Friday, January 22, 2016

Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding

'A close look at the public budgets of the Australian Government Ministry for the Arts over the last few years is a clear case of a smoking gun. It reveals serious cuts to overall Ministry program funds almost every year since the 2014-15 budget, stretching long into the future, with levels down from around $198.5m in 2013-14 to just over $184m in 2015-16, with a projected drop even further to around $171.4m in 2018-19. This is a 13.7% drop from 2013-14 to 2018-19. There are odd blips but the overall trend is clearly down. Worst of all, it’s not as if these programs have ever been massive ones by any measure, so these cuts have been made to what are extremely modest and lean programs to start with.'

Towards the end of last year I published an article, ‘National arts and culture funding – follow the money’, looking at cuts to the program funding managed by the Ministry for the Arts in the Australian Government's Department of Communications and the Arts. The article analysed figures available in the public Portfolio Budget Statements which each Australian Government Department publishes annually.

At the time I was so shocked by what the figures showed about cuts in the last two budgets that I simply published the table of amounts and some explanatory notes about where the figures came from without further explanation. I assumed the picture would be clear enough from the figures.

Government actions, including cuts to crucial programs, have produced strong reactions but it has been surprisingly ineffective, beyond removing a Prime Minister.

Since then a number of people have asked me to draw out the implications of these figures more explicitly. I have attempted to do that in this article. I also republish an updated version of the table from the earlier article, reflecting new developments since Brandis was replaced by Fifield as Minister and showing the different components of funding involved.

I have to say that the least interesting thing I write about – arts funding – is the subject that seems to attract the highest number of readers.

Masked by transfers from Australia Council
Initially, with the transfer of substantial program funds from the Government’s main arts funding agency, the Australia Council, to the Ministry for the Arts, under the regime of Minister Brandis, most focus had been on the effect of the transfer on the Australia Council itself.

The Australian Government’s Indigenous cultural programs, including support for Indigenous languages, are a major component of the overall program funding distributed by the Ministry for the Arts. This support is critical to the maintenance and revival of Indigenous languages, for example. Yet there are serious indications that the support that has historically been provided has been cut in budgets over the last two years.

The cuts to these programs – and other programs of the Ministry – have in effect been masked by the transfer of program funding from the Australia Council to the Ministry for the Arts, originally around $26-28m each year, starting in 2015-16 and continuing until 2018-19.

Some of that transfer is merely rearranging the deckchairs by transferring programs back to the Ministry that had previously been transferred to the Australia Council in the 2014-15 Budget. This consists of Visions of Australia ($2.4m per year), Festivals Australia ($1.2m per year) and the Major Festivals Initiative that seems to be around $1.5m per year. It’s unclear if this is a new transfer rather than a program being transferred back or if it has actually been increased as part of the transfer. This is an annual total of $5.1m over four years.

On top of this funding for Creative Partnerships Australia from the 2012-13 Labor Government budget was allocated only until 2014-15, so as part of the transfer, $1.5m per year for three years from 2015-16 was reallocated to it from the Australia Council. This effectively replaces what used to be separate funding for the Australian Business Arts Foundation.

Do we ignore the return of these programs in our totals or allow for it? It’s an open question whether to or not, because with these constant changes it’s becoming harder and harder to compare like with like from one financial year to the other. However we interpret the figures, somewhere between $21.5m and $28m per year was originally to be transferred. With the return of $8m per year to the Australia Council following the replacement of Brandis by Minister Fifield, this amount is still quite substantial – $13.5m to $20m per year.

Filling the hole
Whatever the actual total of the transfer - and the total is largely irrelevant to the point of this article - the funds have had the effect of filling a hole dug over the last two years in the program funding of the Ministry so that on the surface the total program funding seems little changed. Unfortunately this is merely an illusion. I doubt that this is any sort of deliberate strategy. It's just a side effect of a Minister's unfortunate decision to move money about for his own purposes.

Testimony late last year by Indigenous cultural organisations to the Darwin hearings of the Senate Inquiry into the Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget Decisions on the Arts indicated that cuts to the Indigenous cultural programs of the Ministry for the Arts had already adversely affected these organisations. Their concern was that with the reduction in the funds available for distribution by the Australia Council, there would be even more pressure on the funding available to Indigenous cultural organisations.

Smoking gun
A close look at the Portfolio Budget Statements of the Ministry for the Arts over the last few years clearly reveals the smoking gun that shows that there have been serious cuts to overall Ministry program funds (which include the Indigenous cultural programs) almost every year since the 2014-15 budget, stretching long into the future, with levels down from around $198.5m in 2013-14 to just over $184m in 2015-16, with a projected drop even further to $175m in 2017-18 and around $171.4m in 2018-19. This is a 13.7% drop from 2013-14 to 2018-19. It's difficult to explain why the figure rises briefly in 2016-17 back towards the level before the change of government, but the overall trend is clearly down.

It could be argued that in a period of wide-ranging cuts to Government spending a cut of 13.7% over five years, that is 2.74% per year, is not that significant. There are many problems with this argument. As I have noted in an article about the recent cuts to the national cultural institutions in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook process, the cuts, while relatively small each year, have a cumulative effect far greater than at first appears and in the long run will undermine the effectiveness of national arts and culture support.

The long-term structural weakness in the national budget has not resulted from over-spending by any of these programs. If and when that structural weakness is corrected, it is highly unlikely that we will ever see these programs being increased again to their former level.

Yet along with its economy, Australia's population is growing. While there have been concerns about the economy slowing, it still grew by 2.5% in the 12 months to the end of the September 2015 quarter and population grew by 1.4% in the year to the end of June 2015. If anything, there needs to be an expansion of arts and cultural funding to service this.

Worst of all, it’s not as if these programs have ever been massive ones by any measure, so these cuts have been made to what are extremely modest and lean programs to start with.

I’ve said before the Ministry deserves better than this. It manages some extremely critical programs and this erosion is disastrous for it’s effectiveness. All along the argument being presented by the Government is that there have been no cuts, it’s just a case of transferring funds between the Australia Council and the Ministry. I’d like to turn that on its head. The reality is that it doesn’t matter all that much whether the funds are with the Ministry or the Australia Council because it’s actually not about transfer. It’s about cuts – cold, hard cuts.

Ministry for the Arts administered (program) funding 2012-19


Year
2012-13
2013-14
2014-15
2015-16
2016-17
2017-18
2018-19
Party in Government
ALP
ALP
LNP
LNP
LNP
LNP
LNP
Budget projections
192.102m (actual)
198.490m
203.647m
211.83m
228.362m
202.969m
197.953m
Budget projections following return of funds by Fifield
192.102m (actual)
198.490m
203.647m
203.83m
220.362m
194.969m
189.953m
Includes budget line ‘Arts programmes – reduced funding’ in 2014-15 LNP budget


–4.4m
–5.0m
–9.8m
–14.6m

Includes budget line ‘Arts and cultural programmes – efficiencies’ in 2015-16 LNP budget



–0.7m
–0.5m
–0.5m
–0.5m
Includes amount transferred to Ministry for the Arts from Australia Council



19.7m
19.7m
20m
18.6m
Ministry administered budget adjusted to take account of transferred Australia Council funds
192.102m (actual)
198.490m
203.647m
184.13m
200.662m
174.969m
171.353m
Projections in 2013-14 ALP Budget (inc National Cultural Policy funding)
192.102m (actual)
198.490m
225.716m
195.530m
221.672m


Reduction in Ministry for the Arts administered funds following change of government


22.069m
11.4m
21.01m



Source: Analysis of Portfolio Budget Statements incorporating the Ministry for the Arts 2012-13 to 2015-16.

Disclaimer: These figures are based on analysis of the publically available figures in the annual Portfolio Budget Statements
and may not incorporate all relevant components. However, they are a starting point for further analysis and collection 
of more detailed information. Please rely on your own analysis to confirm these figures rather than on this table. Note that
the funds transferred from the Australia Council to the Ministry for the Arts include some programs being transferred back that had been transferred to the Australia Council in the 2014-15 budget. The total amount involved is $5.1m per year for four years.

Following the money – looking for evidence
Drawing on my earlier article let me outline how I obtained these figures. I looked back through the publically available Portfolio Budget Statements for each year since 2012-13. These statements for each Australian Government department break down the budget of each department and the various areas within them against the outcomes they are funded to achieve.

In each of the Departments that the Ministry for the Arts has travelled through since 2012 it is possible to see the overall level of funding. It's always hard to compare different years as this can be complicated by different smaller components, such as special appropriations, but it is still a good indication of trends. These figures seems to map quite clearly the overall trend in national arts and culture program funding managed by the Ministry for the Arts since 2012-13.

If we ignore the level of funding for Australian Government cultural agencies like the national cultural institutions, such as the National Museum or National Library, and the other agencies which provide arts and cultural funding, like the Australia Council or Screen Australia, and just look at the Ministry for the Arts, we can get a clearer picture. Of course in the budget adjustments of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook review announced in December 2015, many of these institutions were themselves savaged. For the Ministry The budget items I have looked at are under the program usually called 'Arts and Cultural Development' and are what are called 'Administered expenses - Ordinary annual services' or similar.

Departmental funds and program funds
It is important when looking at public budget figures to clearly distinguish between departmental funds, which support staff who work on the programs, and administered funds, which comprise the grant funding distributed to organisations. These funds may be distributed through an application round or increasingly by direct offer to organisations which have been funded before. As I mentioned above, at the Senate Estimates hearings in October 2015, the Ministry for the Arts noted that staff levels had fallen from 180 in 2010 to 109 at that point. This reflects substantial cuts in departmental funds and implies reductions in the number of staff working on Ministry programs.

I tracked the level of administered (program) funding, including budget projections up to 2018-19. I noted the reductions in Ministry program funding projected in both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 budgets which are incorporated in this overall figure.

Comparisons
I have then adjusted the Ministry program funding down to exclude the amounts transferred from the Australia Council from the 2015-16 financial year onwards as this makes it possible to do a valid comparison of levels of Ministry funding across years.

For comparison I have included the projections in the budget brought down by the Labor Government in 2013-14 which included the funding for the National Cultural Policy.

Finally for those years where there are figures, I have listed the reduction in funding following the election of the Liberal National Party Government which is the difference between funding projected in the last Labor Government budget and the two budgets since.

See also

Quadruple whammy – the long-running factors that together threaten our cultural future 
‘The real danger for Australia’s arts and culture is not funding cuts but steady, unending neglect. The decline of Government arts and culture support can be attributed to four long-running factors. This I call a quadruple whammy, caused by lack of indexation, the cumulative effect of ‘efficiency dividends’, the trend towards project funding rather than operational funding and falling behind as the population and economy expands’, Quadruple whammy – the long-running factors that together threaten our cultural future.

The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future
‘The never-ending election campaign that became the never-ending election tally has turned into the unpredictable second term government. What does this new world of fragmented politics mean for Australian arts and culture and the organisations, artists and communities which live it and advance it? There are a series of major factors which are hammering arts and culture organisations. These intersect and mutually reinforce one another to produce a cumulative and compounding long term disastrous impact. All this is happening in a context where there is no strategic policy or overview to guide Government. It is critical for the future that the arts and culture sector think broadly about arts and culture, build broad alliances and partnerships, never forget its underlying values and draw on its inherent creativity to help create a society based firmly on arts and culture’, The big picture and long view – creating a cultural future.

Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst – the looming failure of arts support 
‘In the slowly unravelling universe of arts and culture support, organisations – whether they be small arts organisations or the largest of national cultural institutions – need to think seriously about their future. They need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. This means developing strategies to survive the combination of drastic cuts and slow erosion already occurring and likely to continue into the foreseeable – and unpredictable – future’, Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst – the looming failure of arts support.

Greater than the sum of the parts: cultural funding and the power of diversity 
‘Cultural diversity underpins so much of value in Australia. It helps ensure innovation flourishes, because where cultures intersect, differing world-views come into contact and fixed ideas and old ways of doing things are challenged. This is essential to the new clever and clean industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. The national Indigenous cultural programs play a critical role in support for both Indigenous communities and for a diverse and dynamic Australian culture. What is clear is that these programs have been affected by the range of cuts as part of the search for savings since the Coalition Government took office. Funding community organisations for services government would otherwise have to provide is a great way to get things on the cheap. If you don’t fund them at all, it’s even cheaper’, Greater than the sum of the parts: cultural funding and the power of diversity.

Lies, damned lies and lies about statistics – how population growth will magnify the impact of arts and culture cuts
‘I’ve said before that the traditional saying about ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’, should instead refer to ‘lies, damned lies and lies about statistics’. Cuts to national arts and cultural funding, while relatively small each year, have a cumulative effect far greater than at first appears and, in the long run, will undermine the effectiveness of national arts and culture support. Where the real disastrous impact of these cuts will hit home is when we also factor in the impact of population growth. If anything, there needs to be an expansion of arts and cultural funding to service the growth’, Lies, damned lies and lies about statistics – how population growth will magnify the impact of arts and culture cuts.

Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda
‘There’s an election in the air and I was thinking about what would be a good list of positive improvements that would benefit Australia’s arts and culture, so I jotted down some ideas. They are about recognising arts and culture as a central part of everyday life and an essential component of the big agenda for Australia. They are about where the knowledge economy, creative industries and arts and culture fit, how arts and culture explain what it means to be Australian and how they are a valuable means of addressing pressing social challenges’, Arts and culture part of everyday life and on the main agenda.

Arts funding – it’s not all about the money
‘National Arts Minister, Mitch Fifield, has said that being a strong advocate for the arts doesn’t mean delivering government funding and that an arts Minister or a government shouldn’t be judged just on the quantum of money the government puts in. This sidesteps the Government’s very real problems that it has muddied the waters of existing arts funding, cutting many worthwhile organisations loose with no reason, that rather than delivering arts funding, it has reduced it significantly, and that it has no coherent strategy or policy to guide its arts decisions or direction. The real issue is that a national framework, strategy or policy for arts and culture support underpins and provides a rationale for arts funding – and is far more important’, Arts funding – it’s not all about the money.

National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes 
‘I am not too concerned who manages national arts funding. Both the Australia Council and the Ministry for the Arts have long managed numerous funding programs. I am more concerned about what is funded. The fact that the national pool of arts funding available to support the operational costs of smaller arts and cultural organisations has shrunk substantially is a deep concern. Watch as Australia’s arts and culture sector reels over the next five years from this exceptionally bad policy decision – and expect the early warning signs much sooner. Well- known and respected figures in the arts and culture sector have been expressing this concern sharply’, National arts policy – excelling in the mediocrity stakes.

Collateral damage – the creeping cumulative impact of national arts cuts
‘Asked in the most recent Senate Additional Estimates hearings about cuts to Ministry for the Arts funding in the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook review, the Department of Communications and the Arts replied that there were cuts of $9.6m over the forward estimates. This seriously understates the cumulative long-term magnitude and effect of these cuts and underestimates, just as with the national cultural institutions, the long-term damage. Yet this is the real and permanent impact – a compound effect of creeping cuts’, Collateral damage – the creeping cumulative impact of national arts cuts.

Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy
‘I always thought that long after all else has gone, after government has pruned and prioritised and slashed and bashed arts and cultural support, the national cultural institutions would still remain. They are one of the largest single items of Australian Government cultural funding and one of the longest supported and they would be likely to be the last to go, even with the most miserly and mean-spirited and short sighted of governments. However, in a finale to a series of cumulative cuts over recent years, they have seen their capabilities to carry out their essential core roles eroded beyond repair. The long term impact of these cumulative changes will be major and unexpected, magnifying over time as each small change reinforces the others. The likelihood is that this will lead to irreversible damage to the contemporary culture and cultural heritage of the nation at a crucial crossroads in its history’, Cut to the bone – the accelerating decline of our major cultural institutions and its impact on Australia’s national heritage and economy.

Notes from a steadily shrinking universe
‘Following the Big Bang the universe may have been steadily expanding but in the world of Australian Government arts and culture the universe has definitely been heading the other way. In the end does government of any shade really think at heart that Australian arts and culture is important? Why should it when it’s a vexed question for our society as a whole and we are ambivalent about its worth? Yet this part of the Australian Government’s public service is incredibly important. To have a real impact though, it needs to be refocused and reinvigorated to operate once again across the broader government landscape’, Notes from a steadily shrinking universe.

Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?
‘With a Coalition Government which now stands a far better chance of being re-elected for a second term, the transfer of the Commonwealth’s Arts Ministry to Communications helps get arts and culture back onto larger and more contemporary agendas. This move reflects that fact that the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, are both clever and clean. Where they differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not’, Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?

Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture
‘A far more important issue than arts funding is how can the broad arts and cultural sector become a better organised, effective voice for arts and culture and its wider importance for Australia? Changes like this happen because they are able to happen – because decision-makers think they can get away with it. The arts and culture sector and its supporters have to be influential enough that decision-makers think carefully about the importance and the standing of Australia’s arts and culture and weigh any decisions they make carefully in terms of the strategic needs of the sector. These current dire circumstances may provide the opportunity we have needed to look seriously at this question’, Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture.

Land of hope
‘There were times in our past when Australia was seen as the great hope of the world – when it offered a vision of a new democratic life free from the failures of the past and the old world. It seems we have turned from our history, from the bright vision of the nineteenth century and the great nation-building vision of the period after World War 2, with its sense of optimism and fairness, towards something much more pinched and narrow – mean and weak-willed. For such an optimistic nation we seem to have developed a ‘half empty’ rather than ‘half full’ view of the glass – and the world. If we want to live in a land to be proud of, a fair country that truly inherits the best of Australia’s traditions, while consciously abandoning the less desirable ones, we need to change course – otherwise we will have to rebadge Australia not as the land of hope but instead as the land without hope’, Land of hope.

A navigator on a Lancaster bomber
‘Sometimes I think Australia has lost its way. It’s like a ship that has sailed into the vast Pacific Ocean in search of gaudy treasure, glimpsed the beckoning coast of Asia and then lost its bearings, all its charts blown overboard in squalls and tempests. It seems to have turned from the great nation-building vision of the period after World War 2, with its sense of optimism and fairness, towards something much more pinched and narrow. It’s time to rediscover the Australian dream. We need a navigator – or perhaps many, one in every community – who can help us find our way, encourage us as we navigate from greed and complacency to a calmer shining ocean of generosity and optimism’, A navigator on a Lancaster bomber.

Valuing the intangible
‘We are surrounded by intangible cultural heritage – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – and often it’s incredibly important to us but we can’t seem to understand why or put a name to its importance. So many issues of paramount importance to Australia and its future are linked to the broad cultural agenda of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In particular they are central to one of UNESCO’s key treaties, the International Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.’ Valuing the intangible.

‘Arts’ policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel
‘Faced with the increasing prospect that it could become the next Australian Government, the Labor Party is reviewing its ‘arts’ policy. Whatever happens and whoever it happens to, considered and strategic discussion of arts and culture policy is critical to Australia's future.’ ‘Arts’ policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel.

The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
‘The swan song of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, ‘Creative Business in Australia’, outlines the experience of five years supporting Australia’s creative industries. Case studies and wide-ranging analysis explain the critical importance of these industries to Australia’s future. The knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, is both clever and clean. Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture’, The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

The language of success ­– recognising a great unsung community movement
‘What is especially significant about the Prime Minister, in his Closing the Gap address, recognising the importance of Indigenous languages is that this is the first time a Liberal leader has expressed such views. It’s exciting because for progress to be made it is essential that there is a jointly agreed position. This moment arises from the tireless work over many decades of hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language revivalists – surely one of the great positive unsung community movements in Australian history. By their hard work they have managed to change the profile of Indigenous languages in Australia. Unfortunately the address reinforced the tendency of government to overlook the success stories that are already happening in local communities and look for big institutional solutions. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a missed opportunity’, The language of success – recognising a great unsung community movement.

The hidden universe of Australia's own languages
‘I’ve travelled around much of Australia, by foot, by plane, by train and by bus, but mostly by car. As I travelled across all those kilometres and many decades, I never realised that, without ever knowing, I would be silently crossing from one country into another, while underneath the surface of the landscape flashing past, languages were changing like the colour and shape of the grasses or the trees. The parallel universe of Indigenous languages is unfortunately an unexpected world little-known to most Australians.’ The hidden universe of Australia's own languages.

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