Arts and film

Budget Review 2015–16 Index

Dr John Gardiner-Garden

The 2015 Budget has surprised and dismayed many people involved with the arts and film in Australia.[1]

Redirection of funding from the Australia Council

The Government announced that $110.0 million over four years would be redirected from the Australia Council (which in 2014-15 received $211.8 million and in 2015-16 will receive $184.5 million) to the Ministry for the Arts in the Attorney-General’s Department ($27.7 million in each of the next two financial years, $28.0 million in 2017–18 and $26.6 million in 2018–19).[2] The redirection provides for:

  • the establishment of a National Programme for Excellence in the Arts ($104.7 million over four years)
  • the transfer of the Visions of Australia and Festivals Australia programs and the Major Festivals Initiative to the Ministry for the Arts (with the latter having its annual budget doubled to $1.7 million) and
  • three more years of Creative Partnerships Australia’s matched funding program ($5.3 million over three years).[3]

The Minister for the Arts, Senator George Brandis, stated that ‘[t]here will be no reduction in the Australia Council’s funding to the 28 major performing arts companies as a result of this initiative’.[4] However, the quarantining of major performing arts (as also happened when the Australia Council’s funding was reduced by $28.2 million over four years in the 2014–15 Budget), together with increased support for well-sponsored arts, will mean a smaller proportion of overall funding will flow to independent artists and small arts enterprises.[5] This would be consistent with the Minister’s declaration in June 2014 that ‘I’m more interested in funding arts companies that cater to the great audiences that want to see quality drama, music or dance, than I am in subsidising individual artists responsible only to themselves.’[6]

National Programme for Excellence in the Arts

The Minister stated that the new National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) will:

... support endowments, international touring and strategic projects, with an emphasis on attracting private sector support ... allow for a truly national approach to arts funding ... deliver on a number of Government priorities including national access to high quality arts and cultural experiences ... [and] make funding available to a wider range of arts companies and arts practitioners, while at the same time respecting the preferences and tastes of Australia’s audiences.[7]

These are objectives which could conceivably be supported by the Australia Council, which only recently underwent a review which culminated in the Australia Council Act 2013.[8] This suggests the potential for duplication of functions, raising questions about the respective roles of and relationships between the two bodies, and of the direction of art policy more generally.

Questions include whether applicants for and recipients of NPEA funding will have the same freedom to reject corporate sponsorship as the Australia Council has allowed its grant applicants and recipients—an issue that arose in the context of the Sydney Biennale last year and which led Minister Brandis to instruct the Australia Council ‘to develop a policy which deals with cases where an applicant for Australia Council funding refuses funding offered by corporate sponsors.’[9] A further question is whether the NPEA process will involve the independent peer assessment that has been central to the Australia Council’s ‘arms-length’ funding model over the last four decades. In June 2013, Minister Brandis supported expanding the scope for ministerial involvement in funding decisions.[10] In May 2014 he included in the budget $1.0 million for the Australian Ballet School; and in September 2014 he was reported as bypassing the Australia Council with a large grant to Melba Recordings.[11]

The measure provides for a greater role for the minister and another avenue for obtaining grant support, but if the aim was to clarify the role of the federal minister and of the different levels of government in supporting different sorts of arts practice, the measure does not do this as simply and clearly as others have suggested in the past (e.g. in 1988 the Liberal shadow arts minister Chris Puplick released a Coalition arts policy which included abolishing the Australia Council and transferring its functions to the relevant department, and in 1986 the McLeay Report recommended special program and funding arrangement for the largest arts companies and devolving grant decision making in some other areas to the States and Territories).[12] No relevant policy statement or Parliamentary report has foreshadowed this measure. The measure does not require legislation.

Screen Australia

The Budget also provides for a reduction in funding of $3.6 million over the next four years ($0.91 million each year) to Screen Australia, the Commonwealth’s main film support body. In the Portfolio Budget Statements, a portion of this reduction is explained as ‘related to the cessation in 2016–17 of the four-year $10.0 million ($2.5 million per year) Creative Australia—supporting Australian digital productions measure’. However, in Budget Paper no.2 the measure is grouped under ‘Arts and Cultural Programmes—efficiencies’ to achieve savings that ‘will be redirected ... to repair the Budget and fund policy priorities’.[13] As this reduction comes on top of a substantial ($25.1 million) reduction provided for in the 2014 Budget, Screen Australia, the Screen Producers Australia and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance have all been reported as saying the measure will seriously affect the screen industry.[14]

Efficiency savings

The Budget also provides for further savings from the Australia Council of $7.3m over four years, to be met through reduced funding to the ArtStart, Capacity Building and Artists in Residence programmes.[15] It also provides for collecting agencies (such as the National Gallery of Australia, National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, the National Museum and the National Portrait Gallery) to continue to be subject to the efficiency dividend and the ‘consolidation of back office functions’ measures announced in 2014.[16]

[1].          B Eltham, ‘Budget 2015: George Brandis’ extraordinary raid of the Australia Council‘, The Drum (online) 13 May 2015; S Cannane and G Deavin, ‘Fears ministry could become more powerful than Council‘ and ‘Budget 2015: Changes to arts funding disastrous, says former chair of Australia Council‘, ABC News (online) 14 and 15 May 2015; and see footnote 15 for reaction to film measures.

[2].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, p. 62; Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 12: Attorney-General’s Portfolio, op. cit., p. 18.

[3].         Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 12: Attorney-General’s Portfolio, p. 78; G Brandis (Attorney-General), Attorney-General’s Portfolio Budget measures 2015–16, media release, 12 May 2015.

[4].         G Brandis, media release, op. cit.                                                                                                      

[5].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2014–15, p. 55.

[6].          M Boland, ‘A voice for the audience, not just artists‘, The Australian (online edition), 21 June 2014.

[7].         G Brandis, media release, op. cit.

[8].          M Coombs, Australia Council Bill 2013, Bills digest, 145, 2012–13, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2013.

[9].         B Jabour, ‘George Brandis threatens Sydney Biennale over Transfield “blackballing”‘, The Guardian, (online Australian edition), 13 March 2014.

[10].       See the amendments moved by G Brandis to Clause 31 in debate on Australia Council Bill 2013. Parliament of Australia, ‘Australia Council Bill 2013 homepage‘, Australian Parliament website.

[11].      Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2014–15, op. cit.; and R Gill, ‘George Brandis’ astonishing arts adventure‘, Crikey, 19 September 2014; B Eltham, ‘Exclusive: Brandis’ $275,000 grant to Melba bypasses scrutiny‘, ArtsHub, 18 September 2014. See also B Benjamin, ‘Melba returns for another performance‘, ArtsHub, 22 September 2014.

[12].       J Gardiner-Garden, Commonwealth arts policy and administration, Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 7 May 2009, pp.23-24; House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure. Patronage, Power and the Muse: Report of the Inquiry into Commonwealth Assistance to the Arts, Canberra, September, 1986.

[13].       Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 12: Attorney-General’s Portfolio, op. cit., p. 526; Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2014–15, op. cit., p. 59.

[14].       Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2014–15, op. cit., p. 55; D Groves, ‘Producers decry Screen Australia budget cut‘, website, 12 May 2015; D White, ‘Producers baulk at 2015 federal budget Screen Australia cuts‘, Australian Financial Review (online edition), 13 May 2015; and K Quinn, ‘Screen Australia budget cut brings agency’s funding down 16 per cent in 12 months‘, The Sydney Morning Herald, (online edition), 13 May 2015.

[15].      Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 12: Attorney-General’s Portfolio, op. cit., p. 78.

[16].    Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2014–15, p. 63, Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2014-15, December 2014, p.132, Portfolio budget statements 2015–16: budget related paper no. 12: Attorney-General’s Portfolio, op. cit., p. 18.


All online articles accessed May 2015. 

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