At yesterday’s Budget Night fundraiser in Canberra, Coalition ministers took it in turns to take to the mic and offer their quips and insights on the state of the nation from their point of view.
It’s a great way for industry leaders from across our key sectors to get to know who’s who – and how many portfolios are juggled by our increasingly busy ministers.
When it was Mitch Fifield’s turn, he took the opportunity to introduce his own portfolios to the room. Communications, which he described as its complex set of ministerial responsibilities, and then the Arts – which, he said, “In the context of the budget night, the Communications and the Arts portfolio is a little off Broadway because it’s essentially business as usual.”
Apparently groans were heard from the tables of screen and media professionals, disappointed that our multi-billion-dollar industry would be represented in that way by its chief advocate.
There are some new funds for SBS for the creation of local content but the Government has slashed the ABC’s budget by $83.7 million over three years.
Let’s unpack that a little. What might Minister Fifield have meant by “off-Broadway”?
Did the Minister mean that his arts portfolio is the place where he can take risks, test new ideas, and enjoy generous critical responses?
Possibly not: there’s no additional Australia Council funding in this year’s Budget. Nothing to help remedy the massive damage that’s been done after years of crippling cuts that substantially diminish artists’ own capacity to take risks, test new ideas, and enjoy generous critical responses.
Did Minister Fifield perhaps mean the greater diversity of the off-Broadway scene: the independent scene, the small-to-medium scene?
But no: there’s nothing in the Budget for the small-to-medium sector, though there’s welcome news on capital investment for the National Gallery of Australia.
Maybe he was talking about supporting local productions?
Possibly: while there are some new funds for SBS to support the creation of local content, as well as location incentives for film and TV, there’s quite the brazen backhand against the ABC. While the ABC “will continue to be exempt from the government wide efficiency dividend,” the Government will expect them to “find back-office efficiencies” regardless – by pausing “indexation of the ABC’s operational funding” to the tune of “$83.7 million over three years from 2019-20 to 2021-22.” Ouch.
Australia’s arts are not a little off-Broadway. They’re fifteen thousand km from Broadway.
They’re complex. They’re adventurous. And they need champions.
Especially when the best we can offer as a cultural vision for the nation’s future is to commemorate Captain Cook’s landing without the leadership of the Gweagal people.(Budget 2018-19 includes funding for the re-enactment of Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia and a monument at Kurnell (Botany Bay) in 2020).
After all, our First Nations predate Broadway – on or off – by 60,000 years.
Esther Anatolitis is Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts.