Media, arts, sport and recreation

Budget Review 2020–21 Index

Philip Dearman

Total funding for ‘recreation and culture’ in the 2020–21 Budget is outlined in the Expenses section of Budget Strategy and Outlook: Budget Paper No. 1: 2020–21. Allocations are summarised against four sub-functions: broadcasting, arts and cultural heritage, sport and recreation, national estate and parks.

These terms do not entirely do justice to the diversity of public sector agencies, commercial organisations and programs supported by Commonwealth funding, or the relations between them. In practice, some allocations cross these boundaries: for example, money provided through the arts agency Screen Australia to support production of Australian screen-based media content (the Media Reforms Package) is named in Budget Paper No. 1 as partially offsetting the indexation pause applied to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) (p. 6-29).

Expenditure trends

Total expenditure for recreation and culture in 2020–21, as shown in Table 1, is estimated to be $4.4 billion, which represents approximately 0.7 per cent of the Australian Government’s total expenditure of $670.3 billion (p. 6-7). This is an overall increase on the 2019–20 actual spend on recreation and culture of 9.4 per cent in real terms (p. 6-29). Note that this includes $618 million for the ‘national estate and parks’ sub-function, which is not addressed in this Budget Review article. The Government forecasts total expenditure for recreation and culture in the forward estimates to remain relatively stable in nominal terms; however in real terms this represents a decrease of 14.5 per cent for the period 2020–21 to 2023–24.

Table 1: Summary of expenses—recreation and culture function, $ million




Sub-function 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22 2022–23 2023–24
Broadcasting 1 500 1 497 1 511 1 500 1 508
Arts and cultural heritage 1 439 1 647 1 488 1 449 1 569
Sport and recreation 544 601 454 387 332
National estate and parks 487 618 547 500 492
Total recreation and culture 3 971 4 364 4 000 3 836 3 900

Source: Australian Government, Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1: 2020–21, p. 6-29.

For broadcasting, the major component of which is funding for the ABC and the Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (SBS), nominal funding will remain relatively stable over the forward estimates. In real terms, however, expenditure will decrease by 0.7 per cent from 2019–20 to 2020–21, and by 3.7 per cent from 2020–-21 to 2023–24.

For arts and cultural heritage, nominal funding in the forward estimates is forecast to increase by $208 million in 2020–2021, largely as a consequence of a range of temporary support measures for arts and cultural agencies in response to COVID-19, but then to decrease by 8.9 per cent in real terms from 2020–21 to 2023–24.

For sport and recreation, nominal funding is forecast to increase by $57 million in 2020–21, but then to drop back significantly over the forward estimates. In real terms, expenditure will increase by 10.0 per cent from 2019–20 to 2020–21, but is then set to decrease by 47.2 per cent from 2020–21 to 2023–24. The increase in the current period reflects an allocation of $26.9 million for three Building an Active Australia programs and, according to Budget Paper No. 1, ‘COVID-19 related delays to sports grants programs which have moved expenditure from 2019–20 into 2020–21’ (p. 6-30). The reduction from 2020–21 to 2023–24 is based on an expected completion of community sports participation projects and the completion of further elements of the national sport plan, Sport 2030.


The Government’s responsibility for media, arts, sport and recreation has been much debated during 2020. For example, the Senate Select Committee set up in February to inquire into the Government’s administration of sports grants prior to the 2019 federal election has held ten public hearings and received over 50 submissions. The Government’s decision to ask the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in April to develop the News Media Bargaining Code, which will determine appropriate remuneration for Australian media companies whose news is published on digital platforms, has attracted significant attention in Australia and around the world.

The decision by the Government in August to request the Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts to hold an inquiry into Australia’s cultural and creative industries and institutions, has attracted much less publicity. Terms of Reference include an assessment of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has had an enormous impact in these areas. Arts and cultural industries have been hard hit by restrictions on public and workplace gatherings: many screen productions have been halted, live events cancelled, and cultural institutions closed. The Australian Sports Foundation claimed in July that almost one-quarter of community sports clubs nationally were at risk of closure as a consequence of physical distancing restrictions. While those restrictions have eased in some locations, the impact on productions, events, participants and audiences will likely continue until a vaccine is in circulation.

Funding announced before the 2020–21 Budget

The Government responded to the pandemic by outlining a range of measures in the areas of media, arts, sport and recreation in the months prior to the Budget:

Funding announced in the 2020–21 Budget

Public broadcasting

Funding for the ABC is always controversial. This year has been no exception, with significant public debate about real versus nominal funding figures, and a claim by ABC management that a series of cuts to the Corporation’s funding since 2014 have had a direct impact on jobs and services within the organisation.

Funding for the ABC and SBS over the 2020–21 Budget’s forward estimates period, as noted above, remains static in nominal terms and is therefore reduced in real terms by approximately 3.7 per cent. The SBS will receive an additional $7.6 million over four years to provide ‘enhanced language services’ (p. 128), but there are no other categories of new funding for either broadcaster.

A media release issued by the ABC after the Budget notes that the expiration of the enhanced newsgathering initiative at the end of 2021–22 will be a significant loss, and that it will make representations to the Government for that program to be funded as a permanent part of the ABC’s budget:

There was no change in last night’s Federal Budget to the ABC’s funding for the remainder of this triennial funding period, which concludes at the end of the 2021–22 financial year.

The Budget papers show ABC funding will fall below current levels in the next triennium because funding for the enhanced newsgathering initiative is due to expire at the end of 2021–22.

This program has been in place since 2013 and has previously been renewed twice by the Coalition Government.


Prior to the expiry of the current funding the ABC will continue to make submissions to the Government for this important initiative to continue as a permanent part of the ABC’s budget.

Community broadcasting

Funding for community broadcasting is forecast to rise slightly for 2020–21 (from $19.7 million to just under $20.0 million), but then reduce to $16.4 million by 2023–24 (p. 69.)

In comments to the Senate inquiry into the Radiocommunications Legislation Amendment (Reform and Modernisation) Bill 2020, the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia expressed disappointment about the funding reduction, and noted it will seek urgent talks with the Minister about options to address the shortfall (p. 8). It should be noted this is a sector busy working through a complex process of transition from analog to digital delivery, in radio as well as television broadcasting services.

Commercial broadcasting

The Government has announced an extension of funding for the Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service, which provides digital television and radio services to remote and rural areas, and to viewers in terrestrial black spots. Funding will be provided over four years, from 2020–21 (p. 144). Costs will be partially met from within existing departmental resources. It is not possible to know the extent of the Government’s commitment at this point, as no expenditure details are provided ‘due to commercial in-confidence sensitivities’.

The extension comes at a point of heightened audience expectations about the availability of reliable news services, whether in relation to bushfires or the COVID-19 pandemic, and after a decision by NBN Co to respond to user demand by doubling the download allowance for customers of its Sky Muster service.

A departmental review of VAST in 2018 found that other technologies (including the National Broadband Network, mobile networks, or an expansion of the terrestrial transmission network) would not provide the same level of service as that provided by VAST.


The Government has allocated $39.4 million, over three years from 2020–21, for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, to ‘enable the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to respond to a sustained increase in demand for its existing programs and fulfil additional functions and responsibilities, including overseeing a new adult cyber abuse takedown scheme under the new Online Safety Act’ (p. 142). This funding is in addition to the $10.0 million already announced on 28 June 2020 for the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to respond to an ‘increase in online activity’.

Building an Active Australia

Three separate allocations were made in the Budget for the Building an Active Australia program:

  • $4.7 million will be used by the Australian Sports Foundation to ‘increase the fundraising capacity of community sport clubs and enhance the organisation’s information technology network and cyber security functions’
  • $2.4 million will be given to the Football Federation Australia to commence the planning and delivery phase of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 and
  • $39.6 million will be provided to the Australian Sports Commission, to increase children’s participation rates in sporting activities across 6,000 schools (pp. 91–92).

Community development grants

The Budget included funding of $102.8 million to fund new projects that ‘support local communities across Australia’, over three years from 2020–21 (p. 126). Three projects were named:

  • $23.0 million for the new Rockhampton Stadium in Victoria Park, Queensland
  • $5.0 million towards the Regional Indoor Aquatic and Leisure Facility in Mount Barker, South Australia and
  • $5.0 million towards the Goolwa Sports Precinct, South Australia.

Recipients of the remaining $69.8 million are not listed in any of the budget papers.

Given the recent controversy over the administration of sports grants, as noted above, it is not surprising this measure has attracted media attention. The Guardian has reported that while the Centre Alliance MP for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, claimed credit for the grants in her electorate, the Australian Labor Party has described the program as a ‘slush fund’.


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