Response to the 2015 Federal Budget

The second budget of the Abbott Government is quite remarkable when compared with its last. Gone are the ideological tent-poles of austerity and impending economic crisis. Now we are suddenly in a time of (relative) generosity and have-a-go backing—except for the Arts.

 

  • Budget offers no more money, only more bureaucracy
  • Give the Australia Council real financial independence
  • Triple the Arts & Culture budget for Australia!

Certainly, the Government has pulled back into the political centre, virtually stepping on Labor’s toes in the process. On examination, it seems clear Australia is run in turn by one of two very similar management teams, with only minor differences in principle and style. This forces them to pounce on only a handful of issues where they can differentiate themselves to the swing voters in undecided seats.

The problem is that this reductionist approach to key issues means that the critical activities about which The Arts Party stands are not respected, properly funded and rarely addressed in the political sphere. For example, developing creative/critical learning skills and access to music and other art forms for every child primary school in Australia. Prioritising the cultural, creative and artistic lives of all Australians, through free and subsidised festivals, exhibitions and events. Recognising our creative industries as a key industry in our country’s future. Improving access to learning in every form, from free museums to affordable lifelong education opportunities for us all. And that’s just a start! We have our first policy document well underway, which will outline our ideas in detail. More on that later.

But back to the current budget. Let’s start with the good news, summed up reasonably well here. Small business (that includes many creative businesses as well as individuals doing creative work) have received significant tax breaks. Creative Partnerships Australia – an agency focused on increasing private sector support for the arts, as well as mentoring, fundraising and funding work - will be getting an extra $5.2m. There’s a better deal for young unemployed people, continued pre-school funding and investment in additional medical research.

But our major concern, once again, is spending on Arts and Culture for Australians, to create, share and enjoy each other’s talents and creativity. In this budget, spending on all arts and cultural activities will be $1.3bn from a budget worth $451bn in total - around $50 per Australian for the year.

It will mean significant belt tightening by Screen Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the proposed cuts to the Australia Council are going to overwhelmingly affect small to mid-level arts organisations across the country, the dynamos of cultural expression in Australia.

At the same time, we gain another administrative entity for disbursing these $50 notes, the new “National Programme for Excellence in the Arts”, with funding carved from the Australia Council. In practical terms, our artists and community groups will have new and different paperwork to fill when applying for funding, but that funding will first have to pay for more bureaucracy. Two entirely separate funding entities disbursing the same combined pot cannot be adding to ‘efficiencies’. Less money and more administration. Hmmm..

How about this for a crazy idea. Instead of spending $50 per Australian on a shared cultural life, what about next year we triple it? $150 each for the entire year!! Still well under 1% of the budget, but what might be the outcomes? What creative events, performances and celebrations might we be enriched and inspired by as a people, from doing that?? We can always limit it to a single year (at first) in case it might cause permanent damage to the bean counters. After all, it’s not a precedent globally. The UK spends a larger annual percentage than that on Arts and Culture already. Sweden spends a whopping 2.6% every year! Imagine that!! It means every school child in Sweden gets to go to the theatre at last five times a year. Every swedish child has access to a starter instrument in school. Is that a waste of money? I think not.

How about this too for the Australia Council - we give them real independence through a guaranteed income, set as a percentage of the overall budget each year. Of course the board will still be political appointments, but everyone loves a bit of financial certainty.  Nothing too big mind, we're thinking about .09%? Wow - that's more than $400m! Perhaps Australia (or even the Australia Council) couldn't cope with that much cultural possibility - but we should find out.   

Ultimately, The Arts Party is focused on seeing actual outcomes rather than fixating on the process of funding. Will the Attorney-General bring more equality to supporting our artistic talents, recognise the importance of the small arts organisations across Australia and fund them appropriately? We hope so. It’s difficult to tell what his priorities are as this Government has never released an Arts Policy, and shows no signs of ever doing so.

In summary, this is not a budget that rewards and celebrates creativity, culture and the Arts - it offers no ongoing financial security, clear direction or priorities presented for supporting Australia’s artists and audiences. However, while there is little to celebrate right now, at the same time, this budget it is not setting a daunting baseline to leap over - it instead sets up the imperative that we as Australians make the jump.

We live in hope!

 

PJ Collins

Leader of The Arts Party

14th May 2015

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