Dr John Gardiner-Garden
The 2014–15 Budget included significant funding reductions to arts, screen and cultural bodies.
The Budget anticipated savings of $87.1 million over four years by reducing uncommitted funding to arts programs administered by the Attorney‑General's Department ($33.8 million), the Australia Council ($28.2 million) and Screen Australia ($25.1 million). The reduction in the Attorney-General’s Department’s funding could affect many, as yet unspecified, programs administered by the Ministry for the Arts. The reduction in the Australia Council’s funding was explained by the body’s chief executive, Tony Grybowski, as leaving the body ‘still ahead’ after a funding boost it received under the former government’s 2013 Creative Australia cultural policy. However the reduction to uncommitted funding will disproportionally affect individual artists and smaller arts organisations that are not in triennial or annual funding agreements that lock in funding to major companies such as Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet, and the major state theatre companies and orchestras. The reduction of funding to Screen Australia will impact significantly on its capacity to support Australian film and television production, but the taxation incentives for Australian film production remain unaffected by budget measures.
The Budget also provided for a reduction of $9.5 million over the next three years in the allocation for Indigenous languages support (Attorney-General’s Department). This measure comes in the context of a 2012 Parliamentary Inquiry calling on the government to respond to an urgent need in this area with a significant increase in funding, and of the former government including $14.0 million in its 2013 Creative Australia package to expand the Indigenous Languages Support Program.
In 2014–15 funding will cease for the Australian Interactive Games Fund (saving $10.0 million in 2014–15) and Get Reading! Program (saving $1.6 million each of the next four financial years).
Savings of $2.4 million over four years are to be achieved by consolidating the back office functions of National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery of Australia, National Library of Australia, Old Parliament House, National Film and Sound Archive, National Museum of Australia and the National Archives of Australia. These are some of the country’s most important cultural institution and collecting agencies, and many concerns have been raised about this measure. Mr Craddock Morton, former director of the National Museum, has suggested the idea has inherent difficulties that would prevent it from succeeding and that ‘the efficiencies are just not there’. Ms Churcher, former director of the National Art Gallery was reported as saying ‘It’s the sort of thing they’ll do and then about 12 months later they’ll have to undo’. Joanna Mendelssohn, Associate Professor, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, suggested:
if “back-office” means marketing and publishing, it could be all well and good…There will be real problems if security is centralised. …Good security depends on staff being familiar with their colleagues as well as systems. Any attempt to rationalise and homogenise collections management will further endanger the national collections. … there is no such thing as too much research prior to acquiring works for public collections. Cuts will be made here at our peril.
Museums Australia national director Bernice Murphy warned that ‘if you merge functions and erode individual identities you in fact threaten those institutions [sic] ability to entrepreneur their cultural abilities to the highest standard’. Steven Schwartz, the executive director of the Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, was reported as saying a similar idea was tried in Queensland ‘to save money and see those savings redirected’ but ‘[N]either of those two things occurred.’
Two budget measures involve new arts-related expenditure.
Creative Partnerships Australia will receive $5.4 million over four years to continue to build private sector support for the arts through philanthropy, sponsorship and corporate volunteering. The funding is no doubt intended to help leverage more private sector support for the arts through philanthropy, sponsorship and in-kind support. Such support disproportionately flows to larger arts organisations, so the small organisations and individuals, who are most impacted by the ‘uncommitted funding’ reduction, may benefit least from any support leveraged by this new funding.
The Australian Ballet School will receive a one-off grant of $1.0 million to help the school raise private sector funding to purchase a student residence near its premises in Melbourne. The measure will help the School address a problem that it has had in meeting the needs of all qualifying young people (especially those 14 to 15 years of age), and that has been resulting in a large percentage of acceptance offers being declined.
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