Situated in the spiritual home of Australian democracy—iconic, heritage-listed Old Parliament House— the Museum of Australian Democracy plays a leadership role in informing, educating and engaging Australians on democracy, providing opportunities for individuals to reconnect with our national story and reassess their own roles in upholding Australia’s democratic values.
10 years of engagement
Our programs cater for all ages and all interest levels, and our impact reaches far beyond our walls—to policymakers, academics and like-minded partners, as well as tens of thousands of students and teachers across urban, regional and remote areas of the country.
In 2019, the tenth year of the museum’s operation, we welcomed our three-millionth visitor, cemented our reputation on online travel guides as a must-visit museum, and extended our partnerships with broadcasters, filmmakers and artists to explore democracy-related ideas.
Corresponding with our highest ever number of visitors, of whom 54 per cent were repeat visitors, our visitor feedback ratings were strong: 90 per cent of visitors were satisfied with their experiences.
Overall, during 2018–19 we engaged with more than one million visitors, onsite, online and through our partnership activities.
Unique position of trust
The museum holds a unique position on the frontline of democracy, civic agency and learning. Research shows that, at a time of declining trust around the world, museums are trusted for having credible content and impartial voices.
This year, in partnership with the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, we established Democracy 2025, an initiative to provide evidence-based research and practice and engender dialogue that feeds into our exhibitions and informs a new generation of democratically engaged Australians. Trustand democracy in Australia, the first of three reports produced by the initiative in 2018–19, established baseline information on trust and satisfaction and triggered lively discussion and media analysis.
Our work with the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters resulted in a survey of incumbent members and senators that will inform a report to be released in late 2019.
Voice and agency
Participation and engagement continue to be central to our work as we seek to reflect the democratic traditions of debate and conversation in our activities. New exhibitions and events incorporate carefully crafted opportunities for dialogue, connection and expression.
Our new permanent gallery Democracy. Are You In?, exploring civic engagement and democratic values, encourages audiences to interact directly with the exhibition. Since the exhibition’s launch in August 2018, more than 2,000 visitors have provided detailed insights into what kind of democratic citizens they are, how they would improve Australia’s democracy, and what their top three democratic values are. In June 2019, the leading values overall were human rights, social equality and freedom of expression.
A unique, large-scale participatory exhibition, 33 Revolutions, brought together a record 17,925 visitors (and 3,392 recycled vinyl records) over four nights during Canberra’s annual Enlighten festival, with the aim of building stronger, more cohesive and resilient communities. Our new gallery for young people DressUP: Change the World, gives voice to eight inspirational role models from history, science, sports, arts and politics, who went from ordinary to extraordinary in order to make a difference in the world.
Extending our experiential approach into the online world continues to be a priority as we balance the desire for impact and reach with the requirement for considered, respectful dialogue. Despite a changing media landscape, online engagement was consistent on all platforms, and we achieved a pleasing 49 per cent increase in the number of web page views.
Educating tomorrow’s leaders
Our civics education offering continues to grow, with new delivery models, 15 new onsite programs, 12 new online resources and extensive research and collaborations all aimed at enriching and expanding the learning experience. In 2018–19, 88,534 students and teachers participated in our formal onsite programs, our highest school visitation ever. The proportion of teachers who said that they were satisfied with our programs was outstanding, at 98 per cent.
Our award-winning radio-frequency identification technology continues to underpin many of our onsite learning activities, providing personalised collaborative experiences. Our remote access digital excursion programs build our capacity to reach students who are unable to visit the museum, including students from regional and remote areas.
During 2018–19, we were able to broaden our work in developing the next generation of leaders by delivering a mentoring program, in partnership with the Australian Multicultural Foundation and McCarthy Mentoring, to support outstanding young women from diverse backgrounds as they take up leadership positions in their communities.
Capacity and impact
Our broader success is enhanced by strategic partnerships with like-minded organisations. For example, during 2018–19:
we extended our partnership with the United Nations Information Centre Canberra, to present an exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
we collaborated with ABC Online to conduct an online survey on trust that attracted 230,000 participants
the University of New South Wales opened the John Howard Library within Old Parliament House
partnerships with the Department of Home Affairs and the Office for Women enabled us to enhance our existing offerings.
We continue to work closely with Canberra’s national cultural institutions; the Canberra Writers Festival, of which the museum is a founding member; and the Council of Australasian Museum Directors, of which I am Chair. Museum staff presented 21 papers at conferences in Australia and overseas in 2018–19.
Our Lower Senate Wing Offices and Committee Rooms Refurbishment project received the National Trust of Australia (ACT) Heritage Award for an Outstanding Project in 2018.
Finance and governance
In December 2018, the Australian National Audit Office conducted a performance audit of Old Parliament House, leading to the report Effectiveness of Board Governance atOld Parliament House, tabled on 18 April 2019. The report found that the governance oversight arrangements of the Board were effective.
Long-term financial sustainability continues to be a key focus. Since becoming a corporate Commonwealth entity, Old Parliament House has generated revenue from new sources to invest back into operations. After the second year of a three-year capital funding injection for modernisation and essential infrastructure and safety upgrades, we are broadly on track. However, those works have impacted revenue generation capacity, and urgent capital works will continue to impact revenue for the next three years.
Our financial statements once again received an unqualified audit.
The museum is supported by an efficient, flexible and empowered workforce that is working to full capacity. The agency continues to perform well in the Australian Public Service employee census: in 2019, 71 per cent of our staff participated and we were placed in the top five agencies in the categories of engagement, wellbeing and innovation.
Looking towards 20 years
In preparation for the next decade, the museum has concluded a two-year period of review, with a renewed strategic framework; substantial reviews of governance, collection management and capital needs; and a 20-year masterplan for the building. The building plan includes a proposed new wing to provide contemporary, flexible spaces supporting our capacity to properly tell the stories of Australia’s democratic journey.
Updating permanent galleries and digital infrastructure while responding to the urgent needs of a heritage building with an underfunded capital plan remains a priority. We will also focus on maximising commercial and partnership growth while developing appropriately funded initiatives that address the government’s response to the recommendations of the 2019 report by the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories on its inquiry into Canberra’s national institutions.
On 1 September 2019, responsibility for Old Parliament House will move from the Communications and the Arts portfolio to the portfolio of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Despite the challenge of retaining a leadership position in the cultural sector we are excited by the opportunities that this provides.
I would like to thank:
our staff and volunteers, who passionately support our 364-days-a-year operation
our Board, for its guidance, leadership and support
our donors, whose contributions and gifts help the museum to achieve and thrive
our core strategic partners—in particular, the Australian Electoral Commission, the Parliament and Civics Education Rebate program, the National Archives of Australia, the Australian Multicultural Foundation, and the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis
the Australian Government—in particular, our ministers, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield and the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, and officers at the Department of Communications and the Arts, particularly Secretary Mr Mike Mrdak AO, First Assistant Secretary Mr Stephen Arnott PSM, Ms Jacqueline Uhlmann and Ms Ann Campton.