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19 June 2015

A week of action in Canberra: Senate Inquiry & industry delegation

Industry delegates arriving at the Parliament House Image: Industry delegates arriving at the Parliament House  
© Peter Knight

65 representatives of the arts and cultural sector from all states and territories gathered in Canberra on Thursday 18 June in order to communicate their concerns about the 2015-2016 arts budget to senior politicians from all parties and the independent members. The delegation, which represents about 60,000 artists and 14 million audience members, called for an immediate halt to plans to strip the Australia Council of $105 million over four years to establish a new National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), administered by the Ministry for the Arts.

Two days earlier, a motion for a Senate Inquiry into the NPEA was passed in the Senate, supported by the Greens, Labor and all eight crossbench senators. The bill was co-sponsored by senators Scott Ludlam from the Greens and Jacinta Collins (ALP). The Senate inquiry is open for submissions until 17 July and will report on 15 September. Public hearing dates for the inquiry have yet to be scheduled.

Motion for a Senate inquiry into the NPEA was passed in Senate
on Tuesday 16 June 2015. (Vimeo)

The industry delegates' message to politicians, summarised in five statements, consisted of calling for proper consultation and evidence-based approach to arts funding arrangements; expressing support of the Australia Council as an independent, arms-length statutory body; rejecting the establishment of the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts; emphasising the social and public value of the arts across all layers of society; and drawing attention to the long-term negative consequences to the arts industry caused by the proposed disruption to the current funding model.

The delegation also directly condemned the Minister George Brandis's actions, pointing out that these will jeopardise the sustainability of hundreds of individuals and small arts businesses.

'The Minister, by his own admission, has not consulted with the arts industry or other key stakeholders. The unintended consequences of his actions could see serious damage to the sector as a whole', said Norm Horton, Director of Brisbane-based organisation Feral Arts, one of the driving forces behind the Free the Arts alliance.

'We urgently call on Senator Brandis, the Ministry of the Arts and the Australia Council to heed the growing calls from across the country and put the establishment of NPEA on hold whilst a Senate Inquiry is conducted', said Jade Lillie, Melbourne-based Director and CEO, Footscray Community Arts Centre.

Amongst the hardest hit by the NPEA-related cuts to the Australia Council budget will be the more than 400 hundred companies from across the country whose applications to the Council's $30 million six-year funding program have been suspended. The economic impact of this has been projected at more than $1.4 billion over the next six years, with hundreds of job losses in communities across the country. Also at stake is the principle of arms-length independence that has been a fundamental tenet of arts decision-making in Australia for more than forty years.

'The Senate Inquiry is evidence of support at the highest level but we all understand that we are at the start of a big campaign', said Tamara Winikoff, co-convenor of the national federation of peak arts organisations ArtsPeak. 'The sector would like to see a clearly articulated decision making framework for the arts. In an ideal world the pillars of such a framework should be shared by all the major parties. This will give a consistency that transcends changes of government.'

While the campaign has been led by individual artists and small to medium companies, the broader arts sector is also starting to stand up. In a press release on 17 June, Chair of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG) John Irving acknowledged the uncertainty and instability that the transferring of funds from the Australia Council has created in the small to medium sector.

Planning for a larger sector gathering in Sydney on 2 July is underway. Separately, musical flashmob protests are being planned, under the Free the Arts banner, at the Sydney Opera House on 24 June to draw attention to what has been seen as a Minister-enforced conspiracy of silence about the funding cuts affecting individual artists and the small to medium sector.

Further links

Arts funding changes: artists meet Labor and Greens MPs in Canberra - The Guardian (19 June 2015)
Free the Arts - media release and other updates on the Free the Arts Facebook Page
'The Commonwealth Arts Budget Fallout' - background to the Senate Inquiry; a briefing by Tamara Winikoff (ArtsPeak & National Association for the Visual Arts)
'Major performing art companies issue new statement on Brandis's cuts' - The Crikey Daily Review (17 June 2015)


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