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Since opening in 2001, the National Museum has striven to be a major cultural tourism destination, engaging visitors with Australian history and heritage. This year our efforts were well rewarded, with the Museum named Best Major Tourist Attraction in the Australian Tourism Awards. This was especially welcome at a time when a considerable amount of our work had been in areas that might not be immediately obvious to the visiting public, but which will bring their own rewards in years to come.
After four years of operation at Acton, the Museum is well placed to build upon its achievements and learn from its experiences. This year we continued to focus on strengthening core activities and planning for the future - developing the collections, reviewing and improving exhibitions, expanding our research base, and refining operational processes.
Much of this work is central to the ongoing implementation of the four-year Collections and Gallery Development Plan, adopted last year to guide the Museum's progress and address some issues raised in the Review of Exhibitions and Public Programs (2003).
The Federal Government's announcement in the 2004 budget that the Museum will receive an additional $1 million per year for acquisitions provided a significant boost to collection development this year and will continue to enrich the Museum's gallery redevelopment over the coming years.
We were also very fortunate this year to be given one of the biggest and best-documented collections on the history of a major rural property. The Springfield collection includes a wealth of material evoking Australia's pastoral history and the everyday lives of pioneering pastoralists.
As well as continuing to work on enhancing the permanent exhibitions, the Museum this year refined its focus for temporary and travelling exhibitions. Council approved a new policy for temporary and travelling exhibitions, supported by a five-year program. The program will also strengthen our outreach activities, with a greater focus on delivering quality smaller exhibitions to venues outside Canberra.
All of the Museum's exhibitions and collection development activities are underpinned by quality research. This was reinforced this year by a new research policy, which will help develop the Museum as a centre of excellence for the understanding of Australian history and society. The Museum's in-house publisher National Museum of Australia Press is an important outlet for the scholarship of our research program. Planning began this year for an online scholarly journal, expected to be published during the next financial year.
The year also saw considerable work go into refining the operational framework that supports core activities. A new strategic plan brought a sharper focus to business planning and priorities, while the review of 16 major policies provided an improved policy framework in which to operate. The Museum and staff also successfully negotiated a new certified agreement, expected to be implemented from July 2005.
While the year was highly productive and successful for the Museum, it was not without its challenges. Staff departures and delays in recruitment of suitable replacements resulted in some program slippage. Combined with a perceived need for caution about over expenditure and some over optimism about the time frames required for project completion, this resulted in an underspend of the Museum's financial allocation for the year.
The Museum recognises a need to better align business planning and financial management across all program areas. Next financial year will see a greater emphasis on building the organisation's business operations skills.
Another challenge is to address the Museum's serious shortage of space, both for collection storage and office accommodation. Considerable work was done this year to identify options and a project has commenced to extend the Acton Annexe to increase office space. Some short-term improvements were made to collection storage in one repository, but this has not decreased the need for a long-term solution.
After four years the Museum appears to have settled into a post-opening pattern of visitation. While we experienced a decline in visitor numbers, research showed that visitor satisfaction remained high.
As we strengthen our collections, research and business operations, we look to the future with great optimism and commitment to our vision.
I wish to acknowledge the Government's support for the Museum and in particular the support of our portfolio ministers Senator the Hon. Helen Coonan and Senator the Hon. Rod Kemp.
I am also grateful for the continuing support and assistance of the Chairman of Council, the Hon. Tony Staley, and of other Council members.
I would also like to acknowledge the highly active Friends of the National Museum of Australia for their ongoing support and commitment to the organisation.
Finally, I wish to congratulate and thank the Museum's dedicated staff and volunteers for their continuing commitment to the organisation and its visitors.