Thursday, June 5, 2014

After the Budget: Government support for small scale arts and culture – here today, gone tomorrow

During the Senate Estimates Hearing on 29 May, Arts Minister Brandis repeatedly stressed that the Government was not cutting any funding that had already been committed. However, from what he said, it seems highly likely that any programs that currently exist that would have had funding rounds in future years will find that there are no longer funds to distribute. Organisations that have funds for the next 12 months, or next few years if they have triennial funding, may find that the programs they have relied on for support no longer exist by the time their current funding ceases.

This is a way of cutting programs without stopping them outright. Instead it allows them to peter out slowly over a number of years, by which time it will be too late to complain.

Ngarukuruwala - Strong Womens' Choir, the sort of local cultural activity that contributes so much to Australia's cultural life

In the arts area this is particularly likely to hit hard because many organisations rely on small amounts of funding from year to year merely to continue their base level of operation and many have been supported this way for many years if not decades. This is particularly true with small local Indigenous cultural organisations. They are then able to use the government funding to attract a broader range of support.

If you look closely at the budget papers there are some worrying expenditure cuts (see especially Budget Paper No. 2 Budget Measures 2014-15 Some are obvious. The Indigenous Languages Support Program has lost $9.5 million over four years. This was new funding in the National Cultural Policy to support the development by Indigenous communities of educational resources in digital format to help revive and save the threatened languages that are part of Australia’s core heritage.

Other examples are less straightforward. For example, listed under the Attorney-General’s Department, is a budget line ‘Arts programmes – reduced funding’. This strips out $4.4 million in 2014-15, rising to $5 million, then $9.8 million in subsequent years and then in 2017-18 reaches a massive $14.6 million. This budget line includes the relatively small number of programs managed directly by the Attorney-General’s Department, rather than its agencies, such as the Australia Council or Screen Australia, which are identified and trimmed separately.

A good benchmark for comparison, even though some years out of date now, is the summary of Commonwealth arts and cultural programs in the National Cultural Policy discussion paper released in October 2011 ( Some of the programs listed in this have been transferred to the Australia Council and others have changed but it’s still a good snapshot for comparison.

Drastic trimming or even cessation
For such a large reduction in funding from one year to the next, whole programs would potentially have to be trimmed drastically or even disappear entirely. Which ones are they? This budget line possibly encompasses any or all of the whole range of programs managed by the Ministry for the Arts. Amongst these are the two Indigenous culture programs, the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support and Indigenous Culture Support programs which are not separately identified, unlike the Indigenous Languages Support program. Are they affected? If so this could have a disastrous impact on support for Indigenous culture. A network of community-based Indigenous arts centres and an array of cultural activity across Australia have been fostered by these programs, often providing the only positive balance to the destructive impact of a focus on deficit models of Indigenous capability supported by both major parties.

Ever since they were transferred from ATSIC, the Indigenous cultural programs have sat uneasily in the Commonwealth’s arts and culture area as it has travelled across the public service looking for a home. Now, with an enhanced focus on ‘arts’ rather than ‘culture’, they are likely to sit even more uneasily where they are. With virtually all other Indigenous programs now bunkered down in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for these critical programs.

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.

Long term effect of broader Budget cuts far more damaging
'Wider budget cuts combined over years will have a compounding effect on arts and culture far more damaging than anything immediate.' After the Budget: the future landscape for Australian arts and culture

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

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