Committee views and recommendations
This inquiry into the impact of Commonwealth Budget decisions on the
arts was referred to the committee with the support of not only the Australian
Labor Party and the Australian Greens, but also all eight members of the Senate
It was not a partisan political issue but one of genuine cross-party concern
about the radical decisions made by the Coalition government in 2014 and 2015 in
relation to arts funding, and their potentially disastrous implications for the
future of the arts in Australia.
The committee was naturally aware of the disquiet these decisions had
sparked within the arts sector, and in the broader community. However, the
committee could not anticipate the enormous response it would receive to this
inquiry, in terms of submissions made, publicity generated, direct contact with
senators, and energetic participation in the committee's public hearings.
The committee applauds the vigorous engagement of thousands of
Australians in the inquiry, and thanks them for the information, perspectives,
case studies and show of opinion they provided. At a time when the government
appeared unwilling to listen to artists and their audiences, the committee is
pleased to have been able to do so.
The evidence provided to the inquiry was notable not just for its volume
but for the consistency of its message. The conclusions and recommendations of
this report reflect the overwhelming weight of opinion and analysis received by
The committee regards this country's rich and diverse arts sector as an
invaluable and irreplaceable part of the fabric of Australian society. Not only
that, the committee recognises the economic value and potential of the arts
sector, and emphasises the consistent evidence that funds invested in the arts
are both inherently and economically justified. Australian arts are already excellent.
Having already compelled a partial response from the government, the
committee hopes this report will further contribute to the arts community's
call for a sensible, evidence-based approach to arts policy making including,
by necessary implication, the reversal of bad decisions made without justification,
and the restoration of a model and quantum of support which ensures the future sustainability
of Australia's arts in all their forms.
The need for an arts policy
The committee shares the concern of the arts community that the recent
major decisions have been made by the Coalition government in the absence of any
clear arts policy framework or evidence base. The changes made in the 2015
Budget, in particular, were completely arbitrary. The committee believes that
good governance of the arts requires a sound policy framework which is based
upon evidence and consultation, and transparent to stakeholders and the
The committee recommends that the government develop and articulate, in
consultation with the arts sector, a coherent and clear arts policy, including
priorities for arts funding supported by evidence-based analysis, and greater
clarity about the respective roles of the Ministry for the Arts and the
Australia Council, as well as the other statutory arts bodies.
The Australia Council
The committee heard that the 2014 strategic plan of the Australia
Council, created with the strong support of both the government and the arts
sector following a two-year process of independent research and consultation,
offered a new start for the arts body, with an approach addressing many of the
concerns of the past and geared toward addressing areas of 'underfunded
excellence' to ensure the sustainability of the sector as a whole. Less than
one year on, before the reforms had a chance to prove their worth, that work
was scuttled without warning and without justification by the arbitrary removal
of a significant portion of the Council's funding.
While much impassioned rhetoric has surrounded the debate about the
Australia Council's funding during 2015, the committee believes the figures
tell a compelling story.
In 2013-14, the Australia Council spent $227 million. Of that, $103.1
million, or 45 per cent, was spent on dedicated support to Major Performing
Arts organisations (MPAs), with the remaining $123.9 million divided between
various programs and functions, including support for individual artists, small
and medium organisations.
Following the 2014 and 2015 Budget decisions, in 2015-16 the Australia
Council was left with $187.3 million to spend. Of that figure, $107.7 million,
57.5 per cent, was quarantined for support to MPAs. $79.6 million, or 42.5 per
cent, remained for the rest of the work of the Council, including its spending
on individual artists, small and medium organisations and on its own
The return of $8 million to the Australia Council in November 2015 goes
only a very small way to redressing this budget shortfall, and the associated
imbalance in funding between the government's pet priorities and the needs of
the sector as a whole. The Australia Council expects to be able to spend $22
million, just over 11 per cent of its revised budget, on core funding for small
and medium arts organisations. Important programs for early-career artists and
for arts education remain cancelled.
The committee is strongly of the view that the Australia Council must be
properly funded in order to implement the priorities reflected in its strategic
plan and previously supported by both Labor and Coalition governments,
including the provision of an adequate program of core support and project
grants to individual artists, and small and medium arts organisations. The
committee holds this as the strongest message, and the most important
principle, emerging from this inquiry.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government restore to the
Australia Council the full amount of funds diverted from it in the 2014 MYEFO
and 2015 Budget, ensuring it has the level of resourcing identified as
necessary to implement in full its 2014 strategic plan over the current
financial year and the four-year forward estimates.
The NPEA and Catalyst
The government argued that the National Program for Excellence in the
Arts (NPEA) would provide a new avenue of support for previously under-funded
areas, and would include strong support for small and medium arts
organisations. The thousands of artists, organisations and audience members who
submitted to the inquiry, and spoke at its hearings, found this difficult to
Following the overwhelming response to this inquiry and in the broader
public domain by the arts community and by Australians who support the arts,
the government was compelled to retreat. The architect of the disaster, Senator
Brandis, was stripped of the portfolio and the new Minister for the Arts,
Senator Fifield, promised to listen to the concerns of the arts community and
re-think the government's decisions.
The committee welcomes the new minister's willingness to reconsider the
disastrous changes to arts funding wrought by his predecessor. However, the committee
is disappointed that Minister Fifield has not embraced the opportunity he had
to fully reverse the damage and restore stability and sustainability to the
The Catalyst arts program is an improvement on the NPEA. The committee
notes the replacement of the arbitrary notion of 'excellence' with a focus on
innovation, and welcomes the explicit priority given to small and medium
organisations in the Catalyst guidelines. The committee is also pleased to see
an increased openness to funding a range of organisations and activities,
including those in arts education and development, and in the literary, library
and publishing sector.
However, the committee remains to be convinced that, with finite funding
available for the arts, Catalyst is an optimal use of the $48 million of scarce
arts funding which remains tied up in it over the forward estimates. The program
is funded at the expense of the Australia Council and in particular at the
expense of individual artists, and it remains to be seen whether Catalyst will
do more than duplicate work which was already being credibly and valuably done
by the Council.
The committee recommends that, should the Commonwealth government be
unwilling or unable to identify new and additional funds for the arts portfolio
to support the Catalyst Arts and Culture Fund, the Catalyst fund be disbanded,
and the funds presently allocated to it be returned to the Australia Council.
The committee recommends that, should the Catalyst fund proceed, the
Ministry for the Arts further develop and clarify how the Catalyst fund will:
complement (and not duplicate) the role of the Australia Council;
ensure small-to-medium organisations will be prioritised,
whether through a quota or some similar system; and
ensure the spread of funds across the year, given that the
funding program exists on a first-in-first-served basis.
The arrangements for assessing programs under Catalyst remain the same
as those which sparked widespread concern in the draft NPEA guidelines. The
committee notes the potential for inappropriate ministerial control over
funding decisions, in contrast to the truly independent peer review process
used by the Australia Council. A quasi-independent assessment process,
undermined by potential or actual government influence, will do nothing to
enhance the confidence of the arts community and the public in the fund, nor
will it serve the public interest in which it has ostensibly been established.
Moreover, creating an additional register of assessors and a second
grants assessment process is wasteful duplication of bureaucratic resources,
when the Australia Council already has a comprehensive and highly-regarded
model for this very function. The committee is surprised that a government
which claims to be committed to reducing red tape is prepared to support such
Should the Catalyst fund proceed, the committee recommends that, in
order to reduce bureaucratic duplication and ensure the integrity of funding
decisions, the peer review register and process presently maintained by the
Australia Council also be used for assessing applications to Catalyst.
With the establishment of another new funding body comes another additional
burden on thinly-resourced arts organisations, who will have to dedicate more
time and resources to a new and different grant application process. The
committee heard that the Australia Council had been working productively with
state and territory governments to streamline and coordinate funding processes
in order to relieve the administrative burden on applicants—in that context the
committee regards Catalyst as a backward step.
These funding changes saw an immediate reduction in, and delay of,
Australia Council funding rounds in 2015-16. This has left many organisations
and artists with significantly reduced funds, a situation for which that they
were not able to predict or plan. The committee is gravely concerned about the
ability of arts organisations to survive through this period of change and
reduced financial support.
The committee recommends that the government provide emergency
transition funds in 2016 to assist small-to-medium organisations and individual
artists who have been immediately impacted by these changes. These funds need
to come from outside the existing arts funding envelope.
Whether or not Catalyst proceeds, the committee urges all public funding
agencies to continue working toward better coordinated and consistent funding
processes, so that artists can spend less time tackling various funding
regimes, and more time making art.
The committee recommends that the Ministry for the Arts work with the
Australia Council, the state and territory governments and the arts sector to
develop and implement streamlined and coordinated grants processes and
timelines, to the greatest extent possible, in order to minimise the
administrative burden on applicants seeking funding from different bodies and
The committee heard a great deal during the inquiry about the
interdependence between individuals, small, medium and major organisations in
the 'arts ecosystem'. The committee heard a united voice from the arts
community on this point, and the committee strongly endorses its message about
the importance of maintaining a healthy ecosystem through adequate support to
sustain thriving arts activity at all levels.
It seems clear to the committee that individual artists have ended up the
biggest losers following the many changes to arts funding in 2015. The
Australia Council has indicated that most of the funding restored to it in
November will go back into its core grants program, which is open to individual
applicants, but in which they must compete with organisations. In the absence
of dedicated funding streams such as the highly successful ArtStart program,
the committee remains particularly concerned about the prospects for independent
artists under the new funding arrangements, including those emerging and
early-career talents who represent the future of Australian art.
The committee recommends that the Australia Council give careful
consideration to how it may particularly prioritise support to individual
artists in its funding programs, in recognition of their exclusion from the
The committee recommends that the Australia Council give consideration
to the viability of re-launching a specific program for the development of early-career
individual artists, along the lines of the highly successful ArtStart program
which was abandoned following the 2015 Budget.
Equity and diversity
Australia is a big country, and a diverse one. The committee was
impressed by the compelling evidence provided by artists and arts organisations
around the country about the value of arts to local communities, whether urban,
regional or remote, and in every state and territory.
The committee is cognisant of the case made by many organisations that
it is more difficult for those far from the large metropolitan centres to compete
for government grants programs, and to exacerbate the problem, it is often
all-but impossible for regional and remote arts organisations to access private
sources of funding. The committee welcomed advice from submitters and witnesses
that the Australia Council, state and territory governments and other funders
also recognise this, and that government bodies were working with arts
communities to increase equity of access to funding.
The committee does not believe that independently-assessed and merit-based
arts funding should be sacrificed to prescriptive formulations for equal
funding between states or regions. The committee does, however, encourage the Commonwealth
government and its arts grants bodies to continue to work in cooperation with
state, territory and local governments and with arts organisations toward
ensuring equality of opportunity to access and participate in quality arts
projects and experiences for artists and audiences across all Australian
The committee recommends that, without compromising principles of
qualitative and merit-based assessment, the Ministry for the Arts, the
Australia Council and other funding bodies continue to work with the states and
territories toward increased equity in arts funding between the states and
territories, and between urban, regional, rural and remote communities.
With regard to equity of funding, the committee further acknowledges the
compelling evidence, including many powerful case studies, provided by
representatives of Australia's indigenous people, culturally diverse
communities, and people with disability. The committee notes that these
communities are recognised to an extent within the policies and programs of the
ministry (including Catalyst) and the Australia Council.
The committee recommends that the government and the Council continue
ensuring that support for Australia's arts takes full advantage of the
spectacular diversity of our artists and audiences, and that the diversity of
Australian artists and people is included and represented in decisions about
arts funding, including on assessment panels.
Although it received less prominence than the Australia Council in the
inquiry, the impact of progressive Budget measures on Screen Australia was
striking in the evidence provided to the committee. The committee was
particularly alarmed to learn of the drastic consequences of cuts to Screen
Australia for film development at the state level, and expresses its profound
concern about what this will mean in the long term for the production and
broadcast of Australian content on our film and television screens. The
committee urges the government not to preside over the slow death of
Australia's renowned film industry.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government reverse the
funding cuts to Screen Australia imposed in the 2014 Budget, and refrain from
implementing further cuts to film and television funding over the forward
One clear loser in the arts funding changes has been the gaming sector.
The committee is surprised that, despite the clear artistic and commercial potential
of gaming as an emergent Australian industry, and the government's stated focus
on innovation, the government has nevertheless chosen to starve interactive
gaming of any source of government support. The committee recognises that
gaming sits at the intersection of arts and commerce: this is all the more reason,
in the committee's view, why gaming should attract support rather than slip
through the cracks.
The committee notes that since this inquiry began, a separate inquiry
has been referred by the Senate to its Environment and Communications
References Committee, on the future of Australia's video game development
industry. The committee looks forward to the further outcomes of that
committee's work on this matter.
Nevertheless, in the context of this inquiry the committee has concluded
that a program for government funding of the emergent gaming sector should be
restored, whether through the arts portfolio or another government agency.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government restore a program
for funding innovation and development in interactive gaming, whether through reinstating
the Australian Interactive Games Fund previously managed by Screen Australia,
or through another appropriate government entity.
Senator Glenn Lazarus Senator
Senator Jacinta Collins Senator
the Hon Joe Ludwig
Senator for Victoria Senator
for Western Australia
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