Thursday, June 5, 2014

After the Budget: The future landscape for Australian arts and culture

There will be immediate impacts from the decisions in the Budget affecting Australia’s arts and culture. Unfortunately the real damage will become apparent several years down the track when the cumulative impact of these various measures is recognised.

Autumn - not only in Canberra. 

Compounding effect
There are a suite of cuts, far wider than the arts and culture area, which when combined and also continued over several years will have a compounding affect far more damaging than appears at first glance. There are measures listed under the heading of ‘Cross Portfolio’, which are not specific to arts and culture support but will inevitably affect it. These include an ‘Administered Programme Indexation Pause’ which across Government will save $15.1 million in the first year, $34.1 in the second, $54.9 in the third and $60.9 in the fourth. On top of this one measure ‘Efficiency Dividend – a further temporary increase of 0.25 per cent’ will compound the already deadening effect of the existing Efficiency Dividend, which was itself increased, ‘temporarily’ as well, by the last Labor Government.

The whole notion of an ‘efficiency dividend’ is itself government doublespeak. Organisations, such as cultural institutions inevitably find their responsibilities, their collections, their programs, growing as they expand their outreach and consolidate their roles. They rely on finding their efficiency savings to fund these expanded roles, not to siphon back to consolidated revenue.

Indirect effect
Beyond these measures there are changes in other individual portfolios which are likely to have impacts on the arts and culture sector but which are difficult to assess at this early stage. This includes current support for creative industries through the Creative Industries Innovation Centre under the Enterprise Connect Program and support by the ABC and SBS for content production in the creative industries.

It also includes indirect support for aspects of Indigenous arts and culture through the restructured Indigenous programs which are now part of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It’s also worth noting that $3.3 million will go to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to digitise its collection. This is a survivor from the National Cultural Policy, though $12.8 million was promised there. This seems to be the only other extra cultural funding in the Indigenous area and it’s interesting that it’s not part of Brandis’ portfolio.

It’s also noteworthy to see programs continuing that were almost abandoned by the previous Government, like the Australian Music Radio Airplay Project.

Reading between the lines the interesting feature of the Budget is which recommendations of the National Commission of Audit, such as ending support for community broadcasting, were not implemented. Whether that will change in the future will be the next question.

Major and unexpected
It’s easy to become focused on only the issue of funding. This was one of the major weaknesses of the discussion around the National Cultural Policy. Government, particularly national government, plays a highly varied role in support for arts and culture, of which funding is just a part. In many ways a comprehensive and coherent Government strategy to support Australian arts and culture by better coordinating all the support across Government would be more important than the absolute level of funding involved. However that’s definitely not evident here.

The long term impact of these changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the other. In three years, six years, nine years, Australians will ask where valued and important programs have gone and how critical institutions have managed to diminish to the point where return will not be possible. The likelihood is that this will lead to irreversible damage to the contemporary culture and cultural heritage of the nation.

See the other articles about the impact of the Budget on arts and culture

Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding 
‘The transfer of substantial program funds from the Australian Government’s main arts funding agency, the Australia Council, to the Ministry for the Arts has had the effect of masking serious cuts to crucial programs run by the Ministry, including its Indigenous cultural programs. There have been cuts to overall Ministry program funds stretching long into the future almost every year since the 2014-15 budget, with the long-term trend clearly heading downwards’, Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding.

Support for small scale arts and culture
'Budget cuts only to uncommitted funding sound benign but will end programs by letting them peter out over several years.' After the Budget: Government support for small scale arts and culture – here today, gone tomorrow

Selective drive-by shooting
‘The Budget was a selective drive-by shooting with easy targets including small arts. Entitlement continues for others.’ After the Budget: a selective drive-by shooting

Things could be worse
‘The problem is not just the level of arts cuts, which may well be lower than in many other areas. It’s the nature of the cuts.’ After the Budget: things could be worse

See also

Indigenous jobs
'Subsidised Indigenous arts and cultural jobs are real jobs with career paths that deliver genuine skills and employment capability.' Real jobs in an unreal world

1 comment:

  1. Worth reading this article in the context of the four related analyses. Yes - this is an important message to keep watching the long term and indirect effects as the compounding effect becomes clearer and the ongoing efficiency dividends and budget cuts become increasingly real through indirect as well as direct impacts on programs, grants, institutional collections and services, and peer engagement. Where, indeed, is the strategic vision for any nationally coherent cultural agenda and what remains of the incredibly hard work and systematic thinking generated amongst the arts community over the last few years? Compared with the so-called big ticket budget items, arts and culture has aroused very little public commentary in the post-budget conversations, with the exception of the ABC/SBS fall-out. Yet, as these four articles tease out, the effects on the arts are embedded not only in direct cuts to arts funding but in all other kind of programs - the effects will resonate over the long term as the hidden impacts on cultural institutions, cultural infrastructure, innovation and all kinds of government programs begin to reveal themselves and to bite. Hope this analysis helps kick-start another national conversation!