Thursday, June 5, 2014

After the Budget: A selective drive-by shooting

Discussion about the impact of the Budget has become bogged down in arguments about degrees of entitlement and ‘sectional’ interests. If you take a simplistic and static view of the Budget in terms of an aggregated series of cuts which affect many different individuals to see what the total savings are then this is inevitable. If you look at the economy in a more dynamic way and consider the interaction of the different components and the likely effects over time it looks very different.

March in May protest against the Budget, Adelaide May 2014

Cuts to education could be seen simply as expecting certain groups to pay more for their use as individuals of social resources that benefit them. That’s true – in part. Individuals want an education because it benefits them but society may also want an educated population. From a macro, whole of society perspective the changes to education in the budget will have the overall social effect of reducing access to and application of education. This in turn reduces the breadth and level of skills and capabilities in the workforce and hence the ability of the economy to function as a high level one, rather than as a crude mine or factory producing basic raw materials or goods.

The big picture
The arts and culture sector is in the same situation. It’s easy to see criticism of cuts to arts and culture support by government as a knee jerk reaction by the sector to loss of funding. However, decades of discussion, including the extensive public consultation during the development of the National Cultural Policy, has made it clear that involvement in arts and culture and the role of artists, arts and cultural organisations and the creative industries has a broad positive impact across society generally for a relatively small outlay by government. These are some of the most important industries of the future as well as playing an important role in representing Australia to the world and to itself.

A clear sign of the crude approach to arts and culture in the Budget is the way important areas of innovation have disappeared entirely from the Government landscape. In the screen area, the Australian Interactive Games Fund, an initiative of the National Cultural Policy, has lost $10 million. This is an area which successive governments, both Labor and Coalition, have struggled to understand. It took decades to win Government support and a year to remove it. It is one of the rapidly expanding industries of the future, with great potential for Australia, but requiring a role for government in lifting it to the next level. Now that won’t happen.

Selective drive-by shooting
Like so many things this government does, many elements in the Budget might well be introduced by any government so long as they were part of a comprehensive balanced strategy. This would need to include the whole range of measures, both in the area of spending and of income, required to future-proof the national budget and the economy.

I’m sure this won’t stop the Opposition acting in an opportunist way, even at the price of principle, if there are votes at stake.

Large-scale infrastructure spending might be welcome if it extended beyond the narrow cliché of more roads, looking backwards rather than forwards. Digitisation of our national collections so they become more widely available to individual Australians and our creative industries is a major infrastructure project that has been overlooked, yet would have a profound impact.

Unfortunately what we’ve seen is a selective drive-by shooting aimed only at easy targets – the old, the young, Indigenous communities, overseas aid recipients, Australia’s arts and culture and its creative industries. The age of entitlement still continues if you’re eligible for the diesel fuel rebate or superannuation tax concessions, are grasping opportunities for wealth accumulation provided by the capital gains tax or negative gearing regimes or can extract Australia’s mineral resources while paying tax under an archaic and unrealistically generous scheme.

Even if you are caught up in the tax surcharge for high earners, the one measure included so the budget didn’t look to be completely aimed at the small end of town, that’s only temporary, whereas the cuts to the less well-off are forever.

Make no mistake, there is no ‘budget emergency’ that requires an urgent fix. There are long term structural issues that need addressing in a strategic and thoughtful way. However, this Government has decided to use the excuse of a budget emergency to make the changes they have long wanted to make, including in the arts and culture area.

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

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

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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