Friday, 17 July 2015

Statement regarding the impact of the 2014 and 2015 Australian federal budgets on the arts

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

16 July 2015

To Whom It May Concern,

Re: Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Australian federal budgets on the Arts 

I am a fulltime freelance writer. I have written reports, reviews and features for a wide variety of print and online publications including RealTime, Daily Review and Australian Book Review. In addition, I am the author of many published short stories, poems and essays, as well as a regular non-fiction contributor on a wide range of issues to Overland, one of Australia’s oldest literary and cultural magazines. My first full-length play was produced in Adelaide in 2013 by the award-winning independent theatre company and, as of time of writing, I am rehearsing a play for the National Play Festival’s Homegrown, a showcase of the work of four emerging South Australian playwrights.  

As a critic, arts practitioner and audience member, I am alarmed about the impact of changes to arts funding arrangements as outlined in the 2014 and 2015 Australian federal budgets. I believe the combined effects of the funding cuts and reallocations contained in these budgets will be long term and deleterious. They will diminish the ability of many of Australia’s most promising emerging artists to grow, flourish, challenge and enrich, and they will have a significant impact on jobs and the economy (in 2011, according to the Creative Australia report, cultural industries employed 531,000 people, and indirectly created 3.7 million jobs on top of this). Those who will be most effected will be those least able to thrive with less funding: individual artists and small-to-medium arts organisations. 

These individuals and organisations are often referred to as the ‘engine room’ of the arts, driving artistic innovation and distinction across the country at every level. Without this engine room, the major arts companies would cease to function, as it is from here that, ultimately, they draw their talent. These artists have never been funded at a level that reflects their contribution to the arts in Australia, and to society more broadly, but the further loss of funds – and changes to the way those funds are distributed – has already had a profoundly demoralising effect across the entire creative sector. Of particular concern to me, and many of the other young and emerging artists I have spoken to about the 2014 and 2015 Australian federal budget decisions on the arts, are:    

  • multi-million dollar cuts to what was already a relatively small amount of funding administered by the Australia Council. These cuts will effect, according to Ben Eltham, 145 arts companies. As an emerging writer, I depend on many of these companies for support and they, in turn, depend on Australia Council funding. Some of these companies include Australian Book Review, O L Society Limited (publisher of Overland), Open City Incorporated (publisher of RealTime) and PlayWriting Australia. Each of these companies has fostered many luminaries, past and present, from Peter Carey and Christos Tsiolkas to Lally Katz and Debra Oswald    
  • the reallocation of $104.8m from the budget of the Australia Council to fund the National Program for Excellence in the Arts, a non-transparent and unnecessary further layer of bureaucracy that will, troublingly, do away with the important principle of arm’s length peer review that has been a staple tenet of arts funding, with bipartisan support, for many years. The introduction of the NPEA represents an unprecedented politicisation of arts funding that is unacceptable in a modern democracy.

It is not yet clear how these changes will play out long term, but there is no need to wait for a taste of their impact. Now, more than ever, independent Australian artists and those attached to small-to-medium companies are fearful, anxious and dispirited. A few weeks ago, I kept running into artist friends who had put countless hours of hard work into applying for six-year funding only to see their applications go down the drain as the Australia Council, operationally devastated by these budget cuts, cancelled a crucial funding round with little notice. With such uncertainty rife, it is impossible to believe that private philanthropy can, as Senator George Brandis has suggested, plug the gap. It can only get worse, and the knock-on effects will be considerable: to artists, to arts organisations, to the Australian economy, and to our culture as a whole.    

I warmly thank the Inquiry for this opportunity to express my views.

Ben Brooker

Writer, editor and critic

Some useful resources for preparing your own submission:–-have-your-say-on-federal-arts-funding

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