Key organisations in the arts industry are already voicing their disappointment with a 2018 Federal Budget that seems to offer little investment in an industry that has weathered cuts and policy instability over the last few years.
“This Budget is a big disappointment for live performance,” said the Chief Executive of Live Performance Australia Evelyn Richardson. “There’s nothing there in terms of new policy initiatives or investment to support the live performance industry’s growth and sustain the 34,000 jobs in metropolitan and regional areas supported by the industry.”
“The Government’s neglect of live performance in this Budget follows the upheaval of earlier Budgets including the Catalyst fiasco,” she said. “Post-Catalyst, the Minister for the Arts, Senator Fifield, indicated he wanted to work with industry to develop a more strategic approach to supporting live performance in Australia. That was almost two years ago, and as this Budget shows, the Government is yet to take up the opportunity to come up with any meaningful policy initiatives or plan for our industry or the creative industries more broadly.”
There is some good news for the visual arts, with The National Gallery of Australia, which will receive an extra $16.6 million for refurbishment, on top of the $5 million earmarked for the gallery in the 2017 budget. “The gallery building was constructed around four decades ago and these maintenance works will ensure the NGA can continue to protect and display the national collection, and provide appropriate conditions for visitors and staff,” Minister of Communications and the Arts Mitch Fifield said.
But for Esther Anatolitis, Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, the Government “has shirked its key responsibility to offer a vision for the Australian culture.”
“The invisibility of the Australia Council in the Budget does not fill the sector with confidence,” she said. “After years of successive cuts made without a policy or evidence basis, discovering that there are no new funding cuts is hardly good news.”
“Failing to fund the nation’s arts funding and advisory body at appropriate levels opens our entire sector to substantial risk,” said Anatolitis. “The Budget offers no vision for the next generation of artists, nor for the adventurous audiences, awed visitors and critical thinkers who create our future.” Anatolitis also expressed concerns about “cuts by stealth visited once again upon the ABC.”
The ABC, while continuing, according to Fifield, to be exempt from the government-wide efficiency dividend, will lose out on $83.7 million over three years as the Government has paused indexation of operational funding. The cuts have been made “in order to ensure the ABC continues to find back office efficiencies,” Fifield said.
The ABC – along with SBS (who have received an extra $14.6 million in the budget to replace revenue that won’t be raised since legislation to allow further advertising flexibility was not passed by Parliament) – will be the subject of Government’s Lewis review into efficiency, commissioned in 2014.
“This decision will make it very difficult for the ABC to meet its charter requirements and audience expectations,” ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie told staff in an email. “We are at a watershed moment as a public broadcaster as we continue to strive to deliver the high standards of programming Australian audiences expect, despite escalating global competition and rising production costs.”
“We will continue to pursue our strategy during triennial funding negotiations with the government this year to achieve the proper levels of funding we require to meet the expectations of not only our current audiences but those of the next generation,” she said. “Our priorities have and always will be to our audiences and the programming we create for them. Our success in this is a tribute to the talent, dedication and high-quality work of our teams right across the country and the world.”
“It’s difficult not to conclude the new $84 million cut to the ABC is for political reasons,” the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance wrote on Twitter.
The Government has also announced a $48.7 million over four years package to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s first Pacific voyage, which will include $21.7 million for measures in the Communications and the Arts portfolio, according to Fifield. “This will support a range of exhibitions, activities and events which will allow Australians to mark this significant anniversary in a spirit of reflection that acknowledges the meeting of two cultures,” he said. “The funding will offer capacity building opportunities for Indigenous cultural heritage sector workers from regional communities, and includes $2.0 million to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to scope and commence activity relating to the repatriation of culturally significant items from overseas. Further commitments will be guided by the outcomes of the scoping exercise.”
The funding for the commemoration is already proving contentious. “I am concerned to see a recreation of Australian colonisation presented as a key measure under the Communications and Arts Portfolio, and I have deep concerns about the lack of guidance by Gweagal Elders of the Dharawal Nation that has been sought by the project to date,” said Anatolitis. “I look forward to seeing substantial revisions of this proposal as the public consultation process takes its course.”
“Predictably, the arts miss out again in the 2018 federal budget,” wrote composer Paul Stanhope on Twitter. “Damage done by Soapy Brandis still not reversed. Cook memorial a whitewashed indulgence.”
The budget announcement comes in the wake of cultural economist David Throsby’s new Platform Paper Does Australia Need a Cultural Policy, in which he reviews Australia’s attempts to deliver a sustainable, wide-ranging arts and cultural policy and sets out a suite of recommendations for the future.
In her response to the budget, Richardson cited the more than 18 million people attending a live performance in Australia every year. “Live performance promotes Australian talent and creativity across a range of genres, and is a major driver of our visitor economy, attracting visitors from interstate and overseas to see performances or attend festivals,” she said. “It really is time for the Turnbull Government to reflect the economic and cultural contribution our industry makes to Australia with a broader vision and some long-term, strategic policy initiatives that support its future growth.”