't think it was anything more sophisticated than that.

But as I said, in the context of a country that really hasn't spoken at length about its history and doesn't really reflect on its past very much, it was quite a new and radical approach.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

You also mentioned community projects. Could you give us a few examples?

9:05 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

I don't have any right now. The only one I've been given information on was the event in Townsville, which is in northern Queensland.

Northern Queensland has a particular cultural environment, if I could put it that way. The idea of the gathering there was to celebrate, if you like, what it means to be from northern Queensland. There was a large pageant, a kind of parade, along the waterfront in Townsville. That was designed and implemented with input from and driven by the local community. That was one of the non-metropolitan events that were funded by the federal and state governments, but with community control and ownership of the project.

9:05 a.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

So, if I understood correctly, these events were developed and planned by the communities? Is that right?

9:05 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

In many cases, yes, but not in every case. In some of the individual projects at the community level, the communities were free to put forward proposals for funding from the national council. In many cases they were approved, provided they came within the guidelines and the criteria established by the council. It was a bottom-up process or a community-level process, as well as a top-down process.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Thank you. I'll pass along the remaining time to Mr. Cash.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Thank you, Marjolaine.

Thank you for being here, Your Excellency.

I wanted to ask you about the governance of the centenary, the national council. This was a non-partisan, independent body. Why did the Australian government go in that direction to organize this celebration?

9:10 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

I think all governments are sensitive about charges of being guilty of using national commemorations for party political purposes.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

I've never heard of that before--

9:10 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

It's very rare, I know--

9:10 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

9:10 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

--but even in my country it has been known to happen occasionally.

In this case, I think the issue was really to get away from a celebration that could have been interpreted as giving undue weight to the particular views of a particular political party or a particular element of the community.

As I said earlier, the objective was very clear: not Sydney-centric; very strong emphasis on community-level, bottom-up processes; and nationwide. Also, to take the politics out of it was a key objective.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

In terms of organizing voices from the regions and from the federal government, politics is always in play, of course, when you're trying to organize a non-partisan body. What was the process you went through to put this council together?

9:10 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

As in Canada, our federal government very rarely has the same political complexion as our state and territory governments. We have a mixture of parties representing us. So any federal-state cooperative project has to be, by definition, a political compromise. Once that compromise is reached by federation-wide partisan consensus, it does ripple down throughout the process.

When the national council was formed, the criteria were set, and the key guidelines were developed, that was all a joint partnership of the federal, state, and territory governments of all political complexions. I think that at the time the federal government was Conservative, but historically, Australian state governments have been social democratic Labour Party governments.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

So that billion-dollar fund--

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Cash.

We'll move on to Mr. Simms.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Thank you, Chair.

As you mentioned, it seems as if there was a concerted effort to stay away from the Sydney-centric type of appeal of these celebrations, as community-based as it was. It seems that two things are at play here. A particular state may have a certain existence and historical context that they want to celebrate that may be different from the rest of the country. I say that because, me being from Newfoundland, we have a kinship with the people of Tasmania, for reasons that are obvious.

9:10 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Well, we do. They're just like us, for goodness' sake. The thing about it is that here are certain heritage points there that are obviously very central to that particular area. Is this something that was looked at as part of the grander scheme?

9:10 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

Yes. I mean, without boring you with Australian history, in many ways Sydney is the focal point. It was the place where white settlement began, and the rest of the country was settled from Sydney, effectively.

That's a historical fact, but in any major celebration, we have to balance honouring the fact of white settlement in Sydney with the fact that Australia, a hundred years later, is a country that, like Canada, is made up of many different communities, very specific geographical regions, and community identities. Honouring those was part of the challenge of this event.

9:10 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

When you did that, though, when there was a particular group—I'm fishing for an example, and I don't know if you have one--did the federal government provide them with cash, which they then decided how they were going to use, or was it in conjunction with national standards under which all the celebrations took place?

I'm just trying to get a flavour for how the local celebrations were done.

9:15 a.m.

Justin Hugh Brown

The answer to your question is yes. The national council set basic criteria and guidelines for projects that would be funded, projects that were consistent with the overall themes and approach of the centenary.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

So it wasn't just a straight payment for that....