The Coalition has shown that it has no regard for positive artistic growth in Australia and unless Malcolm Turnbull's attitude changes dramatically with his new government, untold damage to the arts industry will be done. Daniel Barnett reports.
AT THE outset of the Abbott government's time in office, the Australian independent art scene was feeling immense monetary pressure, as the Coaltion had cut over $100 million from the Australia Council, the advisory and funding body for the arts.
Just like the absence of dedicated Science Minister in the Coalition cabinet, there was no dedicated Arts Minister in the Abbott Government. Attorney General George Brandis was given responsibility for the arts.
As minister, he was given absolute control over a "ministerial slushfund' named the National Program for Excellent in the Arts (NPEA), a move labeled deeply distressing by CEO of the Melbourne Writers Festival, Lisa Dempster.
Whilst the Australia Council’s model for grants was tried, tested, and peer-reviewed over four decades, Brandis was given unprecedented and overreaching power to veto any and all funding decisions made through the NPEA.
The fund's seeming focus on excellence rather than experimentation was seen by the community as stifling to artistic growth across the sector.
To make matters worse, at the beginning of this election cycle, the Turnbull Government attempted to curtail favor with the artisan community with the “new” Catalyst fund, the much maligned and commercially hamstrung rebranding of the NPEA, under new Minister for the Arts Mitch Fifield.
Having almost $100 million less to award in grants to small and medium sized theatre companies, the amount of good it could do was minimal at best. With a slim Coalition majority returning to the Lower House, the arts industry in Australia will continue its sad slide into mediocrity, with Turnbull failing to take a comprehensive arts policy to the election.
On previous form, this industry is a boon for saving and cuts in a government obsessed with removing services directly related to fast growing industries. It is by no means a stretch to see this continuing under Turnbull and Fifield through 2019.
Labor and the Greens are once again consigned to opposition, and with that comes a lack of any real ability to change the current trend, and the Arts Party, who once showed moderate promise, failed to gain any seat in either house of parliament this electoral season and sadly whose only major accomplishment seems to be the adoption of a “National Arts Week” policy by the Greens.
Funding, it seems, will remain scarce for more economically unviable/experimental operations; small to medium sized companies that specialise in niche work will be forced to slide into the mainstream, find alternate funding in the private sector, or cease to exist.
This isn’t only a question of theatre funding, with the Coalition unable to guarantee future funding for Trove. For those unaware, Trove is the National Library of Australia’s online database, which uses specific metadata collection to pull together citations and make searching for specific information far easier. It contains millions upon millions of detailed primary and secondary sources, covering hundreds of years of Australian history.It ranges from museum pieces to books and journals, to newspaper articles, and is sadly in danger of dying out as funding dries up.
The Library is no longer updating the service as it has not received the funding to do so. This is a key resource for historians, teachers, students and so many more in their studies of Australian History, without it we are disadvantaging these thousands upon thousands of researchers.
Finally, Screen Australia and the ABC/SBS. Cuts to both the federal government's key funding body for the screen production industry and our two national broadcasters mean we are at a great danger of losing years of growth in the Australian Screen Industry. The ABC lost over $250 million from its budget over five years.
Screen Australia sufferedthree funding cuts in two years. This is a direct result of the Coalition's disregard for the arts industry and culture and will lead to less Australian produced content debuting on both the large and small screens.
Worryingly, the ALP has remained silent when asked whether they would refund Screen Australia and whilst they would refund the ABC to an extent, it does not reach the levels pre-Abbott’s first budget.
Our premier funding body for Australian film and TV projects is under threat as there is no one left to fight for it, and the ABC, facing "death by a thousand cuts" will slowly drift in its local content creation if we don’t reverse the changes made in the last three years.
What was once a vibrant artisanal culture, fostered by a federal government that fully funded new and innovative screen and theatre projects, is under threat as we re-elect a mob with no interest in keeping our collective identity and culture alive.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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