Senate inquiry delivers searing verdict on arts funding

03 December, 2015 by Brian Karlovsky

A Senate inquiry has delivered a stinging assessment of the federal government's handling of the Arts portfolio and has called for the restoration of funding to the Australia Council and Screen Australia.

The report also called for the abolition of the Catalyst Arts fund, which was announced in November by Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield, to address concerns over changes made by his predecessor George Brandis.


Brandis had established the National Program for Excellence, which ripped $105 million from the Australia Council budget.

The inquiry heard evidence from more than 200 witnesses and recieved 2719 submissions.

The report recommends the provision of emergency funds for artists and companies impacted by the changes.

A spokesperson for the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the evidence was now overwhelming that funding must be restored after the Senate inquiry findings that budget cuts had devastated the arts community.

"The MEAA has welcomed the bulk of recommendations by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Issues inquiry into the impact of the 2014 and 2015 budget decisions on the arts," a spokesperson said.

The committee’s report was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday night.

The MEAA had previously raised concerns that the $105 million taken out of the Australia Council budget in May this year would jeopardise the viability of many individual artists and small to medium arts organisations.

MEAA chief executive, Paul Murphy, said the union agreed with the recommendation that the government consult with the arts sector to develop and articulate a coherent and clear arts policy, and for funding decisions to be made on the basis of peer-reviewed processes maintained by the Australia Council.

He said Fifield had already responded to these concerns by partially restoring funding to the Australia Council. 

"However, the government is still proceeding with a new funding body directly out of the Arts Ministry, called Catalyst," he said.

“The $8 million that has been returned to the Australia Council is a good first step, but we maintain that its budget needs to be fully restored,” Mr Murphy said.

“To have got this far is a testament to the unified and powerful campaign against these arbitrary cuts and their impact on a vibrant and independent arts sector.

“We congratulate all MEAA members and others in the sector who took part in this inquiry, which received more than 2200 written and verbal submissions, and who campaigned publicly under the Free The Arts banner.

“But we cannot stop there. MEAA members and the sector will continue to campaign for the implementation of the committee’s recommendations.

“We welcome the commitments of Labor and the Greens to restore full funding to the Australia Council, and urge the government not to dismiss the recommendations out of hand.”

Mr Murphy said MEAA would always fight for a funding system that supported all artists and arts organisations, both big and small, and which kept the funding of the arts at an arm’s length from political interference.