The minister's announcement of further revised changes to arts funding
20 November 2015 came only days before the finalisation of the committee's
report. While the committee had the opportunity to question the ministry about
the changes at its already-scheduled 23 November hearing, the committee was
unable to hear directly from other stakeholders, including the arts community, about
their views on the changes. The committee did, however, take note of public
statements made following the minister's announcement.
In a media release dated 20 November, the Australia Council welcomed the
return of $8 million per year, saying this would 'partially address' the impact
of the previous budget cuts.
The Council stated that $7 million of those funds would be reinvested
into its core grants program, allowing it to increase the annual grants from
$12 million to
$19 million in 2015-16 (and $18 million per year thereafter), distributed in
three rather than two grants rounds across the year— compared to the four
grants rounds and
$26 million planned prior to the 2015 Budget.
The remaining $1 million per year would be directed back into the
Council's 'strategic projects': the Australia Council stated that this would
allow it to 'deliver a small number of our suspended activities', citing
national and international audience and market development, and development
support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts. The Council
acknowledged that funding for this work remained reduced by half, noting that
it was engaging in enhanced research and advocacy toward 'leveraging new
investment in Australian arts'.
The Australia Council added that the restored funding would allow it to
stabilise the allocation to the new four-year program of core funding for
organisations at $22 million.
The ministry told the committee that the figure of $8 million returned
to the Australia Council was identified by the Council itself in consultations
with the government, as 'the amount...that they considered would enable them to
address the shortfall of the issue with the small to medium arts companies'.
Some arts organisations responded publicly to the minister's
announcement and the Catalyst fund guidelines immediately following their
release. The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) expressed 'very
mixed feelings', saying that it was 'relieved that the minister is prepared to
go some way towards alleviating the havoc caused by the original decision of
his predecessor', but that the Catalyst program 'is still being created at the
expense of ensuring the survival of organisations that are the engine room for
developing and presenting new Australian work'. NAVA said it would continue to
advocate for 'a much more considered strategy' with funding at the level
identified by the 2012 Australia Council review.
The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) welcomed the partial
reversal of the previous Budget decisions, and the 'willingness of the new Arts
Minister Mitch Fifield to consult with the sector'. It was of the view,
however, that more information was required about how the Catalyst fund would
operate 'to allay concerns about key funding decisions coming out of the office
of the Arts Minister'. The MEAA urged the government 'not to close the door on
fully restoring funding to the Australia Council and to Screen Australia'.
Initial responses from some arts commentators experts were also mixed,
welcoming elements of the new arrangements, such as Catalyst's increased openness
to small and medium organisations,
but most ultimately assessed them as falling short of the revision needed to
restore sustainability to the arts sector.
Associate Professor Joanna Mendelssohn of UNSW noted the importance of using
the restored Australia Council funds to support individual practitioners, who
had been the 'main victims' of the original cuts.
Dr Stuart Glover, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University
of Queensland, expressed the view that Catalyst did not remedy the
problems of the NPEA, 'but really just sweeps up the mess into a slightly
neater pile'. Dr Glover welcomed the apparent openness of the Catalyst fund to
writing and publishing organisations, unlike the NPEA, but lamented that the
literary sector would remain underfunded and 'an afterthought' following the
Professor Julian Meyrick of Flinders University assessed that:
Catalyst still means unnecessary pain for the sector, but
less of it...if Catalyst works, it will be duplicating the role of the Australia
Council. If it doesn't, it will be undermining it.
In its evidence to the committee, the ministry emphasised that the
Catalyst program would focus on organisations which may have found it difficult
to compete for Australia Council grants, such as local government arts
organisations, museums and galleries.
The ministry assured the committee that substantive changes had been made from
the NPEA to the new Catalyst fund in response to the public feedback on the
draft NPEA guidelines, providing the committee with a table which outlined and
explained the key changes. The analysis provided by the ministry is at Appendix
In response to the committee's questions about how Catalyst would fulfil
its stated priority on small and medium organisations, the ministry said that
the assessment process would seek to determine a balance of funding:
That will be through the assessment process, and looking at
the representation and balance. We will be looking at the range of balance
through a number of areas, looking at geographical diversity and looking at
small, medium, large organisations. We will be looking at a range of different
art forms. All of that will be part of the overarching assessment process, and
trying to get that balance.
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